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Leading the Way: Improving Transport in Nepal

URBANA, Ohio – A country with many hills and mountains that make getting around difficult, poor transportation infrastructure and insufficient public transportation have been problems in Nepal for years. In rural parts of the country, almost 40% of households live two hours or more from a road. Those with better road access often rely on gravel or dirt roads which are hard on vehicles and can be dangerous to use for transportation in Nepal. Even if someone is lucky enough to use an asphalt road, many asphalt roads in Nepal are unworkable in bad weather, especially in the rainy season.

In urban areas similar to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, roads are generally of better quality and road networks have many connections. However, traffic jam is a growing problem with the increasing number of motorized vehicles, an increase of about 20% per year, accompanying the increase in population. The growth of public transport got late. Buses fill up quickly and people who rely on them have to change buses frequently, making taxis a much faster, albeit more expensive, form of transportation.

Why transport in Nepal is so inadequate

Nepal’s geography makes both road travel and new road construction a daunting task. Although the country is home to plains, it is also quite mountainous and hilly. Because of this, construction is more difficult and takes longer to complete. In the case of a trip, the journey from point A to point B can take a long time even when driving on a paved road because the roads have to wind and become extremely narrow in some places. This means that there is a greater risk of accidents in parts of Nepal with more rugged terrain, regardless of the type of road a person may be traveling on.

Poverty in Nepal also plays a role in the poor transport infrastructure. Landlocked Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, making it difficult to develop modern road networks that can withstand the weather, work against the terrain and connect the most isolated parts of the country. Owning a car is also a status symbol in Nepal, as the number of private vehicles in circulation is increasing. Transport infrastructure must keep up with the increase in the number of vehicles, while public transport serves the many people who still need it, otherwise transport in Nepal will get even worse.

Bad weather and lack of roads in some areas prevent emergency services from helping people in need. Populations that need to use public facilities may have long travel times and may not be able to reach these facilities at all if they do not have access to an all-weather road. Almost 17% of the rural population of Nepal has access to an all-weather road. This means that the transport of people and goods is severely inhibited, leaving the economy less efficient than it could be.

Efforts to improve transport in Nepal

Aware of the importance of sufficient transport infrastructure, Nepal is regularly improving its road network. From 2001 to 2016, the country transformed more than 1,700 kilometers of roads into standard all-weather roads. In 2017, the Asian Development Bank approved a $100 million loan to improve roads in rural areas of the country. Nepal will complete the project in 2023, which includes the upgrading of 388 kilometers of roads in addition to producing a lasting 3.8 million person-days of employment.

Improvements to Nepal’s roads have resulted in a significant reduction in travel times. An example is the road between Hetauda and Balkhu, which when upgraded reduced the journey time from six to eight hours to just one hour. The country has also focused on improving and adding routes to India and China, its major trading partners and links to the outside world. In the 1970s, Nepal had less than 3,000 kilometers of roads with a limited number of routes to India and China while today it has over 42,000 kilometers of roads.

On the public transport side, Nepal has widened its roads to reduce traffic congestion and allow buses to travel faster. However, this is not a permanent solution. Eventually, the number of vehicles will increase to the point where traffic will be heavily congested and buses will quickly reach capacity and travel slowly. Expanding public transport and having different types of buses follow the most suitable routes is a better solution than repeatedly widening roads, as space will eventually run out.

Look forward

Transport in Nepal still has a long way to go as the country’s roads have improved significantly over the years and network upgrades continue. While organizations similar to the World Bank continue to invest in Nepal’s transport infrastructure, the country is receiving foreign aid and developing more sustainable public transport policies. Connectivity in Nepal will be greatly increased, which will strengthen the country’s economy and lift its people out of poverty.

–Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr