Sunday, December 24, 2006

Talking about water rights

Razen Manandhar [Sunday, 24. December 2006]

According to legends and lore, the place where Kathmandu stands today was once a holy lake ten-twenty millennia ago.
It is said that a Chinese saint Manjushri came here, cut an outlet in the hills surrounding the lake with his magic sword letting the water drain out leaving a lush, green valley for people to live.
However, today in this same Valley, which was once a huge lake, people are striving for every drop of clean drinking water.
Kathmandu Valley has been reeling under acute water shortage for a decade now. Today it is being slapped with a new water management system. As per the conditions in the contract with the donors of the dream water project Melamchi, a foreign water management company is going to handle the country’s water authority — Nepal Water Supply Corporation, which has been enjoying monopoly — in at least the big cities, where water can make money.
Water activists have termed this move ‘privatisation’ and this does not fail to raise the government’s ire. However, privatisation or not, it is for sure that water will no longer be as cheap as it is now.
Moreover, the poor will have to pay even more in new system.
In this context, a serious question has been raised by the water activists: Will the new management be able to provide drinking water to poor in the Capital?
A gross estimation by Lumanti Support Group for Shelter states that at least 12,000 families in 60 settlements are living in extremely poor conditions.
Regardless of what the government has done or not done for the poor in terms of water distribution, it is now impossible to neglect their voice. It has now been internationally established that water is not a commodity for anyone to merchandise for profit, but a human rights issue: you cannot deny water to the poor because they cannot afford it.
This is the very reason that Target 10 of the Millennium Development Goals aims to halve the number of people without access to clear water and sanitation by 2015. Target 11 aims to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. Apart from this, it has been made almost mandatory that all big water projects show their concern for the poor, which is reflected, at least on paper, in our context.
“You cannot talk about water if you do not want to talk about the poor people,” says Dr Roshan Raj Shrestha, chief technical advisor to UN-HABITAT, the United Nation’s Human Settlements Programme.
The access to clean water is not a problem unique to Kathmandu Valley or Nepal. It is a universal problem, but it is one that has crossed all limits in the Asia Pacific region where 61 per cent of the global population and 43 per cent of the world urban population live. The cities are growing rapidly and so is the disparity between the rich and poor city dwellers. Urban poverty is an unavoidable feature of all Asian cities.
In her recent message, Dr Anna K Tibaujuka, under secretary-general of the UN and the executive director of UN-HABITAT said, “Urban poverty is a severe, pervasive and largely unacknowledged feature of modern life.”
She has specially shown interest in improving the water and sanitation situation in Nepal.
The UN-HABITAT is committed to bring new investments of $ 500 million for water and sanitation to the urban poor, and Nepal is going to have $ 2.5 million under its Water for Asian Cities Programme.
A four-day Asia Pacific Ministers Conference held in New Delhi from December 13-16 came up with the historic Delhi Declaration on this issue. The conference was participated by housing ministers from around 35 countries of the region.
The declaration has decided to establish the Asia-Pacific Ministers’ Conference on Housing and Urban Development (APCHUD) as the consultative mechanism on the promotion of suitable development of housing and urban development in the region. All the participating ministers, including Nepal’s Minister for Physical Planning and Works Gopal Man Singh, have shown commitment to formulate plans and policies in the near future to proceed in accordance with the Delhi Declaration.
Though the Nepal government has been seen very smart in being present and professing its commitment to various international conferences, its role in the implementation side has been objectionable. It is yet to be seen what the minister, who posed for a group photograph with a tilted Dhaka topi , will do in favour of the poor living in the dark alleys of slums and squatters’ area in the Capital, and across the nation.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Villages Near Mt Everst to Light Up Soon

Razen Manandhar

Kathmandu, December 22[2006]:
Five villages near the Mount Everest will have electric lights in four months. The tourist area is deprived of electricity, which has been a challenge to the conservation of Sagarmatha National Park, one of four World Heritage Sites of the country.

A model micro-hydro power project, being installed at Toktok in Chaurikharkha VDC of Solukhumbu district, will supply electricity to some 100 households in five villages. The project is said to be designed in response to the worldwide debate over development and conservation. A powerhouse is being constructed at Toktok village near Ghatte Khola at a height of 2,700 metres.

"The 70 KW power project is going to be complete by April. We are working on war-footing and we hope it will be complete by the deadline as the peace process has made the job easy these days," Ugan Manandhar, alternative energy officer at WWF Nepal, told this daily today.

WWF-Nepal designed the project to use the source of alternative energy for community-based rural electrification to improve the livelihood of people by bringing about income-generating activities in the long run and correlating it with conservation.

"Unlike the widespread opinion that hydroelectricity deteriorates nature, we are trying to show that micro-hydro project indeed can support nature conservation," he said.

According to him, the locals will use electricity for cooking purposes instead of firewood and thus will help keep the forest and nature in the buffer zone of Sagarmatha National Park intact.

The project will use Ghatte Khola of Solukhumbu as its source stream and it will benefit Phakding, Thulo Gumila, Jhamkutte, Toktok and Nangbote villages. A total of 89 potential subscribers have been traced, including 11 tourist lodges, 34 local bars, two monasteries and households.

WWF-Nepal has provided a grant of Rs 12.94 million, which makes up 90 per cent of the project's total cost. Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone Support Programme will jointly bear seven per cent cost and three per cent will be born by the local users' committees.

The construction of a canal, laying underground cable and powerhouse structure have been completed. Transportation of pipes and poles is going on, pole erection and transmission as well as distribution works are about to be completed. Some electro-mechanical equipments are yet to arrive in Kathmandu, Manandhar said.

He added that the project was going on smoothly, as the local community and the community-based organisations were supporting WWF-Nepal.

"We are trying to develop some income generating activates in the villages which will make the power plant really meaningful," he said.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Delhi declaration announced

Razen Manandhar

New Delhi, December 16[2006]:
A Delhi Declaration was announced at the closing of the four-day Asia Pacific Ministerial Conference on Housing and Human Settlement today, with a historic commitment to support the ever-growing number of the urban poor in the region.
The minister of state for housing and urban poverty of India Kumari Selja announced the declaration during the closing ceremony of the conference.
The document, an outcome of the conference of the housing ministers from around 35 countries of the region, among others, has promised to support relief and rehabilitation of shelter and human settlement development in post-conflict and post-disaster situations.
The participating ministers, including the Minister for Physical Planning and Works Gopal Man Shrestha from Nepal, have shown commitment to formulate plans and policies in the near future to proceed in accordance with the Delhi Declaration.
The Asia Pacific Region is emerging as a major contributor to the global urban transition, holding 61 per cent of the global population and 43 per cent of the world urban population.
The Delhi Declaration has decided to establish the Asia-Pacific Ministers’ Conference on Housing and Urban Development (AMPCHUD) as the consultative mechanism on the promotion of suitable development of housing and urban development in the region.
India has consented to work as the secretariat for it for the coming two years. The AMPCHUD, as guided by the “Enhanced Framework”, adopted today, will serve as a forum and network to discuss the urban challenge at the continental level as a basis for national, provincial and local level strategies and policies.
Addressing the closing event, Anna Kazumulo Tabaijuka, the undersecretary general of the UN, said: “Whether they live in the capital or a small island, the poor deserve the same security, development and rights as everyone else.”
[ KATHMANDU, DECEMBER 17, 2006, Poush 02, 2063]

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Kalam tells nations to focus on rural development

Razen Manandhar
New Delhi, December 15 :

President of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam today urged ministers and experts on housing development from 35 countries to stress on the development of rural areas, if they want to make their countries free from urban poverty.
“If you want to reduce pressure on urban areas bring more support and development in rural areas,” he said. President Kalam was addressing the inaugural session of the first Asia Pacific Ministerial Conference on Housing and Human Settlements today. Minister of state for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation of India Kumari Selja said that the countries must accept “inclusion” of the poor as part of core policy in all urban programmes. She said that the secretarial meeting held during the last two days has focused on four major themes — pro-poor urban governance and planning, slum upgrading, delivery of Millennium Development Goals for water and sanitation and financing sustainable urbanisation in the Asia-Pacific.
Anna Kajumlo Tibaijuka, the under-general -secretary of UN and executive director of the UN-HABITAT assured that the new UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon is ready to offer the Asia-Pacific region all support in the field of water and sanitation.
“We are now at a significant turning point in history. The year 2007 will be the year in which for the first time, half of human population will be living in towns and cities. It makes the beginning of a new urban area,” she said.

MoU signed

NEW DELHI: A memorandum of understanding between the government of Nepal and UN-HABITAT was signed on Friday. Kishore Thapa, the director general of Department of Urban Development and Building Construction, and Dr Anna Kajunmulo Tibaijuka, the under-secretary-general of UN and executive director of UN-HABITAT, signed the document, which will provide a grant of $2.5 million till the end of 2010. The money will be spent on development of infrastructure. Also present were Minister of Physical Planning and Works Gopal Man Shrestha and the advisor to UN-HABITAT Nepal Office Dr Ros-han Raj Shrestha. — HNS

Friday, December 15, 2006

UN-HABITAT to grant $2.5m annually until 2010

Razen Manandhar
New Delhi, December 14[2006]:

UN-HABITAT is going to support Nepal annually with Rs 185 million ($2.5 million) till 2010 to upgrade water and sanitation sectors here.

Kishore Thapa, director general of the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction, said a Memorandum of Understanding is being signed between the UN-HABITAT and the Nepal government tomorrow during the Asia Pacific Ministerial Conference on Housing and Human Settlement. Minister for Physical Planning and Works Gopal Man Shrestha is in New Delhi to participate in the conference that will conclude on December 16.

The MoU provides a framework for cooperation between UN-HABITAT and the government of Nepal under the Water for Asian Cities Programme for providing support in the capacity building and sanitation components of the programme. This will thus support ADB-assisted projects, including Kathmandu Valley Water Services Sector Development Programme, Melamchi Water Supply Project, Urban and Environment Improvement Project, Small Towns Water Supply and Sanitation, and Integrated Urban Development Programme.

Thapa said the government has not yet decided where the money will be spent. “I believe it will be used for the improvement of water and sanitation in general,” he added.

Housing ministers from 35 countries are here to participate in the conference and to show political commitment to enhance water and sanitation situations in their countries. The conference is being inaugurated by Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam tomorrow.

Talking to this daily, Roman Rollink, spokesperson for the UN-HABITAT, said a grant of $300 million is being allocated to the developing Asian countries so that they can develop a mechanism to fight against urban poverty.

The conference will form a regional body to facilitate the governments in regulating or managing the crisis of urban poverty. “The conference will adopt a New Delhi Declaration with recommendations and resolutions,” he said.
[KATHMANDU, DECEMBER 15, 2006, Mangsir 29, 2063 ]

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ghunsa chopper crash victims’ kin seek dues

Rue govt apathy, bias against non-govt staffers killed in tragic mishap

Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, December 8[2006]:
Ten weeks after Ghunsa chopper crash Elina Shre-stha, the wife of social worker Bijaya Kumar Shrestha who died in the tragic crash, is looking for someone who could sponsor her son and daughter’s education.
“I thought the government was with me when my husband left us. But two-and-a-half months after the tragedy, it seems to have forgotten his life’s contribution to the state,” she told this correspondent. Elina, who is a housewife, has a 10-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter.
Bijaya Kumar had been engaged with dozens of social organisations in Taplejung in remote north-east Nepal. He was involved in social and economic development and bio-diversity conservation projects in the area, before he died in the ill-fated chopper crash in September.
Bijaya Raj Acharya, 75-year-old father of Dr Bijnan Acharya, Program Development Specialist, USAID, is also looking for someone to take care of his family, as his two younger sons are still studying. Dr Binjan too had died in the crash. He said whatever his son did was for the nation and the government should at least feel that his loss should be compensated.
Dr Sumitra Manandhar Gurung, wife of the country representative of WWF Nepal Program Dr Chandra Gurung, another victim of the crash, too condemned the government apathy. “The government has ignored the voice of the victims’ kin who had undergone mental trauma and were facing economic hardships,” she said.
She added that other than expressing condolence on the demise of conservation heroes the government has done nothing to honour them. Moreover, the victims’ families are yet to receive the insurance money from Shree Air.
The government has already compensated the families of state minister Gopal Rai, whose wife Meena Rai also died in the crash, and other government staffers killed in the tragic mishap. The government staffers were also promoted posthumously.
“We are hurt to see the government discriminating among its citizens,” rued Bijaya Raj Acharya.
The victims’ families are planning to hand over a memorandum to the prime minister seeking government’s due recognition of the victims and compensation for their kin.

Govt told to chip in

KATHMANDU: Families of those killed in the Shree Air helicopter crash in September have urged the government to form a compensation coordination committee to be led by Tourism Secretary Madhav Ghimire. A Cabinet decision on November 7 had endorsed a proposal to provide compensation of Rs 2 million to the family of the late State Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation Gopal Rai and his wife Meena Rai who died in the crash in Ghunsa, Taplejung. The government has already provided the compensation to the late minister’s family and Rs 1 million each to the families of three government officials and two journalists of Nepal Television.
Tourism Minister Pra-dip Gyawali and Tourism Secretary Ghimire had pr-omised the victims’ families the compensation.
However, a government source, requesting anonymity, said the government is considering providing compensation to the families of all those who died in the crash. — HNSGovt told to chip in

Sunday, December 03, 2006

ADB-funded water project not serving urban poor: Report

Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, December 2[2006]:
A study conducted by water activists has concluded that the $53.9 million project funded by the Asian Development Bank has not been able to ensure quality drinking water for the poor population, as promised.
The ADB-funded Small Town Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project implemented in 40 to 50 small towns across the country with an aim to provide quality drinking water to small town dwellers in six years, has failed to meet its target, the NGO Forum for Urban Water and Sanitation said in a report prepared on the basis of its research in Ratnanagar, Lekhnath, Parsa and Bandipur municipalities.
The targetted communities have not been able to reap benefits from the project because the service charge is too expensive for the poor communities residing in small towns.
The ADB had approved the $53.9 million project in 2000 and funded $35 million, Nepal government agreed to provide $10.9 million while $8 million was to be borne by water users and the local governments in the project sites. The deadline for the project was June 30, 2006.
But now that the project is yet to be completed, the deadline has been extended until 2008. The report has also said that the project designed by the ADB has not been able to realise the commitments made in its Water for All policy.
The report has drawn attention of authorities concerned over the issue of “affordability of the project services by the poor, lengthening of project implementation and its impact on the poor, representation and participation of the poor in decision making, sanitation services for the poor and transparency to the Water Users and Sanitation Committee”.
The report has said that average water tariff rate in the project towns reaches about Rs 12 per cubic metre for first 10 cubic metre of water against what costs only Rs 5 in Kathmandu Valley.
“The provison of compulsory 50 per cent contribution to the project by the water user communities has made it virtually impossible for the poor to benefit from the service,” it said, adding that the cost recovery scheme promoted in the Water For All policy needs to be revised to ensure that the poor people share benefits of water projects.
In the meantime, the project plan document does not include any mechanism for treating drinking water or wastewater.
Binod Neupane, deputy manager of Town Development Fund, the Nepali investor in the project, admits that there are problems in different aspects of implementation of the project. “We, however, cannot say that the project is a total failure. I don’t think it will be so difficult to make it a success if all the stakeholders work together,” he said.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Rescued Pangolin Dies; One Arrested

Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, December 1[2006]:

Officials of the Central Zoo, where a pangolin rescued from a taxi driver in Balkhu on Wednesday was kept for conservation, said on Thursday that the mammal has died.
Volunteers of the Wildlife Conservation Nepal and District Forestry Office had rescued the animal from Kiran Syangtang Lama, 25, of Hetauda.
"Our men saw the man walking with the mammal in a bag and caught him. He was probably trying to take it to the client," said Chandra Man Dangol, the assistant forest officer at the Thankot Area Forest Office.
The scaly mammal, which is found in Nepal and South East Asia, is in the protected list of 27 mammals in the country.
Traditional healers use its scales for medicinal purposes and as pendants, believing that they protect the people wearing them from evil spirits.
Lama was seen with a friend and a client in a taxi, Dangol said, adding the two fled from the scene.
"The mammal was found alive, but was suffering due to rough handling and consumption of contaminated food. Pangolins roam in jungles. Since the animal was in wrong hands for over a week, it suffered severely," he said.
According to Dangol, since the animal is included in the "protected animal's list", the one who caught it can be slapped a penalty of Rs 100,000 and imprisoned for 15 years.
Lama, the convicted taxi driver in handcuffs, said he bought the animal from one Prem Bahadur Thokar for Rs 5,000 "without any concrete idea".
"I came in contact with Thokar, who said he had brought the animal from Phaparbari of Makawanpur and had kept it in Chapagaon for a week. I kept the animal for three days," he said.
During three days, the animal drank water and ate nothing, he said.