URBANA, Ohio — A country with many hills and mountains that make travel difficult, poor transportation infrastructure and insufficient public transportation have been problems in Nepal for years. In the rural parts of the country, almost 40% of households live two hours or more away from a road. Those who do have better access to roads often rely on gravel or dirt roads that are hard on vehicles and can be dangerous to use for transportation in Nepal. Even if someone is fortunate enough to make use of a paved road, many of Nepal’s paved roads are infeasible during harsh weather, particularly in the rainy season.
In urban areas similar to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, roads are generally of a better quality and road networks have many connections. However, traffic congestion is a growing problem with the rising number of motorized vehicles, about a 20% increase annually, accompanying the increasing population. The growth of public transportation has fallen behind. Buses fill up quickly, and people who rely on them have to switch buses frequently, making taxis a much faster, though more expensive, method of transport.
Why Transportation in Nepal is So Inadequate
The geography of Nepal makes both traveling on roads and constructing new roads an arduous task. While the country is home to plains, it is also quite mountainous and hilly. For this reason, construction is more difficult and takes longer to complete. In the case of travel, it can take a long time to get from point A to point B even when driving on a paved road because the roads have to wind and become extremely narrow at certain sections. This means there is a greater risk of accidents in the parts of Nepal with rougher terrain, regardless of what type of road a person may be traveling on.
Poverty in Nepal plays a role in the poor transportation infrastructure as well. Landlocked Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, which makes developing modern road networks capable of withstanding the weather, functioning against the terrain and connecting the more isolated parts of the country not a simple feat to achieve. Car ownership is also a status symbol in Nepal as the number of private vehicles in use rising. Transportation infrastructure has to keep up with the increase in vehicles, while public transportation serves the many people who still need it, or else transportation in Nepal is going to get even worse.
Harsh weather and a lack of roads in certain areas prevent emergency services from assisting people in need. Populations who need to use public facilities can have long travel times and may not be able to reach such facilities at all if they do not have access to an all-weather road. As nearly 17% of Nepal’s rural population has access to an all-weather road. This means that the transportation of people and goods is severely inhibited, leaving the economy less efficient than it could be.
Efforts to Improve Transportation in Nepal
Understanding the importance of sufficient transportation infrastructure, Nepal has been steadily improving its road network. From 2001 to 2016, the country upgraded more than 1,700 kilometers of roads to standard, all-weather roads. In 2017, the Asian Development Bank approved a loan of $100 million to improve the roads in the rural parts of the country. Nepal will finish the project in 2023, which includes the upgrading of 388 kilometers of roads in addition to producing a duration of 3.8 million person-days of employment.
Upgrades to Nepal’s roads have resulted in a significant reduction to travel times. One example is the route between Hetauda and Balkhu, which, when upgraded, brought down the travel time from six to eight hours to only an hour. The country has also focused on improving and adding routes to India and China, its biggest trading partners and links to the outside world. In the 1970s, Nepal had less than 3,000 kilometers of roads with a limited number of routes to India and China while it has more than 42,000 kilometers of roads today.
On the public transportation side of the issue, Nepal has been widening its roads to reduce traffic congestion and allow buses to travel faster. However, this is not a permanent solution. Eventually, the number of vehicles will rise to the point where traffic will be heavily congested and buses will quickly hit capacity and travel slowly. Expanding public transportation and having different types of buses stick to the routes most appropriate is a better solution than repeatedly widening roads because space will run out eventually.
Transportation in Nepal still has a long way to go as the country’s roads have improved immensely over the years and work to upgrade the network continues. If organizations similar to the World Bank continue to invest in Nepal’s transportation infrastructure, the country receives foreign aid and develops more sustainable public transportation policies. The connectivity in Nepal will be greatly increased, which in turn will strengthen the country’s economy and lift its people out of poverty.
– Nate Ritchie