Blog

Nepal relaxing lockdown afterall

Finance and Information Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada told a media briefing on Wednesday evening that the Cabinet extended the COVID-19 lockdown till 18 May, but it had also decided to relax rules on manufacturing, industries and banking sectors. 

These would be partially opened with certain restrictions on distancing and health monitoring of workers, and that the decision about opening up would be done in coordination with local governments. 

The industries included in the list are: food production and processing, dairies, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment manufacturers, water supply, brick kilns, livestock and fisheries, feed industries, sugar, tea and LPG. Also to be opened will be noodles industries, bakeries, poultry, dairy, and processing of other agricultural products.

Among the non-food industries to be relaxed are cement, paint, plywood, plastic pipes, sand and crushers, steel and electrical equipment.

However, the following rules apply: factories cannot have more than ten workers in one place at a time, and workers get health check-ups daily. For the time being, workers also need to stay in dorms, and eat in canteens at their workplaces, without coming in contact with local people or family members.

New election symbols

Besides defending its title as the most corrupted country in South Asia, Nepal has belatedly also been recognised in the Guinness Book as having the highest per capita number of Communist parties this side of the Sewage Canal. 

However, the 50 shades of red parties has the unintended side-effect that there isn’t an electronic voter machine that has been invented yet that has enough buttons to be of any use here in local, provincial and federal elections this year. Additionally, since every party worth its salt needs a symbol, the Erection Commission has run out of them.

Popular symbols like sun, moon, tree, hammers and sickles have all been taken on a first-come-first-served basis. Which means we will have to fall back on the diversity of Nepal’s flora and fauna. The cow and goat are already reserved, so we can offer scorpion, vulture, porcupine, and (the Donkey is pleased to announce) a jack ass to parties that do not yet have symbols.

At the rate parties are splitting, even this will not suffice. We need symbols that more accurately reflect the ethos of the parties in question. For instance, a hand grenade is an apt symbol for ex-guerrillas who want voters to remember the terror. Voters would also make an immediate connection between certain parties and the handcuff symbol.

Some of these symbols will be so coveted that the Election Commission may have to auction them off, have a lottery, or simply do an underhand deal. 

The Family Party could be given the condom as an election symbol to set it apart from others, and also simultaneously spread awareness among the electorate about contraception.

Now that Nepal has declared itself open-defecation free, the forthcoming election could be the perfect opportunity to de-stigmatise the squat latrine and assist in the gobarment’s campaign of Flush Toilets for All by 2025.

The real problem about elections is that no one gives a Rat’s Ass (in a manner of speaking) about them. The question on everyone’s mind is what happens if local elections can’t be held in April? Luckily, the High and Mighty Political Mechanism already has a cunning plan. But it’s top secret.

Nepal minister threatens targeted killings

Photo: MITHILA DAINIK

A group of activists has strongly condemned Infrastructure and Transport Minister Renu Yadav’s incendiary remarks at a recent political event in Rautahat where she openly threatened opponents with targeted killing.

During her 19 January speech, in video clips available publicly, Yadav warned a repeat of the 2007 Gaur Massacre targeting Chandra Kant Raut Chair of the Janamat Party, which has launched a Farmers’ Movement in Tarai and declared to boycott federal and provincial ministers. It also tried to obstruct her entry into Gaur on Wednesday.

‘We are clear that a person who cannot hold the dignity of a minister’s position, demonstrates criminal mindset, and publicly concedes to acts of murder, is ineligible to retain any position of public responsibility,’ says the appeal released on Friday.

During the same speech, Minister Yadav of the Janata Samajbadi also publicly acknowledged her party’s involvement in the massacre even as the perpetrators who brutally killed 28 Maoist cadres and injured 40 more remain outside the purview of law, and impunity rages on in the country.

The 2007 mass killing was conducted by the then Madheshi People’s Rights Forum who at the time was organising simultaneous rallies at the same site in Gaur as Maoists. The resulting clash escalated and led to the mass killings, concluded the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nepal report.

Signatories of the appeal include Kedar Narsingh KC, Charan Prasai, Ganesh Kumar Mandal, Sushil Pyakurel, Taranath Dahal, Indra Prasad Aryal, Mahamunishwar Acharya and Kanak Mani Dixit and have demanded that Prime Minister Deuba immediately relieve Minister Yadav of her post and start legal proceedings against her.

‘The fact that a sitting minister can threaten target killings, and also proudly take ownership of a massacre, is the result of the unchecked lack of accountability in the country,’ further adds the appeal, which also laments the government’s failure to show interest or concern three full days after the incident.

Former tourism minister and now the UML secretary Yogesh Bhattarai has also come out strongly against Yadav via his Twitter and has demanded action against her remarks.

He wrote: “Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba should either relieve Renu Yadav who has instigated violence and delivered a scathing speech against the Constitution or declare that Nepali Congress justifies violence in polities. There is no other way.”

Even Nepali Congress General Secretary Bishwo Prakash Sharma has also recommended removal of Yadav to PM Deuba.

‘Maila Baje’ is Sanjay Upadhya

This the Foreword and concluding chapter of Empowered and Imperiled: Nepal’s Peace Puzzle in Bits and Pieces in which US-based Nepali writer Sanjay Upadhya confesses that he is the Maila Baje who wrote the Nepali Netbook blog. The new book is a collection of his entries over the years.

Sanjay Upadhya also wrote a column on current affairs for Nepali Times (screengrab, below) between 2001-2003 under the pen name Puskar Bhusal, which are in this paper’s online archives. It includes this piece on Sher Bahadur Deuba’s second tenure as prime minister which is as relevant today is it was in 2002: Consensus Charade.

Out of the Shadows, Finally

It feels good to finally come out. I’ve been tempted to do so several times over the last decade and a half. The shades just seemed too soothing. I chose this nom de guerre before I’d decided what I’d call my blog. Relatively new, the blogosphere beckoned with all its breeziness. A notebook on Nepal on the net. Bingo.

King Gyanendra’s royal rule was at its toughest. The Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists had signed the 12-Point Understanding but so much was unclear. Geopolitics, public opinion, hope, despair—the imponderables were too many. Powerful as the royal regression narrative was, I never bought it—and still don’t. 

Our triangular fight had become too drawn out for anyone’s good. I don’t think King Gyanendra had any specific plan when he took over on February 1, 2005. He wanted a realignment of forces into a bipolar one, and thought he could pull it off. If not, well, others were free to try. They did and here we are.

I’d been defending the royal takeover in that spirit, drawing all the venom I expected to. There seemed so much going on that seemed so unreal. Yet, a lot of what seemed to be going on seemed too real to discount.

I had used this genre as Puskar Bhusal in the Nepali Times. Yes, Kunda Dixit soon found out I was somewhere in Nepal. And Kanak Dixit, although still burdened by my indolence to his years of prompting, asked me to contribute an essay to his superb volume ‘State of Nepal’—in my real name.

Over the years, People’s Review weekly carried my pieces under the bylines of Krishna Singh Bam, Madan Prasad Khanal and Rabindra Adhikari. (Frankly, I can’t recall the other names.) My inspiration was my father, Devendra Raj Upadhya, who would write as ‘Jatayu’, ‘Sampati’ and a bevy of other beings in an assortment of Nepali weeklies.

I recognised the disadvantages going in. I’d be called a coward for shooting from the shadows. A propagandist who could sell his soul but not show his face. An agent for this, an agent provocateur for that. I’m still called all that, although I was careful to disable the comments function on Nepali Netbook. What surprised me was the positive interest my posts also began generating early on. The guessing game began.

Top on the list was King Gyanendra. My mentor—and cousin—Dipak Gyawali, having worked with the monarch both in the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation and as his minister, detected similarities in style and some of the expressions used. During a one-to-one talk of over an hour in Narayanhity palace in August 2007, I only recently learned, Dipak daju asked the monarch directly: he just waved his hand dismissively!

Sanjay Upadhya receiving Dasain tika from King Birendra.

Bhola Bikram Rana, another mentor, had also asked the monarch in a formal interview. Again, his denial didn’t seem to matter. Others said it had to be a former biggie out to cash in on the regime change. Still, others said it couldn’t be a Nepali because a royalist couldn’t write in English.

Gen. Rookmangad Katawal, given his public past with pseudonyms, was another candidate. My first boss and great teacher, Mana Ranjan Josse, conceding his status as a middle son and a Bahun, came out with a full denial more than once.

Was Maila Baje young or old? In Nepal or abroad? A Nepali or a foreigner? Male or female posing as one? Heck, was I even one person or a composite? When, to my surprise, Janabhawana weekly started translating my posts and publishing it as a weekly column, everything took a whole new form.

Dipak daju later told me that while he did suspect me, he was also skeptical. Maila Baje was writing about events, the news of which had not even crossed the Ring Road in Kathmandu. Anyone not living in Kathmandu and in the thick of it all could not even be aware of these events let alone comment on them. On Twitter, he recently offered anyone who correctly identified me a nice recommendation for the world’s top investigative journalism award. (Thank you, Dipak daju, for the deflection).

My good friend Rabindra Mishra once asked me point blank. I gave him a flat denial. He couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t see his facial expression because he was on the phone line from BBC Nepali Service in London explaining my assignment for the morning. My lie must have infuriated him. I’m sorry, Rabindra ji. But I believed I had a good reason.

The blogosphere had already given me enough space to wander at will. Pseudonymity added to its appeal. As time flew, Maila Baje acquired a personality of its own. Coming out of the shadows would stifle him. Any time I had any inhibition, I would shut my eyes and imagine Nepal’s map and its position on a slowly revolving globe. It always felt like I was doing something good.

Nepal has never ceased to amaze me. Being squeezed between giant opposites India and China provided the element of space. Time, too, was of essence. I grew up as Indian parliamentarism and Chinese communism contended with American capitalism and Soviet collectivism. Born into a family that allowed me varying levels of proximity with royals, the Nepali Congress and communists of all hues, curiosity abounded as the same story differed with the teller.

My profession afforded me contact with foreigners who had something to do with Nepal or knew a lot about the country in ways a Nepali did not. The more I looked around Nepal, the more I saw so much to uncover. That’s when I began understanding something I was once told by King Mahendra. A nine-year-old standing on the line waiting to welcome the monarch during his visit to Thailand—where my father was posted—I bowed a respectful namaste when my turn came.

As my father introduced me, the king glared at me for a few seconds before saying: ‘Consider yourself very fortunate here. Study well and use your education in the service of Nepal, no matter where you may be.’

Condescending and even royally conceited? Not at all. Years later, when I happened to meet B.P. Koirala in New Delhi, I began introducing myself. He remembered meeting me a few years back and wondered where I was in my engineering studies. Stunned, I told him I had changed disciplines. ‘Whatever you study, study it well and be of use to Nepal, wherever you may be.’

Only if these two great men had been able to work together. I refuse to believe that politicians really resemble their caricature. They are not in the game to intentionally harm the country and people. There is something up there that’s just different. Compulsions, compromises, enticements, intimidations all end up taking their toll. Sure, some individuals are more vulnerable and vicious than others. By and large, though, it’s the nature of the beast.

Nepal, somehow fertile ground for initiatives and experiments fair and foul, is perhaps more susceptible to superfluous influences, alien and local. Things just don’t just happen here in a vacuum. Trying to make sense of it all is strenuous but still fun. Conspiracy theories instantly run wild. But that doesn’t necessarily make them irrelevant. Pulling these seemingly disparate strands together into a coherent 600 words every week or so has value. ‘If you can’t solve things, at least expose the problems you see’ seems to be a good motto.

One afternoon an uncle visiting from New York asked whether I read Maila Baje’s blog. When I said I did, he asked whether I knew who he or she was, and began naming names others had suggested to him. Maili Bajai sitting next to me told him the truth. She turned to me to say the time had long come. 

Actually, it hadn’t. It took two more years, when my good friend Ajit Baral of FinePrint shot me an email asking me what I thought about a compilation. When I ‘outed’ myself to Dipak daju and sheepishly sought his suggestions on bringing out book, he promptly gave the structure a new vibrancy and direction, for which I am indebted.

With this selection before you, all I can say now is, gee, it’s so bright out here.

Sanjay Upadhya

(aka Maila Baje)

Coming Full Circle

If there hadn’t been so many stakeholders with reputations to lose, Nepal’s political exercise in platitudes would have been pronounced a failure with the first constituent assembly’s dissolution in 2012. In the spring of 2006, Nepalis did yearn for change. The royal regime had failed to inspire an initially expectant population, whereas the opposition parties and the Maoists had brought some hope.

The alliance struck in New Delhi was aimed more at punishing the palace than empowering the people. The text of the understanding had to be watered down to accommodate all parties’ basic positions. Even so, the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists could not issue a signed joint text. Apart from viability, the venue would hobble the accord in a country ever so wary of the Delhi Compromise of 1951.

For the moment, however, it was enough to energize the masses, no doubt abetted by a sustained international campaign of vilification of the palace. By the time the pressures of the streets had receded, Nepal was on its way to becoming a federal and secular republic—agendas that People’s Movement II had not raised. If the task was arduous enough for Nepal’s new rulers, the process would prove excruciating.

Of the three pillars of ‘new Nepal’, Hindu statehood was controversial from the start. How it found a place in the House Proclamation of May 18, 2006—hailed as the equivalent of the Magna Carta—remains a mystery. Two years later, the elected constituent assembly voted on what had been already presented to members as a fait accompli: the abolition of the monarchy. With no trace of regret or recrimination, Gyanendra Shah held a news conference before leaving the palace to blend into a life of a commoner.

He would be no ordinary citizen. As a former head of state, Shah continued to exhort his successors to recommit themselves to the pledges they made to the people. In the early years, the political class largely sneered at him. Then they began warning him against attempts to subvert the new order. Over time, the ex-king began drawing larger crowds than politicians in his visits across the country. India and China, among other countries, stepped up consultations with him as a national force. Politicians recognized they had run out of powder. When Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai persisted in their tirades, the people began ridiculing them.

Federalism became such a central agenda after the Madhes movement that everyone started proposing models. No structure could satisfy everyone, while Nepal’s northern neighbor would have none of it. While championing inclusiveness and broadest-based representation in general terms, the southern neighbor couldn’t find a model it liked, either. By the time provinces and local bodies got elected leaders, new taxes and conspicuous patronage appeared to validate the few early skeptics.

A decade and a half later, it has become impossible to identify what went wrong and when. In reality, it is beside the point. If King Gyanendra had bet his throne on the mainstream parties’ and the Maoists’ inability to unite against him, a section of the Indian establishment— the one closest to a budding alliance with the West—called his bluff without anything specific in mind.

Every subsequent compromise turned out to be a renegotiation of the previous one. Nepal’s two neighbors became particularly assertive, and were sometimes capable of joint action. The Indians and Chinese, who brought the United Nations in to anchor the Maoists into a nebulous ‘peace process’, were also the ones that ensured it left.

Why consensus could be miraculously reached during some phases while it was stubbornly elusive during others was also a largely irrelevant question. The peace process had to proceed at any cost and thus acquired a logic of its own until the promulgation of the new Constitution and the election of representative bodies.

By the time the transition ended, local, regional and international dynamics had shifted remarkably from those in 2005-2006. India’s new governing elite had not directly participated in shaping New Delhi’s Nepal agenda and made a big thing about it. Having transcended the Tibet issue to envisioning Nepal as a land bridge to South Asia, the Chinese used security and development as prods, depending on the state of their relations with India.

More distant stakeholders like the United States, Britain and European Union member states shared a clear set of concerns but found it harder to draw coherence in terms of priority. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the battle lines between the US-led Millennium Challenge Corporation compact and the China-led Belt and Road Initiative had been drawn. Sadly, the security and strategic dimensions superseded the economic and development ones in the Nepali psyche and polity.

The Nepali political class sought collective action while driving the peace process. When things started falling apart, they seemed ready to shoulder collective blame. When the finger-pointing started becoming too personal for the public’s consumption, the politicians coarsened the discourse. The people may have found nostalgia more appealing than any notion of the future. Nepal’s fate now indeed rests in their hands.

Empowered and Imperiled: Nepal’s Peace Puzzle in Bits and Pieces

FinePrint, 2022
Rs 698
360 pages
ISBN: 978-9937-746-35-9

(Available in book shops from February)

Freshwater dolphin comeback in Nepal

Ganges river dolphin back in Nepal’s Narayani River. Photos: TEK MAHATO.

It is the best possible New Year 2022 present. A local nature guide in Nepal, Tek Mahato took several photos of a Ganges river dolphin in the Narayani River, the first time there has been photographic evidence of a dolphin in the river in years.

One of the country’s four largest rivers, the Narayani crosses the border into India as Gandaki, and used to be part of the species’ traditional range, which has dwindled considerably in recent decades.

Ganges river dolphins are now rare throughout Nepal. In 2016, the Department of Wildlife Conservation and National Parks estimated the river dolphin population in the country at 52 individuals: 43 in the Karnali River and its tributaries, and nine in the Kosi River. None were believed to still live in the Narayani River.

Indeed, it was only last year that we finalised the current distribution map of the Ganges river dolphin, just 3,500–5,000 of which now inhabit in the great Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river basins.

The Narayani is coloured in purple (map below) for population extinct as no dolphins had been officially sighted in the river for ten years.

That is until the message about Tek Mahato’s remarkable sighting came in.

Ganges river dolphin distribution and density. Map: WWF

This teaches us two important lessons: nature is adaptive and bounces back whenever humans allow her to do so. This hopeful message is very welcome at the start of 2022, which is an absolutely critical year for biodiversity with a new global framework for nature due to be agreed at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) conference in China. 

The return of Ganges dolphins to the Narayani shows that life will return to the world’s rivers if we take the right steps to restore and protect them.

Freshwater species populations have collapsed by 84% since 1970 and all six river dolphin species are now facing extinction. However, we can reverse these trends if countries sign up to, and then implement, ambitious goals under the CBD to conserve and restore healthy rivers, such as keeping rivers free flowing and tackling pollution. And if more businesses adopt a water stewardship approach as well as support critical water stewardship programs, like WWF-Nepal’s river restoration and collective action initiative on the Narayani.

Ganges river dolphin in Narayani.

The second lesson is to conduct a detailed census of Nepal’s rivers to establish the true population status of its river dolphins, an activity that is in line with the government’s National River Dolphin Action Plan, which was finalised in 2021.

The most recent survey in 2016 was conducted over too short a period of time and, six years later, the situation has clearly changed. We need to know how many dolphins still swim in Nepal and in which rivers before the authorities, communities and conservation organisations (including my colleagues from WWF-Nepal) can develop the best way to help them survive and thrive.

The challenges river dolphins face are huge, particularly in Asia where they live in some of the most densely populated river basins in the world. 

But this reappearance gives us real hope that our work, particularly with our partners under the WWF River Dolphin Rivers initiative, can make a difference. That together we can help enhance the health of these rivers and rebuild their dolphin populations.

©WWF

Daphne Willems is the Lead at the WWF River Dolphin Rivers initiative. 

Read original article here.

Dance of democracy

Photo: PRADEEP RAJ ONTA

As per Nepal’s Local Election Act 2017, voting for all 753 local governments must be held by 19 March. But the governing coalition that is supposed to announce poll dates has been dilly-dallying because two of its members want it postponed. 

Although in a meeting of the High-level Political Mechanism on Tuesday all parties are said to have agreed to hold the local polls “on time as per the Constitution”, the Maoist Centre (MC) and the Unified Socialists (US) are still proposing a delay, even suggesting that federal elections be held first. 

Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the MC is said to have come out most strongly in Tuesday’s meeting to postpone local elections till November, even if it took an ordinance to amend the law to do so.

The MC and US both want more time to prepare for the polls because they are fragments of larger parties. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s Nepali Congress and Janata Samajbadi Party on the other hand want the election as scheduled on 27 April.

At an all-party meeting at the Election Commission on 14 January, the MC and US came up with a legal argument that there were different provisions in the Constitution and the Act regarding the tenure of local representatives. They even used the pandemic, high cost of separate polls, and ‘election fatigue’ as pretexts to postpone the polls.

“All of us are for local elections to be held immediately and we said as much, except for the Maoists and the United Socialists,” revealed Jhanak Pyakurel of the rightwing Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP). “Periodic elections are a prerequisite in a democracy, they should be held as scheduled in April.” 

Indeed, 13 leaders out of 15 parties at the meeting said elections should be held on time. MC and US were the only ones demanding postponement.

Read also: Battle lines drawn for Nepal elections, Editorial

And it is clear why: Dahal wants elections to all three levels held simultaneously and that provincial and federal elections be held before local elections because he fears his party will be trounced in local polls. 

Dahal is aware that his party has stagnated and suffered defections since the last elections in 2017, and has seen an erosion of its mass base. One MC leader confided that the party was finding it difficult even to find candidates in some municipalities and wards, let alone win them.

Dahal is also worried that the MC’s defeat in local elections will undermine his chances in provincial and federal assembly polls. The Nepali Congress has said it is fighting elections on its own and will not join an electoral alliance with the Maoists. 

Dahal is now using the argument that federal elections are needed first to break the deadlock in Parliament, which has not met for six months because of obstructions by the UML.

Which is why Dahal is even thinking of once more forging an alliance with arch-enemy K P Oli’s UML. If that happens, Nepali politics will have come a full circle to pre-2017 days. 

“We have two advantages in joining with the UML, we win more seats than aligning with other parties and it will also stop the defection of Maoist cadres to the UML,” says a close Dahal confidante. “If an electoral pact with either UML or NC is ensured, we will agree to local elections in April.” 

Read also: Polls in the time of pandemic, Editorial

20 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK

Nepali Times #77 18-24 January 2022.

Down, but not out

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the murder of schoolteacher Muktinath Adhikari by the Maoists in Lamjung district during the peak of the insurgency — for immediately not agreeing to donate 25% of his salary to their cause.

 “But even after two decades, there has been no justice. The perpetrators were never caught. If this is the condition of such a high profile war crime, imagine what it is like for others who are not as well known,” wrote Muktinath’s daughter Sabita Adhikari this week in an opinion piece.

Excerpts from a report about the Maoist attack on Kapurkot in Salyan district from issue #77 18-24 January 2022 20 years ago this week:

As they usually do, the Maoists attacked in a human wave. Not all of them were armed, and while preparing for the attack they chanted slogans, sang revolutionary songs and beat drums. They were hit by withering fire from army sentries on the hill. When a comrade was hit, an unarmed Maoist cadre would take up his weapon. In these remote mid-western hills, such tactics used to terrify locals, and the consequent fear was overwhelming. It is a measure of the Maoists’ earlier confidence that they made no secret of an impending attack. Still, a demoralised police either abandoned their posts or cowered with their World War I vintage 303 rifles waiting for the devastating attacks. 

The tables have now turned. Such psy-war tactics are not as effective with the Royal Nepal Army, and the Maoists have not been able to overrun a single army base after the surprise attack on the Ghorahi garrison on 23 November. As in Salleri on 26 November, the Maoists suffered heavy casualties in Kapurkot. 

For ordinary people, life is hard as always but made harder by the fighting. Bhim Bahadur Magar walked nine hours from his home village to Libang to make his citizenship card. While waiting, he chatted with us in a tea shop. “There is no future here. I’m going to the Gulf to work. Earlier it was the police harassing us, these days it is Maoists,” he said. “Now that the army is here, the situation has improved. But the army can’t be everywhere at the same time.” 

From archives material of Nepali Times of the past 20 years, site search: www.nepalitimes.com

Covid undermines Nepal’s mother-child gains

Photos: UNICEF NEPAL

Despite periods of political and economic instability, Nepal achieved dramatic progress in maternal and child health in the early 2000s becoming an international model.

It took great strides in reducing childhood malnutrition, in particular, reducing stunting from 57% in 1996 to 33% in 2016. Maternal and Infant mortality rates also similarly declined, only for much of these successes to stall in the recent years. And this trend has been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, states a new UNICEF report.

Titled “Nutrition in Nepal: Three decades of progress for children and women”, the report brings together a set of nine original articles that examine the drivers of success and identify where greater policy and programmatic action is needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) nutrition targets.

“Optimal maternal and child nutrition is the basis for developing a resilient society,” says EU Ambassador to Nepal, H.E. Nona Deprez. “The decline in the number of malnourished children, improvements in health facilities and services, and the multisectoral approach used in Nepal over the past three decades are a testament to the Government of Nepal’s commitment to reducing all forms of malnutrition.”

special supplement of the Maternal and Child Nutrition Journal published on Thursday lists some of Nepal’s biggest nutritional achievements. Between 1996-2016, the early initiation of breastfeeding saw an increase from 18% to 56%, and complementary feeding increased from 54% to 77%.

During the same period, women taking sufficient iron and folic acid supplements during their pregnancy rose from 6% to 71%. This was combined with earlier and more frequent antenatal care visits.

Consistent administering of Vitamin A has saved the lives of an estimated 45,000 Nepali children under the age of five, between 2002 and 2015. Similarly, households using adequately iodised salt doubled from 35% to 77% from 1998 to 2016.

Much of this progress can be credited to improvements in household wealth, parental education, and sanitation. But equally important was increased coverage of health and nutrition services undertaken by successive governments.

Nepal Government utilised ground-breaking research to test interventions and overcome challenges, it is also committed to enforcing mandatory legislation such as salt iodisation, writes the journal supplement. 

Mobilisation of Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs) across Nepal villages and towns have improved the health of mother and children, so has an investment in sectoral programs including education and sanitation.

But there are now new challenges to achieving national and global targets on nutrition, which also threatens to undermine past gains.

“The learning from the past 25 years that are incorporated in the supplement will inform and contribute to future improvements. However, we must act now, given the impact that the pandemic has had on the nutritional health of mothers and their children,” says Elke Wisch, UNICEF Representative to Nepal.

During the pandemic, most households experienced job losses or reduced income. With the Omicron-led third wave spreading across Nepal, the pandemic’s ensuing socioeconomic crisis is long from over.

This means reduced dietary intake among children and mothers. School closures will deprive many children of getting one decent meal a day. All this will add to childhood malnutrition which continues to be a major cause of death and retarded mental and physical development among younger populations

As such, UNICEF has recommended the government to improve the general public’s access to nutritious, safe, affordable, and sustainable diets. It also suggests integrating essential nutrition services into the existing service delivery platforms like family planning, antenatal, delivery and post-natal care and well-child and sick-child care and continuing to mobilise FCHVs to reach more women and children.

To disseminate factual information, advice and counselling on infant and young child feeding, healthcare workers can also use multiple communication channels such as radio, TV or social media.

But perhaps equally if not more important is strengthening local levels so that they can plan, implement and monitor nutrition programs and services, and maintain Nepal’s commitment to generating data, information, and evidence to assess progress and inform decisions.

Khukri Spiced Rum

Following its successes in Korea and Japan, Khukri is introducing its Spiced Rum in Nepal as well. The rum had its trial in Butwal and Bhairawa where consumers preferred to mix it with cola or have it neat. The company is making a limited release of the rum this year. “This is a premium product, its taste and quality is of the highest standard,” says Subash Lamichane of The Nepal Distilleries. 

Pandemic revives reading culture in Nepal

Photo: AMERICAN LANGUAGE CENTRE

Contrary to industry projections, paper book sales during the pandemic in Nepal have seen healthy growth after an initial setback. Stores were quick to adapt to new business models by taking to Instagram to advertise and deliver new books at a time when constrained by travel restrictions, many young people turned to reading.

And yet, for most readers across the country buying books regularly is not affordable. Which is why the role of community libraries remains important in fostering the reading culture among Nepalis. 

All over the world, libraries used to be a trusted, local institution with access to information that has driven economic opportunity and community engagement while keeping a record of community history. This tradition is slowly eroding due to encroachment by the digital world.

The good news in Nepal is that smaller community libraries have emerged across Kathmandu to cater to growing demand during the pandemic lockdowns when most schools were closed for nearly a year. One of them is Books Inn that opened in 2021 but already has 200 enthusiastic members and more joining. 

Founder Nasala Maharjan set it up after seeing firsthand the power of the library on young minds at a school where she is a teacher where she lent non-curricular books to her students.

“I saw that they kept coming back for more and both their writing and speaking had improved by a lot, so I wanted to give the same platform for students who didn’t have a library at school,” says Maharjan. 

Read also: Publishing during the pandemic, Surina Narula

She adds: “I have always liked reading, and I saw an opportunity to bring the same joy to others. The fact that the library is doing better than I initially expected is a bonus.” 

Indeed, after less than a year of coming into operation, Books Inn has become financially sustainable through membership fees alone. There is even money saved up to order and pay for new books, and other expenses. Most of the readers are young adults who are still in school and students enrolled in undergrad programs. 

Local libraries like these are surprisingly bucking the worldwide trend towards digital, and appear to have got a boost during the pandemic lockdowns.

They have spurred a reading culture unlike in the past where libraries were used only for academia and rote learning, shifting society’s emphasis from only obtaining degrees to intellectual exploration and knowledge sharing.

With this, more parents are now aware of the importance of instilling a reading habit in their children. Sanu Ko Pustakalaya has seen significant interest from parents who want a reading space for children, and is working to expand its collection of books for younger readers. 

Read also: Read and let read, Anil Chitrakar

“Parents are definitely becoming more aware, and want to reduce screen time among their children,” says Priyansha Silwal of Sanu Ko Pustakalaya. 

Indeed, screen exposure of children and young adults can dissuade them from reading, but if a reading habit is instilled early and effectively, technology can serve as an extension to the passion for reading.

“We established the library in memory of my sister. Our family has a reading habit, so we thought it would be best to honor her memory through the library,” adds Silwal.

The Silwal family donated 600 books themselves, and after gathering donations from the public, the library now has over 2,500 books in its collection. Sanu Ko Pustakalaya had a soft opening three months ago, but largely through word of mouth it has already amassed 50 members, with new members joining every week. 

Read also: The power of reading aloud, Sanghamitra Subba 

“Students usually come by, bring their own books, or choose something from the collection and read. Sometimes a few office-goers will also stop by in the evenings,” says Silwal. 

Public libraries on the other hand are on the decline. Government apathy and lack of support mean most of them are neglected and lack resources. Nepal National Library in Kathmandu was severely damaged in the 2015 earthquake, and is yet to be rebuilt.

The Ministry of Education with the Nepal National Library was all set to start construction on a new world-class library in Jamal on a 500 sq m plot in 2020. After spending close to Rs25 million, the government hastily recalled the project, and there were allegations of the government of K P Oli renting it out to a business conglomerate.

Kaiser Library in Thamel still does not allow readers to borrow books, the Wisdom Point in Baneswor remains closed, the Nepal Bharat Library does not allow the public to enter, and neither does the American Centre. Some public libraries like AWON, Kathmandu Valley Public Library, and Ratna Pustakalaya are open and have membership systems for the public to use. 

Local libraries are filling the gap, but can only do so much to address the public demand for books to read unless the government revitalises existing libraries and builds new ones outside the capital.

Read also: Digitising archives, sharing knowledge, Nepali Times

India-Nepal power trade

Nepal and India have agreed to increase the capacity of the Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur cross-border transmission line to allow import and export of up to 600MW of electricity. The 400kVA line is only able to handle 350MW at present. The agreement was reached at a virtual meeting between NEA’s Sandip Deb and Rabindra Gupta of India’s Central Electricity Authority on Tuesday. The 456MW Upper Tama Kosi plant is connected to this transmission line.