The development shortcut

  • If Nepal avoids the mistakes ‘developed’ countries have made, it has significant development advantages in some fields
- NIKLAUS SALZMANN
The development shortcut

Dec 1, 2014-

When I tell people in Nepal that I’m from Switzerland, I quite often hear, “Good country”. I’m always a bit embarrassed by this answer, as I try not to categorise countries as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Still, I have to admit, I’m not unhappy being born in Switzerland, as life there is quite comfortable. The gross national income (GNI) per capita is more than 10 times higher than in Nepal; there are 573 motor vehicles per 1,000 people compared to seven in Nepal (two-wheelers not included); and every single street looks like we’re about to expect the next Saarc Summit any day—according to the World Bank, the percentage of roads paved is 100 percent. So maybe a more precise wording would be ‘developed country’ instead of ‘good country’. And this is obviously something Nepal is aspiring to be.

For a least developed country like Nepal, there seems to be a long way to go. However, it may come as a surprise (or maybe not), but since my arrival in Kathmandu around three months ago, I have stumbled across many fields where Nepal is actually equally or even more developed than Switzerland, according to some targets of Swiss policy.

Energy and transport

For a start, let’s look at the energy sector. Switzerland currently has five working nuclear reactors. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster didn’t seem to have made Swiss politicians rethink nuclear pants. It wasn’t until after the 2011 Fukushima disaster that they decided to head towards a nuclear-free future by not replacing the old reactors once they’re too old to run. The first nuclear plant will by shut down in 2019 and the last one probably not before 2034. In other words, it will take Switzerland at least another 20 years to reach the point where Nepal is—being a nuclear-free country. Instead of investing millions in nuclear plants, Nepal can directly head towards sustainable energy, avoiding the costly detour via nuclear power.

Or, for instance, traffic management. At first look, it might seem absurd to think of anything in Nepali traffic, especially in Kathmandu, as more developed than in Switzerland. But let’s have a closer look, starting with the transport policy of the Swiss government. Under the headline ‘More non-motorised transport benefits everyone’, the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications writes on its website that human-powered traffic has substantial potential to preserve the environment, promote health, boost sustainable tourism, and reduce costs for both public and private mobility. Therefore, “The Swiss transport policy aims at increasing the modal share of non-motorised transport.” So how far along is Switzerland in reaching this goal? In Zurich, the biggest Swiss city, the modal share of walking is 26 percent with an additional 4 percent for cycling. In Kathmandu, on the other hand, cyclists make up only 1.5 percent, but walkers makes up 40.7 percent. Therefore, the total modal share of non-motorised transport in Kathmandu is at 42.3 percent, compared to 30 percent in Zurich.

If Nepal somehow manages to keep people walking instead of driving, it can save itself from a lot of trouble and expenses. And this is not only nice-to-have, but an urgent obligation for Kathmandu, if we picture a development that leads to more people being able to afford a car. It is a very difficult task to convince people to walk or cycle if they can afford a motorised vehicle. However, a first step may be to stop thinking of non-motorised transport as a manifestation of underdevelopment but rather, to see it as a modern, sustainable, and economic form of traffic.

Agriculture and biodiversity

As a third example, a few facts and figures about agriculture—a sector which is heavily subsidised and guided by the government in Switzerland. While after World War II, the Swiss agricultural policy was mainly aimed at making the country self-sufficient, in recent years, agriculture has additional tasks to fulfil, notably in the fields of environment protection and ecology. As in energy and traffic management, the key word is sustainability. It is difficult to measure how sustainable the agriculture in a certain country is, but the Swiss government talks of one indicator which I can take for comparison with Nepal: biodiversity.

According to the Swiss government, “Biodiversity is of existential importance for the survival and evolution of mankind, especially for food security.” Switzerland is currently trying to find measures to increase its biodiversity, and many of those measures are linked to agriculture, which uses around one third of the land. Well, action certainly is needed, according to the biodiversity index of the Global Environment Facility. Of a maximum of 100 points, Switzerland’s biodiversity is down at 0.2. Nepal, on the other hand, is 10 times higher at 2.1 points.

More examples come to mind, for which I don’t have the space to comment on here. But I’m sure you the Nepali people will find many more cases where the ‘least developed country’ is actually closer to the ideals of Switzerland, which currently occupies third place on the Human Development Index. If Nepal manages to see those advantages and avoid some of the mistakes the so-called ‘developed’ nations made in the past, the way towards being a ‘good country’ may be significantly shorter than it looks at first sight.

Salzmann is a Swiss journalist currently interning for The Kathmandu Post

Published: 02-12-2014 09:40

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