Nepal’s geography poses a significant barrier for the country’s aim to improve transport.
The tiny, landlocked nation of Nepal lies sandwiched between two large countries, China and India, and maintains good relations with both. Politically, Nepal has strong links with China, while its cultural ties are close with India. These relationships work both ways. Despite being tiny in comparison, Nepal is an important trading partner for China and India and provides a vital transport connection across the continent for these much larger nations. Although Nepal’s recent political history has been tumultuous, the leaders of all the major parties have agreed upon the need for better transportation. Road transportation has been widely recognised as being crucial to the country’s development.
While Nepal is not strong economically, it is benefiting directly from its good relations with China and India in regard to infrastructure investment. In spite of the changes of leadership in Nepal, these relations with China and India have been maintained. This is crucial as both of its giant neighbours have been providing economic assistance as well as technical expertise, inputs that are sorely needed. In addition, Nepal also benefits from foreign aid provided by the European Union (EU), Japan, the Scandinavian nations, Switzerland, the UK and the US.
However Nepal’s geography poses a significant barrier for the country’s aim to improve transport. The Himalayan range lies in the north of the country, including eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains, and these present huge physical obstacles. In the southern lowland plains of the country, rivers descending from the mountains change course frequently, presenting another challenge. Meanwhile, Nepal’s hill regions include altitudes ranging from 800-4,000m, itself providing difficulties for road builders. As a result of the technical issues resulting from the country’s geography as well as a shortage of construction machinery, building roads between cities, towns and villages in Nepal can be an expensive and almost painfully slow process.
Nepal’s road network is growing but there is an enormous need for more investment. Communications infrastructure also has gaps between the plains and mountain region. More than 60 per cent of the road network in Nepal is concentrated in the lowland areas of the country, specifically in Terai. There are 29,031 km of roads, 53 per cent of which are paved roads, and 1,952 bridges in the South Asian country. One issue that has affected a good deal of Nepal’s existing road infrastructure comes from the weather. Water flow rates can be enormous due to run-off from mountain glaciers, becoming worse still during the monsoon season due to intense bursts of heavy rainfall. Of the existing roads (surfaced and unsurfaced), up to 60 per cent become unusable during the monsoon season and that includes most of the rural road connections.
The infrastructure of Nepal was impacted by an earthquake that occurred in 2015. Around eight million people were affected and 250,000 houses damaged. Despite that, Nepal’s government and the private sector are working to relieve infrastructure in Nepal.
Government capital expenditures in infrastructure have exceeded 4 per cent of Nepali gross domestic product (GDP) since 2015. This money has gone towards water, communication, transportation and electricity infrastructure. In addition, the private sector is contributing to upgrading the country’s infrastructure. Transportation and communication infrastructure received an investment of 365 billion Nepalese rupees in 2017. Water and energy infrastructure got 48 billion Nepalese rupees.
International organizations are providing assistance to Nepal as well. Since the 1970’s, the World Bank has founded 12 road projects and recently developed the Road Maintenance Groups (RMG) programme that employs local Nepalese labour in road infrastructure tasks. With these advances, Nepal looks to the future. With growing urban areas in the country, infrastructure in Nepal has to reduce the gaps it has in the mountains regions, where access is difficult. However, the government, the private sector and international organizations are all contributing money to the country in order to boost infrastructure in Nepal’s three regions.