Streamline Infrastructure Development Projects

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Infrastructure development plays a catalytic role in the overall development of a country. Nepal has made some remarkable headway in infrastructure development, but such development is often lopsided. There are many remote areas in the country which need infrastructure development to a great degree. But infrastructure development is often confined to urban areas. 

Infrastructure development is the edifice upon which the all-out development of a country is built. Infrastructure development plays a role in overcoming geographical difficulties by connecting one place with another. Infrastructure such as roads, trains and other modes of transport facilitates the movement of goods and services and enhances the mobility of people. It need not be reiterated that such infrastructure boosts industrial and commercial activities as well as tourism, which, in turn, gives a shot-in-the-arm to job creation and sets the economy in motion. 

In recent years, Nepal has embarked upon several construction projects, some being national pride projects. Hydropower, electrification and road projects, for instance, are of paramount importance. Hydropower projects can supplant fossil fuel with clean energy. Fossil fuel has turned out to be a headache around the world. It is responsible for around three quarters of greenhouse gas emissions, thus leading to global warming. Nepal has abundant resources of hydropower and so can benefit from adequate development in the hydropower sector. 

Tourist destination

Likewise, electrification of all households, along with a regular power supply, can drastically cut down on firewood, kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Replacing vehicles running on petrol and diesel oil with electric vehicles can reduce the consumption of fossil fuel. The government has been encouraging the use of electric vehicles, but the incentives for the purchase of such vehicles should be provided so as to boost the use of electric vehicles.  

In like manner, the importance of expanding road networks need not be overemphasised. Development of road networks brings out development in other sectors such as industry, marketing and tourism. Nepal has not made required progress in road networks. There is a tendency to open tracks and leave them unblacktopped for years. This not only makes traffic difficult but also erodes the condition of the tracks. Even in Kathmandu, the capital city, the condition of roads leaves much to be desired. 

Infrastructure like roads, hotels, resorts and tourist facilities gives a leg-up to the tourism sector. Tourism is a sector that, if properly developed, can enable Nepal to earn foreign currency more than what the country is earning now. The number of tourists coming to the country is gradually increasing. But we should not be complacent with 1.2 million or so tourists visiting the country on an annual basis. We can increase the number to even ten million if we improve the tourism sector by building modern infrastructure and opening up new tourist destinations. 

Another area where infrastructure development can contribute to is the field of disaster management. Nepal is prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, landslides and floods. Building disaster-resilient houses and buildings could lessen the impact of disasters like tremors. Likewise, if solid infrastructure is in place, it will help in post-disaster recovery and management. Infrastructure development also facilitates access to healthcare services, education, information technology and even basic services such as drinking water, sanitation and electricity. There is no doubt that infrastructure development contributes to better living conditions through better housing, public areas and recreational facilities. 

The need for infrastructure development in rural and remote areas is strongly felt. The government has initiated some projects designed to accelerate the development of rural and remote areas. The Rural Electrification Programme, the Rural Road Connectivity Programme and the Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation Programme are noteworthy projects. Infrastructure development in rural and remote areas throws up several advantages such as employment opportunities, a halt in migration to a certain extent and, more importantly, development of the rural economy. 

There are several challenges to infrastructure development in Nepal. Lack of funding, or failure to release budget allocations in time, is one of the stumbling-blocks to infrastructure development. There are several instances where construction works get halted while being implemented either for lack of funding or owing to failure to release budgeted funds. On the other hand, contracts are often awarded to contracting companies on the basis of political nexuses. 

The performance of such contractors is often sub-par, the Sikta Irrigation Project being a glaring example. They may leave the projects assigned to them in limbo or they may just run away without completing the contracts. Delayed completion of projects results in cost overruns on the one hand, while on the other the targeted people cannot enjoy the services in time. For example, the Melamchi Drinking Water Project and the Dharahara Reconstruction Project are yet to be completed. 

There are topographical impediments to infrastructure development in Nepal. Difficult topography has hampered the construction of infrastructure in hilly, mountainous and other areas. However, the government can overcome such geographical barriers if it has the will. There is technology designed to overcome such hindrances. Some countries like China have developed infrastructure in geographically difficult terrain.

Private sector

Nepal lacks skilled technical manpower. Construction works built with inadequate technical skills such as faulty designs often result in poor quality works. That is why, sometimes, bridges collapse while under construction. Or, heavy and even light vehicles have to be barred from crossing newly-constructed bridges.   

And there is lack of fiscal discipline in project implementation. It is one of the major challenges to infrastructure development. Lack of transparency, accountability and proper monitoring has affected the implementation of several development projects. There is corruption everywhere. When there is corruption, the quality of work suffers and costs soar.

Anyway, infrastructure development is indispensable for Nepal. The private sector is also contributing to infrastructure development. Both the government and the private sector should work in tandem to beef up the economy of the country and uplift the standard of living of the people living in rural and remote areas.     

(Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000.)

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