Devastating Earthquake of April 25: Desperate times

I originally wrote this for Republica.

All of a sudden, all electronic gadgets in my room were automatically turned off Saturday noon. I had been working on my laptop at the time. At that inauspicious time when the clock showed 11:56, my bed started to shakeand the TV set almost jumped at me.

I rushed to the door and stood between the pillars from where I could see and hear other people in my neighborhood yelling and running helter-skelter. I shouted at them not to run but stay inside safely till things were settled. Nobody listened to me, and I was scared.The earthquake continued for two minutes, and nobody was inside. I had never experienced continuous tremors and it made me lose hope. I was at wit’s end.

I came out in the open after it stopped. Hundreds of people had already gathered outside. I saw parts of some buildings and boundary walls nearby collapse. I tried to contact my family, friends and colleagues, but in vain. I browsed the net,which was luckily available. I tweeted about the earthquake and also posted a status on Facebook.

Immediately after the first quake, no Nepali media covered the news, except Radio Nepal. But I could read Facebook posts and tweets about earthquake from different parts of the country. Though there were reports about damage and loss of properties and lives in Kathmandu alone, at first,nationwide reports soon followed.

Through social media, I could learn that Saturday’s devastating earthquake measured 7.9 in the Richter scale with its epicenter was in Gorkha district. Thereafter, international media was not only quick but also active in reporting the incident. Nepali media became active only after news spread through international media.

A series of aftershocks followed. According to National Seismological Centre, over a hundred tremors measuring more than four Richter scale were felt in different parts of the country at different times.

Human casualties and loss of properties caused by the devastating earthquake and its aftershocks across the country cannot be figured out now. Four days after the disaster, the Home Ministry has so far recorded over 5,000deaths,and twice the number of injured. Based on human casualties, Kathmandu valley and Sindhupalchowk district havebeen the hardest hit.

Likewise, Dharahara and Basantpur Durbar Square, among other historical and cultural heritages of Kathmandu valley, were turned into rubble after the earthquake.

Immediate rescue was limited to the capital for the first two days. Foreign countries, however, were quick to send in their rescue teams. With their help, rescue works started outside the capital after the third day.

Despite extreme challenges, Nepal Army has been coordinating search and rescue operations teams from India, Sri Lanka, China, Turkey, Netherlands, Poland, Germany, France, Israel, Malaysia, Britain and Japan in various affected areas. They have been doing a wonderful job to save people. Some victims were rescued alive from the rubble.

Had foreign rescue teams not reached the country in time, rescue would have hit a snag. Nepali authorities alone could not carry out operations. In fact Home Minister BamdevGautamhas accepted that the country was underprepared for such a massive disaster. Even locals from remote areas are complaining about delays in rescue and response. The rescue and relief distribution to the affected locals are underway.

Continuous tremors after the first quake haveinstilled fear in people that they hesitate to enter their homes even after the government has appealed them to do so. They have been compelled to live in tents in open spaces. Though some people in Kathmandu whose houses are not damaged have returned home starting yesterday, many are still spending sleepless nights in temporary camps. Rainfall has added to the woe of displaced locals.

Fearing aftershocks and consequences of food and water shortage, thousands of people have already fled the capital and returned to their villages; some are on the way; and others are planning their journey back home. Health and disaster experts warn of water-borne diseases and other infectious diseases in the absence of pure drinking water and hygienic food.

Following the recent disaster, governments and NGOs from other countries have intensified their help. Effective and timely distribution of relief materials in remote areas is a big concern.

Mismanagement in distributing donations from foreign governments has exposed certain people’s vested interests and lack of coordinated strategies. Amid such a situation, NGOs play a crucial role in distributing relief materials without bias.

It is high time for both aid agencies and government to strictly monitor use of funds and relief materials meant for earthquake victims. We should all pitch in for the benefit of those in need.

The author is associated with Republica

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Challenges aplenty in Nepal’s urbanization

We (I & Ashok Dahal) wrote this based on the talk with KISHORE THAPA. 

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There are 191 municipalities in the country and if we assume all the inhabitants of municipal areas as part of urban population, 38 percent of our total population lives in urban centers. But all those living in municipalities are not urban population. Physical infrastructure does not make an area urban, the occupation and economic activities of people do. The majority of population in urban areas are engaged in non-agricultural sector; the exactly opposite is true for rural areas.

In our context, all municipal areas are not urban and all urban centers are not municipalities. Our urban centers are concentrated along east-west highway and north-south road sections. If we look at the map of our country almost 90 percent of our urban areas are in central Tarai and mid-hills.

Urbanization, historically, is a result of industrialization. Agriculture workers switched to industrial activities and gradually urbanization caught momentum around the world. But ours is a different story. Central government offices, regional and district headquarters and bodies of trade are all in urban centers. Trade with India and China also helped in development of urban cities. Migration to urban centers from rural areas in search of better education, jobs and health services further increased urban population.
Of late, remittance has driven urbanization but not in a sustainable way. Families of migrant youths are shifting to urban areas for better education. Designation of Kathmandu valley as capital city and economic and administrative headquarters also drew hordes of people to sprawling urban centers. Likewise, hordes of people have moved to Kathmandu after each political change. The political movement of 1990 and 2006 saw such migration. This happened due to centralized political system. As a result, today, the valley’s population has swelled to about 3.5 million.
Rapid and unplanned urbanization of the valley is not sustainable as there is lack of even basic infrastructure. Chaotic urbanization only brings anger and dissatisfaction to its people. Urban poverty is on rise and more health hazards are reported. To make matters worse, this type of city can challenge governance and also political system, again as seen in Kathmandu. Another cause of urbanization could be government’s failure to address its people’s aspirations.
First of all, Kathmandu-centric development must change. Political power and administrative authority of the capital city should be decentralized and harmonized with development. Essential services should go to nearby urban centers. Decentralization leads to urbanization not just of the capital city. For example, not all people in India go to New Dehli. Necessary services are equally available in other cities and towns in each province.
Our government seems to be focused on infrastructure development. Infrastructure is also necessary for managed urbanization because road, water supply and electricity, among other things, must be upgraded to turn rural cities into urban hubs. Government has started urban development projects at various cities. Biratnagar, Birjung, Butwal, Banepa, Dhulikhel and Panauti have been chosen for urban environment improvement program. Sewerage and drainage, soli-based management, water supply, sanitation and road improvements are the focus for development of these cities.
Another one is integrated urban development, which is implemented in Dharan, Janakpur, Bhairawa and Nepaljung. This project also focused on soli based management, water supply and sanitation, sewerage and drainage, among other things.
We have primary, secondary and tertiary cities. Those cities having more than 100,000 inhabitants could be taken as secondary cities and others with less people can be considered tertiary cities. In this cities, urban governance and development project (UGDP) has been launched. This project targets large municipalities which could not properly use budget. It helps such cities with governance and development, as well as enhancing their capacities for expenditure.
There are other greater development projects in some areas, but such projects do not tally with urban development planning. These are limited to political slogans like relocating the capital to Chitwan.
Urban development is investment, which is recovered by municipalities and other government agencies through various future taxes.
Our laws have certain criteria for urban development but people’s occupation in a particular area is a foundation of a city. There would be various things that characterize a city: trade, business, services, industry and many more.There are two different schools of thoughts on urbanization, either infrastructure should be prepared at first or it should be managed in the process of urbanization. But as an urban planner would say, urban city should be declared first and then infrastructure developed.
Except Kathmandu valley, other major cities are well managed. If you go to Pokhara, it is one of the most planned cities in the country. Thus planning and development are different things. Planning is preparing a sketch; development is investment for production of goods and services to generate employment for economic growth.Though a number of cities were planned and developed during Panchayat era, we failed to develop infrastructure, industry and business. As a result such cities failed to develop. For instance, Dipayal, despite being a regional center, failed to grow as a city.

Again, the concept of urban planning and infrastructure development does not determine people’s settlement and population. If it did, Kathmandu would not be so overcrowded. Behind this are political and economic reasons. The people, who were once dwellers of Birendranagar, are currently living in Kathmandu. Most importantly, growth and development of urban area is linked to economic activities; the more economic activities, the more the growth and development.
The global trend shows development of urban areas is based on industrialization. However, it is not the case in Nepal. Here, urban areas have not been developed as expected due to limited development of industrial sector. Where there are industries, families of workers migrate to these areas and get involved in different economic activities.
Urbanization based on industrialization is more sustainable than urbanization based on tertiary (service) sector. Let us compare a factory with a hotel. The factory can generate more employment opportunities than a hotel. The factory that generates more revenues requires involvement of many people for manufacturing, transportation, storage and marketing. Unlike industries, service sector is based on external factors. Changes in external factors affect service sector as well. This is evident in the case of tourism in Pokhara. Whenever there is protest by agitating groups, tourism comes to a grinding halt due to closure of hotels and transportation services. This leads to unemployment of those involved in tourism.

Land planning and urbanization
Land use planning is an important aspect of urbanization. This refers to specific use of land, according to specific requirement such as commercial area, housing, grocery, among others. For instance, the land designated for residential areas should not have industries; otherwise, it will negatively impact lives of local residents.
There are two types of land use planning: compatible and incompatible. Conversion of land is applicable to compatible land only, but the use of incompatible land is prohibited besides for the specified purpose. Unfortunately, urbanization based on land use planning has not been enforced in Nepali context. The land of Jorpati, which was earlier used for carpet industry, is being used for school these days. It is against the concept of land-use planning.
There is no proper mechanism to incorporate land use and monitor its execution in our context. Had such mechanism existed, urban areas should not only have been well-managed, but local government authorities especially municipalities could generate revenues as well.
This does not mean there are no plans and policies for managing urban areas. But they are seldom implemented.
Recently, the government has adopted a liberal policy in land price determination. It fixes the price of land as per prevailing costs.

Satellite cities
Of late, concept of satellite cities is often heard. The concept generally refers to smaller towns and cities around the primary city. For example, Dhulikhel or Banepa can be a satellite city of Kathmandu. Usually, satellite cities are built around primary city either by combining two cities or building a new city in between. In case of Delhi, Noida and Gudgaun are satellite cities.
Without specific federal model, urban planning in federal structure cannot be predicted. Though the government and political parties have been discussing federalism for the last decade, unfortunately, they have not been able to come up with proper federal framework through consensus. Urban experts cannot help in this.
Urban areas are usually determined, not only based on economic factors, but accessibility because not only have to visit such areas for economic purposes but also for administrative works.
Thapa is former secretary, Ministry of Urban Development

Cold wave in Tarai: Call it disaster

I originally wrote this for Republica.

I was born in Tarai and grew up with the cold there. I myself have had bitter experience of cold wave and also witnessed hardship of people during winter. I recalled the winter plight of people in the region earlier this month when I received a phone call from my parents.

“Son, winter is round the corner, so send warm clothes for family members,” said my mother.

During the conversation, I overheard someone urging my mother to give him a chance to talk to me. When my mother handed over the cell phone to him, he said, “If the cold wave does not claim me this winter, I could live another year too.” The elderly man’s answer reflected the impact of the cold wave in Tarai.

Winter is boon for those who can afford warmth, but it is bane for the poor and marginalized community. Children, pregnant women, elderly and disabled are among the hardest hit as temperature plunges.

Every year, dipping of mercury causes both human casualties and loss of property. This year’s winter has just set in since the beginning of December, and the cold wave has already claimed over dozens of lives in Tarai districts—Rautahat, Sarlahi, Mahottari, Siraha and Saptari. Nine people from Rautahat district alone have succumbed to the cold. Most of the deceased across the Tarai region were elderly and children and also from the poor and needy communities. Living through winter is an ordeal for those families without warm clothes, blankets and heating facility. Such family members sleep on hay bed and sit around fire to beat the chill.

Inhabitants of Tarai suffer from common cold, pneumonia, fever and respiratory problems during the winter. Many patients affected by cold wave have thronged to the hospitals. The number of such patients visiting the hospitals is on the rise. Recently, increasing cold has added to the woes of thousands of people displaced by the Babai flood in Bardiya, one of Tarai districts. The doctors involved in a free health camp organized last Thursday in one of the affected areas out of 20 VDCs and Gulariya municipality, found that the flood-hit locals, who are already living a miserable life, are now suffering from various cold-related diseases.

Cold wave over the past three years has already claimed the lives of 46 people across 15 districts, mostly in Tarai region, as per the record of National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC), the department under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Many of the incidents remain unreported though.

Sharp fall in the temperature also affects education as schools remain closed in the districts. Due to poor visibility and heavy fogs domestic flights are cancelled and road accidents take place.

Cold waves have adversely affected agriculture. Production of winter crops and vegetables like wheat, potato and tomato has diminished. Deforestation in the region has surged as locals are reportedly chopping down trees at random for firewood required for bonfire to make themselves warm.

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Cold wave is an annual occurrence, putting lives of locals under threat every winter. Amid such scenario, it is not that authorities have just remained mute spectators but their efforts have failed to make any difference in the lives of the common people. Government authorities and kind-hearted social activists and organizations are currently providing warm clothes and blankets to affected and needy families in Tarai districts. District-based authorities including District Disaster Relief Committee (DDRC) has distributed firewood and made arrangement of furnace and bonfire at respective districts in order to protect locals from cold.

To prevent possible agricultural loss, district-based government agriculture facilities including District Agriculture Development Offices (DADO) could provide farmers required technical inputs. But above all, locals are not aware and conscious of basic ways to survive from cold wave. However, the authorities concerned, like in previous years, have repeatedly failed to educate them and they are yet to come up with proper strategies and preparedness plans to combat such problems.

Recently, the government has also made a decision to provide compensation of Rs 25,000 to each deceased family. But receiving the succor is not easy for the bereaved families as too much red tape and hassles are involved. Post-mortems are required to support claims of compensation and the families are often reluctant to bring their loved ones’ dead bodies for post-mortem.

Cold wave is not a natural phenomenon but the result of human activities, according to climate change experts. Adapting to the situation could positively address the impact on animal and plant lives. For instance, some of the crops that are affected due to severe cold should be planted in advance, according to agricultural experts.

Like other forms of natural disasters such as flood, fire and earthquake, authorities concerned should consider cold wave as one of the disasters and prepare contingency plans to minimize its adverse effects on human life and property. The government needs to allocate proper funds so that both the authorities and social organizations can raise greater awareness among the inhabitants of Tarai region and gather warm clothes, furnace and make other necessary arrangements to save them from excessive cold. Before the winter sets in, authorities should identify the target communities and effectively distribute the relief materials to them.

Building a Community: What We Value

Praveen K Yadav, Umes Shrestha, and Uttam Gaulee
(facilitators of ELT Choutari, an English Language Teachers’
and bloggers’ network from Nepal)

praveenThe world is getting far more connected, but not all connections are the same. Nor do connections automatically achieve the social, professional, and other purposes that the Internet is often credited for by those who have full and unhindered access to it. So, building a professional community, developing resources for it, and engaging its members from the ground up takes a lot of time, courage, and collaboration by one or more members who can stick to it through ups and downs, excitement and frustration.

Here's the link of the article co-authored for & published in EdConteXts, an int'l network of educators.

umesIn this blog post, we’d like to share the story of how we, a group of English language teachers in Nepal gradually built an online professional development community by the name of ELT Choutari. In a sense, this post is a detailed answer to the question that was asked by a colleague who commented on a story that one of us (Praveen) wrote for EdConteXts in June:what do we value as measures of success of/in our network?

uttamELT Choutari is probably the first English Language Teaching (ELT) blog-zine of its kind in South Asia. It was formed in 2009 by a group of dynamic ELT professionals of Nepal who felt the dire need of scholarly and professional engagement in the virtual world. To involve teachers across the country in professional development through online conversations, the team set up a blog, which was called ‘Nelta Choutari’ until recently. NELTA is the acronym for Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association where members of this informal group belong, and Choutari is a Nepali word meaning the space under/including a tree, the traditional public square where members of the community gather to share ideas and debate issues, tell stories to pass on or generate knowledge, solve problems, and sustain community.We changed the name to ELT Choutari in order to emphasize the group’s independence and informality and to be inclusive of the international scope of our readership—even as we remain grounded in Nepal and continue to share ideas and experiences of teaching/learning in our unique context.

Blogging as perhaps the most impactful affordance of information communication technology has helped us to connect the Nepalese ELT community from within and with other ELT professionals around the world—including our own Nepalese colleagues who work or study around the world. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the meaningful, resourceful, and impactful connection that we’ve worked on for almost six years now has brought about a small revolution in our field in Nepal. Started as a humble way to share ideas with each other by Shyam Sharma, Prem Phyak, and Bal Krishna Sharma, and later joined by Sajan Kumar Karn, Kamal Poudel and Hem Raj Kafle, the group soon grew into a platform for hundreds of Nepalese English teachers to share their ideas/experiences and scholarship about teaching and teaching English. We’ve also published blog posts by scholars from around the world, including by prominent scholars from the UK, US, and Australia.

Measuring Success of Choutari from readers’ perspective
The best way to share what aspects of our success, experiences, and ambitions we value most would be to let the most active members of our community speak in their own voice.

Ashok Raj Khati, a former editor who collected the voices of our readers for our fifth anniversary issue earlier this year found that our readers “translate” knowledge, skills and resources from reading ELT Choutari to their workplaces and other venues of professional development. Overall, Ashok found out that blogging has become a powerful means by which Nepalese ELT practitioners not only meet the world but also grow while they share ideas among themselves. Our community blog and other group and individual sites are helping to promote professional conversation, building local scholarship and creating new and local resources in ELT. Here is the blog post, titledHave Your Saybased on the study.

Measuring Success of Choutari through the team’s eyes

A recent discussion that EdConteXts prompted among the current editors of Choutari also produced some interesting issues about Choutari’s success, including strengths, values, benefits, challenges, and prospects.

First, Choutari has been a successful forum for the team because members of the core group have developed strategies for collaboration and coordination of their efforts. While being very informal and flexible, they take turns and back up one another when necessary. Its feature of being interactive and bringing local ELT practices to light has made popular among the Nepalese ELT practitioners. On top of that, the intrinsic motivation, team spirit and passion to contribute to larger community within the team to learn, share and contribute are some reasons behind enabling the team to work well, publish monthly issues without fail and create a significant impact in the community at home and abroad.

Secondly, the best part of working in Choutari that the team personally values is “growing by giving.” The team’s working as editors for Choutari comes with benefits on personal, professional and community level. Behind our success, we value our rapport as a team, our commitment, and our willingness to back up one another. Another thing is regularity, which it is hard to achieve, but we’ve developed mechanisms for collaboration. The team itself is learning how to delegate all work to others but we address this issue by taking turns and asking anyone who can’t find time to step aside and asking anyone who can to lead the network or major parts of it. The most significant benefit of working for the Choutari team is the opportunity that we get to connect with great professionals and leaders, locally and from all over the globe.

Finally, on the side of running the show, the best thing is that we never give up. No doubt, there have been ups and downs, and even now, it often seems that everyone is busy and the next monthly issue won’t happen. But with some coordination and prompting, we somehow always amaze ourselves. Despite such challenges, we’ve been publishing on time. The first few years are always full of challenges for any action, but the team has overcome many of those challenges faced in early days. However, things like lack of time and losing motivation among the core group are still there as factors to fear. The team’s determination and their long-term vision for Choutari have always overcome these challenges.

The digital divide is still one of the major challenges that hinders the widening of readership of Choutari as large chunks of the Nepali community still lack proper electricity and internet access. Another key challenge for any ELT community like Choutari in the country is overcoming the lack of  ‘writing’, ‘reading’ and ‘critiquing’ culture among teachers, students and educational leaders. But we have been promoting rigorous academic reading and writing culture among teachers and students alike.

At the same time, the prospects are tremendous, both for the team and the community. Learning and networking opportunities abound as our team has come up with great new projects such as mentorship and monthly writing workshops to support and groom novice and potential writers. The social media platforms beyond the blog are growing exponentially, and there is room for growth in many ways. For sustainability, we find there are many capable people willing to join the blogging community as readers, contributors, and the facilitators.

Choutari is also a place for mentorship. We normally do not reject submissions when our colleagues want to share their ideas through Choutari; we try to provide resources/guidelines (please seejoin the conversationtab), and we try our best to help the writers on a one-to-one basis through a review process as best as we can.

To conclude, we are an excited and optimistic bunch. Despite any challenges, we believe we can and should give back our best to our profession and community. We want to bridge a generation of scholars with teachers who have built our professional community from scratch. We want to transform the existing ELT picture by sharing the ideas and experiences of our professional colleagues across the country. We are dedicated to transmit knowledge, skills and resources among scholarship and classroom, trainings and publications, and conversations offline and online; and thus make a huge impact in our field. As we have started doing more recently, we help promote professional development through training and conference presentations, workshops and conversations, and professional networking in virtual communities across the country and across the world.

With the expansion of readership, we are truly excited and eager to serve the community even better than we have done so far.

And, we are very excited to be able to read what educators from around the world share through EdConteXts. Thank you again for the opportunity to share our ideas and experiences.

 

Views from down south

Here's the link of my article originally written for The Kathmandu Post.

Madhesis are citizens of Nepal just like Pahadis. They were deprived of many of their rights as Nepali citizens before Madhes Movement I and II. The unrest helped to settle the issue of citizenship. However, Madhesis are still struggling for their just identity and status. Let me connect the discourse with an anecdote which took place recently.

I picked up some guests from the Kathmandu valley at Janakpur airport, and drove towards our destination Sindhuli. I cannot specify the location we were passing through, but it was near Sapahi VDC in Dhanusha district where President Ram Baran Yadav was born and lived. My guests made a remark that astonished me. They said, “Janakpur and the localities we passed by look like Bihar.” I could not help asking them, “Do they really look like Bihar?” They nodded their heads. I didn’t speak anymore to defend my point of view.

I belong to the Madhes community which has long been struggling for its identity. But even after the agitation in Madhes, I see that the identity of citizens like us is still in jeopardy. If high profile and distinguished people like my guests treat our own land like another country, how will the general people in the country treat us? Such remarks only create feelings of prejudice and frustration among the Madhesi people. The Madhes movements may have solved the long-debated citizenship issue to a great extent, but the people in Madhes have not been able to get their identity with dignity.

Another incident I recall happened at a get-together. The gathering consisted of around 20 persons including four Madhesis. The team leader asked all of us to sing songs turn by turn while we were having snacks and beverages. Two of us sang songs in our local languages Bhojpuri and Maithili. Soon he addressed us like political leaders from Madhes and commented, “You two acted like Madhesi political leaders. Now sing songs in the Nepali language.”

We are not good enough at singing in Nepali, but we were compelled to do so. After we got back to our rooms, we could not sleep as the incident kept going through our minds. We questioned each other. Why can’t we express ourselves in our mother tongue or local language? Isn’t it our human right to make use of our own language and culture?

Meanwhile, Madhesis are still addressed using humiliating words at some places. Many of them, especially those who cannot defend themselves, are victims of such ill practices and humiliation at different regions in our country. I don’t mean that all the Pahadis are the same, since I have been supported by more Pahadis than Madhesis in advancing my career. The Madhes movements and changes in policies and legal provisions are not enough to ensure our identity with dignity. The Pahadis need to change their attitude and mindset towards Madhes and its people.

Sooner the better for authorities

Here's the link of the article I've published in The Kathmandu Post.

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We live in a world where about 1,000 women in developing countries die every day due to complications related to pregnancy. These deaths are preventable if reproductive health services are ramped up, especially for the marginalised groups. In addition, some 215 million women in developing countries, who want to plan and space their births, do not have access to modern contraceptions. Therefore, the global theme of this year’s World Population Day—”Universal Access to Reproductive Health Services”—is the most relevant to mark the day.

According to Nepal Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) 2011, 54 children (under five years) of every 1,000 babies, including 33 neonatal babies, die in Nepal but the target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by 2015 is 35.7. Likewise, a recent USAID survey report shows that 229 of every 100,000 pregnant women die in Nepal every year. But the MDG for maternal death targets to achieve is 162.

In Nepal’s context, the maternal mortality rate is high due to the weak health system with limited access to emergency obstetric care, skilled attendance and the overall poor status of women. The neonatal mortality rate is also unacceptably high due to lack of community awareness on appropriate care of newborn babies. This is the reason why the Government of Nepal is giving high priority to maternal and child health care programmes.

In addition, the preliminary report of NDHS 2011 puts the use of contraceptive at 43.2 percent against the MDG target of 67 percent, which is a decrease by one percent as compared to NDHS 2006. The main reason behind the decrease of contraceptive use is an increasing number of migrating people.

The abortion rate among the young girls married before they reach 18 is still high. Early child marriage, which results in immature pregnancy, is a pertinent issue in Nepal. The recently held 65th World Health Assembly of the WHO focused on the prevention of too-early pregnancies and poor reproductive outcomes among adolescents in developing countries.

Keeping this in mind, the global theme of World Population Day 2012 has provided us a good opportunity to address a number of key issues that affect most marginalised women, children and families in Nepal. Hence, the theme must be translated into action.

Universal access to contraception education and materials, health and reproductive rights as well as sex counselling is a must. In addition, access to a range of safe and effective contraceptive methods in health facilities and through social marketing and local outreach is necessary if the right to family planning is to be ensured. Increased access to skilled birth attendants during delivery and higher levels of mothers’ education and nutrition standards reduce many of the common causes of neonatal mortality. An adequate investment in terms of training, oversight and incentives for midwives should be provided in conjunction with improved access to and monitoring of rural health posts, and curbing unsafe home-based birthing practices to improve maternal and child health.

As we near the 2015 target for achieving the MDGs, there is an urgent need to ensure the rights of women. Together we can work for shaping up the future of young people, advancing rights for girls and women, and preserving the natural resources we all depend upon. Protecting reproductive health and rights is fundamental to our collective future and sustainable development. By more actively engaging women and young people, we can build a better future for all generations. When women and adolescent girls have rights and opportunities, their families, communities and nations prosper.

An increase in awareness on and access to reproductive health services along with the strengthening of health facilities and capacity of the health workers, mainly targeting young women and maternal health care, is a must to materialise this year’s global theme of the Population Day that would significantly contribute towards achieving the MDGs.

Plight of Street Children in Nepal

You might have seen children working and living in the roads and streets of Kathmandu valley. How did you feel when you have seen them? Have you ever felt sympathy on them? Have you ever thought about their life? If not, you might have certainly heard the very popular word Khate? Khate is a Nepali term used for addressing street children and youths.
Street children refer to children who live and work on the streets of a city. They are basically deprived of family care and protection. Most children on the streets are between the ages of about 5 and 17 years old, and their population between different cities is varied. Due to poverty, unequal distribution of resources, unemployment, ignorance, domestic violence and perversions prevailing in the society, children are seen fleeing from their homes and coming to the streets.
As per CBS 2001 AD, total population of Nepal was 2, 31, 51, 423. Among the population, the total number of children below 14 years was 90, 98, 201 (39.30%), which includes 46, 38, 000 (20.03%) boys and 44,60, 201 (19.27%) girls. The difference between population of boys and girls below 14 years is of 0.67%. (CCWB, 2008)The book entitled “The State of the Rights of the Child in Nepal 2001” published by CIWIN showed 5000 children are working and living on the streets. It is alarming to note that each year at least 500 children are found to appear on roads of Kathmandu Valley from different districts of Nepal. (CIWIN, 2006).
There are a number of reasons behind children coming to streets. Family tension, family violence, lack of protection from parents and guardians, child abuse and brutal torture by family members and others, misguidance, wrong motivation, attraction for the city, hatred from parent or step father or mother, increment of migration and urbanization, exploitation from guardians, search for new job and escaping after theft or misdeed are prominent reasons for children coming to streets.
CPCS, an organization in Kathmandu Valley working for the welfare of children carried out a survey with street children in 2007. The survey shows 65% children leave their houses in search of employment, 54% children come to Kathmandu with influence from others, 55% to visit Kathmandu, 51% come to streets due to domestic violence, 27% due to lack of food and 12% come to due to political reason.
UNICEF, a giant organization working for the welfare of children categorized street children into two: (1) Children on the street are those engaged in some kind of economic activity ranging from begging to vending. (2) Children of the street actually live on the street (or outside of a normal family environment).
Life of Street children is so miserable and worse. They are found to be working as plastic gatherers (rag pickers), beggars, tempo boys and street vendors to sell newspapers, biscuits, etc. They are also reported to be involving in washing dishes in hotels and restaurants, carrying water and working as construction labourer. They mostly suffer from different types of violence like sexual, moral and physical, drugs addiction, social exclusion, health problems, malnutrition delinquency, criminality, alcoholism, and starvation.
There are more than a dozen organizations working for street children in the valley only. All the organizations focus on the same target groups, i. e. street children. However, the plight of street children is worse except some progress. This is evident from the fact that children are still living and working on the streets in the valley. What had happened is that duplication seems to have taken place. That is to say, more than one organization has same project location and same target group of street children. It is better for the organizations to consider whether the duplication is taking place while locating and implementing their programs. Central child welfare board (CCWB) should actively monitor such programs targeted for street children so that such duplication can be avoided. Then only, we can rehabilitate the street children and provide them their rights and facilities required for their overall development.
At the moment the country is drafting permanent constitution of Federal Democratic Republic Nepal, voices for rights of street children and pitiable condition of street children should be addressed and included. This is high time concerning stakeholders, government line agencies, non-government organizations (NGOs), community based organizations (CBOs) and international non-government agencies including CCWB need to join their hands together to ensure rights of children in the constitution. Let New Constitution of New Nepal be drafted ensuring all rights of children.
Note: The article has been published in The Young Guys Weekly.

Coming across a Linguist

There are many things unnoticeable but what happening is we at once encounter such things. There’s a statement ‘Common sense is a sense that is uncommon in common people’. This obviously is not untrue. Even a common issue, which common people don’t care, may be the subject to discuss and scrutinize intensely for those who have interests in specific topics. Here’s an anecdote which I get to meet during a trip to my home town Rajbiraj from Birgunj, a prominent economical hub of Nepal.

As I was going to my birth place Rajbiraj, the headquarters of Saptari district, I boarded the bus at the bus park from Birgunj. I noticed a quite common thing that is likely to be uncommon for the common. The conductor in the bus asked me for fare in Bhojpuri, a language mostly used in Birgunj and nearby areas. Though I am not a competent and fluent speaker of the local language, I did not amaze thinking that he belonged to the language community. The way and his confident of speaking the language made me trust that he belonged to that language community.

As the bus reached Pathlaiya, I found him speaking in Nepali with passengers who belonged to Pahadi community. He was very fluent in the National language too. This time I didn’t get astonished because I thought that he might have done schooling where the language is obligatory for teaching.

Then we just headed towards our destination what exhausts me in traveling in crowd. The crowd stayed till the bus halted at Dhalkebar. Thank god, I got relaxed as the crowd lost there. The place separates from the road which leads to Janakpur, a religious and tourist site in Terai. At the station two western couple got into the bus. They got their seat at the couch. I talked to them. They felt nice to talk to me since they didn’t face difficult to comprehend me and they also needed to get some information about traveling to Biratnagar.

Meantime, as usual the conductor came over there and asked them, “Excuse me, sir…. could you please pay me the fare and where are you going to”.

I kept on staring at the brief excerpt between the tourists and the conductor. I, being a language student teacher had my brain stormed on the crucial issue of linguistics. That was not just the end, the bus got to Lahan, a famous town of Siraha district where almost all the people speak Maithali language. Similarly, I found him conversing with passengers in Maithili fluently. I knew he is familiar with four languages though he lacks the theoretical knowledge of those languages. But I would like to call him a linguist simply. Is it right for us to call so?

Flowers – Fine Art OF Nature

There are hardly few people, on the earth, who are not fond of flowers. The flowers are recognized as fine art of nature. They possess a great mystery within them .They are so beautiful that everyone wishes to be in touch of them. Therefore flower plants are planted for their own benefits.

Planting flowers is accepted according to people’s own choice. Growing flowers is known as floriculture. Some people plant flowers for decoration, some for business and some just to worship .If our houses lack fair looking, it can be fulfilled with a nice blooming garden. Some people plant flowers for religious purpose. They are offered to God to appease Him. Without these pretty things one can’t pray to God. They are planted for business as well. They are exported and from them various types of perfumes, soaps, aromatic oils, etc. are extracted. Making garlands and bouquets they are sent to market for sale. Nurseries and seed production can also be adopted to have better earnings.

Besides them, the flowers are tended to pass our time. It is said, “An empty mind is a devil’s workshop.”If we have nothing to do, our mind may be filled with nonsense.

So, to avoid them, tending flowers is the best way. As we are in the company of flowers, we get the ideas which can be very useful for our life. A flower’s companion has remarked as a good gardener or a flower lover can be best parents only. In other words, one who dislikes flowers, how can he love his kids?

Poets compose miracle poems noticing their charming beauty. So, the poets are also named as nature lovers. The things that cannot be expressed audibly can be delivered to others by gifting the beautiful creations. Such case is with lovers and beloveds. As we go through great people’s biographies, we find they are also fond of flowers. For instance, we can have our sights in our community too.

Here’s a fact experienced by one of my respected Gurus, ‘A common sense is the sense that is uncommon in common people.’ Suppose you are gardening in the garden, you have servants or others who are not educated; they may laugh at you or call you fool since they don’t realize its importance. That’s it. They are common people and flower is a common thing. They don’t have such hobby. The fact we get here proved.

There are many things we can learn from flowers. As I have experienced once, there was a question arising within me – “Why are people attracted to flowers?” As I kept on considering on it, I came to know that they have the qualities like they are always cheerful, colourful, harmful, fragrant and useful. Therefore people can’t help loving them. Thinking over it a person is loved by everyone if he has some qualities as cheerful, helpful and wisdom. To make people love you, you won’t fall behind others but they follow you, you have those qualities. Flowers can be compared as an ocean of knowledge for the people who think. Here’s the thing said above is a drop only from the ocean. You can have them tending them. To sum up, this beautiful thing is needed from our cradle to the grave.

Published by The Young Guys Weekly,  English Weekly Newspaper Publishing from Birgunj

Youths of Rautahat

Here's the link of the article I published in The Kathmandu Post in 2009.

Rautahat is socio-politically the least developed district in the central development region of Nepal. The average literacy rate here is 32.2 percent (21.7 percent for women). There are five prominent communities living here, namely Muslim (19.47 percent of the population), Yadav (12.49 percent), Kurmi (5.68 percent), Teli (5.5 percent) and Tharu (5.05 percent). The important local languages are Bajjika, Bhojpuri, Nepali, Urdu and Maithili. Rautahat has the largest Muslim population in Nepal. Early marriage of girls is a common practice here (CBS, 2007).

People older than 18 years of age are called youths. They number 123,166, or 19.1 percent of Rautahat’s population. The situation of youths in Rautahat is worse. They have been involved with armed groups and political parties. These days, most young people join underground Tarai armed groups, both voluntarily and otherwise. Most of them are unemployed and unskilled, and have been misguided by political parties and armed groups.

Youths are bona fide citizens of the country. They are the ones whose role is the most important in building the country. Nepal, being a poor country, offers no opportunities for employment and promotion of youths. Youths have been severely affected by the conflict physically, mentally and socially. Building a lasting peace that sustains post-war economic, political and social development requires the full participation of the youths. However, it is surprising to note that the role of youths in post-conflict settings has received inadequate policy attention.

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Similarly, Rautahat is politically unstable. Most people in the district are not aware of their duty in politics. There are many cases of youths being involved in political parties. There are about 12 political parties represented in the district. The UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, Tarai Madhes Democratic Party, Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, Janata Dal and Sadbhavana are the prominent parties here.

Moreover, there are more than a dozen underground armed groups operating in Rautahat. Some of them are Tarai Army, Tarai Cobra, Jantantrik Mukti Morcha (JTMM)-Jwala, JTMM-Goit, JTMM-United, Madhesi Tigers and so forth. These groups use children below 18 years and youths as combatants, cooks, porters, messengers and spies and also for sexual purposes and forced marriage. These armed groups abduct children and youths for ransom. They torture them physically as well as mentally. This affects the children and youths to a great extent. 

We need to respect the rights of youths and provide for their overall development. This is the most important aspect of the reconciliation process as Nepal writes a new constitution. There aren’t any institutions dedicated to these issues, and there are no programmes for the promotion of youths. Society does not seem to be serious about youth promotion. The government does not allocate a budget to the VDCs for the development of youths. The VDC authorities are reluctant to spend money on youth promotion. The political parties use youths in their rallies and campaigns, and make them members of their parties. They need to support them for their promotion. All the people including political leaders should be made aware of youth promotion.