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ADB’s Work in Nepal

A Steep Climb

Solar street lamps
Solar street lamps

Nepal has faced major setbacks in recent decades, but the country has made steady progress. Its partnership with ADB has remained strong, and helped it respond to new shocks.

On 25 April 2015, Nepal faced one of the worst disasters in its history. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed nearly 9,000 people and injured more than 22,000. Nearly 800,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, along with tens of thousands of roads, government offices, businesses, and heritage sites.

While the disaster also destroyed or severely damaged more than 35,000 classrooms, about 160 schools in the Kathmandu Valley were spared from damage. These school buildings had one thing in common: each was retrofitted to make it more resilient to disasters as part of the Government of Nepal’s school sector program, which was supported by ADB. Those same schools were used as shelters during the earthquake and the powerful aftershocks that followed, said Jhapper Singh Vishokaram, senior divisional engineer and disaster focal person at the Ministry of Education.

“A small step in protecting school buildings against seismic vulnerability goes a long way in ensuring the safety of students, teachers, and staff, and in providing shelter to communities when needed,” he adds.

Landmark projects

Helping to identify Nepal’s most pressing needs—and responding to them—has been a hallmark of the country’s long relationship with ADB.

Nepal was a founding member of ADB in 1966. The first ADB assistance was the Air Transport Development Project, a $6 million investment in 1969 that improved critical aviation services in a country where mountainous terrain has created many isolated communities.

That project was followed by work that supported agricultural credit, irrigation, hill agriculture, crop intensification, small-scale hydropower, and technical and vocational education and training.

Assistance in those first 2 decades was relatively modest, considering how large ADB’s assistance would eventually become.

Kali Gandaki hydroelectric dam
Kali Gandaki "A" Hydroelectric Project

The country faced major economic development challenges in recent decades, including political unrest, but the partnership persevered. ADB assisted with structural reforms to the economy in the 1990s that supported an increase in poverty-reducing economic growth.

Within this challenging environment, ADB continued to finance major projects with a lasting impact. In 1996, ADB supported the construction of Nepal’s first large hydroelectric plant, the 144-megawatt Kali Gandaki “A” Hydroelectric Project. The project significantly increased generation capacity and is still the largest single hydropower source in Nepal, supplying more than 20% of power nationwide in 2015.

Another ADB-supported hydropower plant is scheduled to be completed by 2021. The Tanahu Hydropower Project will reduce winter power shortages and expand grid connections by supplying 140 megawatts of electric power to the national grid.

ADB’s support for the transport sector, which began in the 1970s, has also had a major impact. Over the years, ADB has financed strategic and rural roads all across Nepal, cutting travel time for millions of people, boosting trade across and beyond the country, and supporting the commercialization of agriculture.

Steady progress

ADB is working with Nepal to capitalize on the country’s comparative advantage, including its location between two large and growing market economies—the People's Republic of China and India.

The South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation Roads Improvement Project will soon begin, widening 160 kilometers of Nepal’s East–West Highway, which connects Nepal to India, and its feeder road. The improved roads will provide faster and better access to social services and economic opportunities, and will facilitate national and regional integration.

Despite the political disruptions and difficult economic environment over the past decades, ADB’s partnership with Nepal has contributed to steady improvements in the country’s human development indicators.

Access to education has improved dramatically, particularly for primary and secondary schools. The enrollment rate in basic education increased from 73% in 2008 to 89% in 2015, and gender parity has been achieved. However, quality remains a challenge. ADB, which has been involved in the education sector since 1990, is helping initiate the 7-year School Sector Development Plan, together with eight other development partners, to raise the quality of education and student achievement.

"We greatly acknowledge the crucial role played by ADB in harnessing regional cooperation through investing in regional and subregional infrastructure and connectivity projects."

Bishnu Prasad Paudel
Minister of Finance

Deep community participation

ADB support for water and sanitation has provided millions of people with access to safe water, eliminating countless hours of unproductive labor, usually by women. This has prevented significant loss of life and productivity due to waterborne diseases and has enhanced social cohesion through participation in water user groups.

This work includes a large ADB-supported water project that will bring 170 million liters of drinking water daily from the Melamchi Valley to Kathmandu Valley—the country’s largest urban area—through a 27-kilometer tunnel. This will improve the health and well-being of millions of people living in the capital region who now receive water only a few hours each week.

ADB and the government are actively engaging local communities. At first, the communities were involved only in operating and maintaining the water supply systems in their area under ADB projects. More recently, their participation was expanded to include playing a key role in deciding where systems would be placed, what their design would be, and how the services would be delivered. Such projects have a much greater chance of being sustained because they are chosen, designed, and maintained by the community that benefits from them.

Community participation improved local governments’ and water users’ understanding of critical issues such as water quality, cost sharing, and ownership. In recent years, this model was expanded from rural areas to small towns.

Clean water in Birtamod

As part of the ADB-supported Small Towns Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project, the water system in the town of Birtamod is managed by a water user and sanitation committee, formed in 2000 by the local community.

A woman from Singla village
A woman from Singla village extracts her belongings from the rubble in the aftermath of the earthquake

The committee oversees three water tanks that supply safe drinking water. It has also installed public water taps and public toilets in various locations, including public schools, thus reducing the risk of waterborne diseases and other health hazards.

ADB’s efforts, in partnership with the government and the community, have changed the life of Durga Ratna Darjini, a widow and resident of Birtamod town, who used to spend hours trying to obtain clean water for her family.

“I don’t have to use my energy to pump water and carry it home anymore,” she says. “Having a tap in the house is like a miracle.”

The project has improved water supply and sanitation in 29 towns and urban centers along Nepal’s major highways, which has resulted in better water and sanitation for nearly 600,000 people.

“We greatly acknowledge the crucial role played by ADB in harnessing regional cooperation through investing in regional and subregional infrastructure and connectivity projects,” says Bishnu Prasad Paudel, minister of finance for Nepal.

This article was originally published in a special edition of Together We Deliver, which tells 50 stories highlighting the importance of good partnerships in Asia and the Pacific in meeting the complex development challenges of this dynamic region.