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Nepal has seen political, social, environmental, economic and technological transformations in recent years, but the progress is still less than desirable. However, time has come for Nepal to accelerate things, as despite having great potential, we have not been able to exploit it to the fullest.

There was a time when Nepal was known as the legendary Shangri-La of the world. Nepal has so much to offer to the world culturally, historically and naturally.

Perhaps, this is the reason the catchphrase “once is not enough”. Sadly, the country went through some upheavals, which unfortunately put a spoke in the wheel. The decade-long civil war between 1996 and 2006 halted development works. The unrest led to decrease in flow of foreign investment.

Development efforts took a back seat. The country could not see smooth growth due to other various events. After the end of the Maoist insurgency, the country embarked on the rocky path from the monarchy to federal democracy. Political stability was something the country required the most to give impetus to development activities. As a result, we failed to maintain pace with other countries in development efforts.

Nepal was ranked 144th out of 188 countries in 2016 in United Nations’ Human Development Index. The per capita income was pegged at $730, with 15 percent of people living on less than $1.90 per day. Nepal is indispensably an agrarian economy, providing subsistence livelihood for 70 per cent of its population.

The structural transition from agriculture towards knowledge and technology sectors has been sluggish. The economy does not have the capacity to create employment for all those entering the labour market. The lack of economic opportunity and poverty has fuelled migration of an estimated three million Nepali workers to various countries.

Remittance contributes to around 25 per cent of Nepal’s GDP. Nepal has been receiving international grants for over 65 years. More than quarter volume of the current government budget comprises the contribution from the international donor communities. Despite all these, the country has severely lagged behind. While Nepal should learn to utilise the foreign aid it receives, it also needs to tread carefully to steer clear of the over-dependency on the assistance. In this context, Nepal now has the opportunity.

With the successful holding of three tiers of elections — local, provincial and federal parliament — under the new constitution adopted in 2015, the country is poised for a stable government.

A government which can serve for a full five-year term will mean political stability, lack of which has been a stumbling block in the past to development. In two years or so, Nepal will also graduate from the Least Development Countries.

A stable government at the centre and provincial governments in provinces will help unlock Nepal’s potential, putting the country in the race of modern-day development. Through local elections, local governments have reached the doorsteps of the people. The doors for foreign investment have been opened now, while the country can now focus on investing on energy, health, transport, financial, information and communication technology, water and food sectors.

The new government should prepare favourable environment for entrepreneurs to generate more employment opportunities, which will not just help to advance critical infrastructure but will also assist to retain young human resources of the country.

Lack of opportunities at home has been forcing millions of Nepali youths to fly abroad in search of jobs.

Nepal can also offer what they call good business practices through its abundant natural resources. According to the World Bank’s 2014 report, Nepal’s contribution towards CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita) is 0.284 whereas the countries like Bhutan which has branded their nation as ‘zero carbon nation’ contributes 1.289.

Even though we have abundant natural resources that can offer responsible business practices, we haven’t been able to utilise them.

As the world is looking for a responsible way of doing its business and investment, Nepal can offer its unique aesthetic beauty along with carbon negative practices. Nepal now needs to leapfrog to the age of modern-day technology. Investors in various sectors should be invited to help Nepal achieve its development goals.

The government should realise the country’s potential and offer a win-win situation that can benefit both the investors as well as the country. Nepal should understand that just pumping a huge amount of money without concrete vision will not drive it towards prosperity. Tangible outputs are expected.

Nepal may have got into the shell for years due to various reasons, but time has now come to open its wings and fly towards the path of prosperity.

Stability which was required the most to expedite development efforts is just knocking on our doors. We just need to pay heed to opportunities that are on our way. It’s time Nepal came out of the cocoon.


A version of this article appears in print and online version on January 04, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.

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Ever since the industrial uprising, the growth of cities’ population around the world is increasing at an exponential rate. Every hour hundreds of people move towards cities for better amenities. In this race, predominantly recognized as a rural country, Nepal is also heading towards the race of rapidly expanding cities. A World Bank report shows that the urban population growth rate of Nepal is up to 7 percent in Kathmandu Valley and with a population of 2.5 million it is considered  the fastest growing metropolitan city in South Asia.

Following the promulgation of a new constitution in 2015, people of Nepal got a chance to vote for their local representatives after 20 years. As the local election started a common slogan amongst the mayoral candidates was making their place a ‘Smart City’.  It is not easy to convince people struggling with basic critical infrastructures to fully agree with their fancy election slogans that might just bring social media controversy and  laughter.

As the term ‘Smart City’ is getting tremendous attention, most of the people might be curious to know about what it stands for. The United Nations Economic and Social Council says there is no standard definition of a smart city. There are also arguments to describe smart cities—some people claim that it is primarily technology-centric, while others claim for a better urban planning and reliable services.

On the basis of population, resource availability and urban facilities, by March 2017 there were 263 municipalities in Nepal, of which only 58 existed before 2014. This rapid growth of municipalities is one of the indicators that shows Nepal has built a basic foundation for smart cities. There is no city in the world that can be named as a 100% smart city—some cities are struggling from scratch whereas others are adding values.

A smart city has a vibrant culture that attracts people to visit that place and has a quality of life and facilities for people. Feeling safe and reduction of pollution, organized traffic system, disabled friendly pedestrian pathways and well-managed cycle lanes are in place. It has an educated inclusive society that is well informed and can take leading actions towards adopting advanced concepts of a smart city.

In China, the concept of smart cities was initiated in 2010 – identifying more than 300 cities guided towards smart city development plan. The initiative kicked off with people-centric approach endorsing a six-year  (2014-2020) National New Urbanization Plan (NNUP). The government has taken Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model involving the participation of research institutes, government institutes, citizens consent, IT services, internet companies and more.  Hong Kong is known as the premier smart city leader of Asia/Pacific for actively implementing information communications and technologies to improve citizen service effectively.

Similarly, In June 2015 the Government of India, Ministry of Urban Development endorsed smart cities—mission statement and guidelines aiming to cover 100 cities in five years’ duration 2015-16/2019-20). As its smart solutions, they will be focusing on e-governance and citizen services, energy management, waste management, water management, urban mobility and others like tele medicine/tele-education, incubation, and skill development centers.

In April 2015, the government of Nepal banned plastic bags and urged entrepreneurs to come with innovative ideas to fulfill the gap. Use of electric vehicles is highly promoted in Nepal. Currently, there are more than 14 districts in Nepal where you can use 4G services whereas mobile internet service is available almost all over the country. The 2073/74 budget has mentioned that 72 districts headquarters would be connected with high-speed fiber internet. The  budget mentions a master plan for a smart city will be developed and implemented at Palungtar, Gorkha. Similarly, 10 cities, including Dadeldhura and Lumbini, will be upgraded as modern smart cities.

No doubt, the idea of a smart city includes a wish list of infrastructures, information and communications technology and amenities. Nonetheless, in Nepal’s case our culture, tradition, natural resources are our big assets that should centrally focus on our smart cities planning. Our smart city should be disaster resistant, eco-friendly, walkable and most of our services that are manually being operated should be guided with the use of information communications and technology. Private sectors should be engaged and new entrepreneurs should get a chance to practice their innovative ideas.

It is high time the government came up with an adequate research and a guideline that ensures investment for the long-term development visions and proper timeline to accomplish set goals. We already have a few cities in Nepal that are rich in culture, tradition and local resources which attracts hundreds and thousands of tourists every year. These cities don’t need tall and fancy buildings to be considered as smart cities. If the local government understands its exclusivity and promotes its unique culture, reinforces citizen-centered decisions then it can be the most exemplary smart city of the world.

A version of this article appears in print and online version on October 11, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.

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When someone says ‘soup’ the image of a simple, healthy and nourishing dish comes to our mind. However, there is one different, unhealthy kind of soup called ‘plastic soup’ that nobody prefers to consume, but which is unknowingly being consumed by people in different forms. Now, this phenomenon of the ‘plastic soup’ is something most of us don’t have a clue about. Most developed countries are blamed for their environment pollution. The top carbon-dioxide emitters in the world are China (23 percent), United States (19 percent), European Union (13 percent) and India (6 percent). Low-income countries like Nepal have the smallest carbon footprints, but have to suffer a lot from different natural calamities.

Basically, plastic soups are formed in oceans—as it is the ultimate destination of all the sewage, pollution or by products of any disastrous activities we, living creatures, participate in. The oceans occupy 72 percent of earth’s surface, from where more than half the population of the world gets foods. According to Living Planet Report 2014, in around 60 years, the marine species have declined by about 40 percent. Plastic debris poses considerable threat by choking and starving wildlife, distributing non-native and potentially harmful organisms, absorbing toxic chemicals and degrading to micro-plastics that may subsequently be ingested.

The name itself suggests that the soup’s main component is a widely used plastic. It may shock you to find out that the plastic bags that we use are also one of the many vital sources that ultimately become plastic soup. The 100 days long holy Bagmati cleanup campaign was conducted almost every day, collecting tons of plastic bags from the river with a strong message to not throw any plastic materials into rivers. Bangladesh is one of the first countries in South Asia to ban the use of plastic bags. In 2002, the government revised the Environment Conservation Act to impose a nationwide ban on plastic bags.

The bill calling for ban garnered unanimous support in the parliament—a rarity in itself. The action to ban was taken after the flood of 1998 when two-thirds of the country was submerged. One of the reasons behind this flood was clogging of drains and sewer by the disposed polythene bags. Any plastic materials that we use and throw gets affected by weathering, sunlight and wave action and reduces into smaller particles that mix into soil and ultimately into the river. The plastics that we directly throw into rivers also collide millions of times with stones and soils, ultimately breaking down into smaller particles when it reaches oceans.

Plastic is made up of fossil fuels and is solid in nature. It does not decay for thousands of years. Only nine percent of plastic is being recycled in the entire world. Out of 299 million tons plastic produced worldwide in a year—it was also found that 10+ million tons of plastics end up in oceans every year.

The first plastic was invented in 1907, by Leo Handrik Baekeland, exactly 108 years ago. If Genghis Khan had thrown away plastic in his time, it would have still been with us on earth’s surface or in the ocean as a part of a soup.

As a result of the breakdown and fragmentation of plastic into smaller pieces, ocean has almost turned into the soup of infinite pieces of plastic. The plastic soup not only stays still in the form of plastic, toxins released from the plastic are very dangerous to marine species. Marine species mistakenly take in plastic debris as their food and absorb such toxins, and ultimately, when we consume marine species as food, we too, are consumers of this plastic soup.

In various parts of the world, there has been a phase where countries are opting out of lightweight plastic bags—Nepal is a recent example. Nepal recently banned the production, use, and store of single use plastic bags making it effective from April 14, 2015. After the declaration most of the shopping malls inside Kathmandu Valley have stopped using plastic bags. Ministry of Science, Environment and Technology (MoSET), Environment Division of Nepal has stated that the use of plastic bags has decreased up to almost 69 percent after promulgation of the new law.

Developing alternatives of plastic are a key challenge of global companies today. A company like Coca-Cola, that consumes thousands of tons of plastic, has recently launched its new initiative Plant Bottle, launched in 2009 and has since distributed more than 15 billion of the bottles in 25 countries. The company is aiming to replace its traditional plastic bottle made of up PET with plant bottle throughout the world by 2020.

To replace plastic problem bio plastics are taken as an alternative. Bio plastics are plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, cornstarch, or micro biota. Bio plastic can be made from agricultural byproducts and also from used plastic bottles and other containers using microorganisms.

Every living/nonliving creature is sharing this earth we are living in. When we harm the environment in any part of the world, it affects globally. It is time to accept that the environment is degrading and mother Earth is asking us to take urgent steps to go green.

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A large number of young Nepalis live in other countries. Digital volunteerism can be a significant way to retain their expertise in different aspects of the country’s development

We are now in the era of digital age.Thanks to innovation and technology the growth of digitalization is faster than ever.

Statista, the leading statistics company on the internet, has published that the number of mobile users in the year 2015 was 4.43 billion and it predicts that the ratio will be 4.93 billion in the year 2018.

In the context of Nepal, the latest Management Information System (MIS) report of Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) has published that the mobile service users rate have crossed 105.15 per cent of the population.

This is a huge leapfrog for Nepal.

The spontaneous engagement of Nepalis on volunteering activities after the devastating earthquake on April 25, 2015 shows how much they are embedded with the essence of volunteerism to help those in need.

If we also turn back to the culture of east, then we can perceive lots of voluntary activities continued from generations ago.

The way of volunteerism in our current practice is making donations, providing relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, and it indeed was a need of the time and this generation seems to be upgrading towards digital volunteerism to help fellow citizen in need.

The volunteers who have technical skills and can solve the societal problems with the use of digital tools and techniques are considered to be digital volunteers. The practice of digital volunteerism began by providing volunteers electronic versions of work in the public domain during the 1970s from the project Gutenberg.

Later in the year 2000, United Nations Volunteers (UNV) launched a web-based digital volunteering platform targeting non-government organizations, and government agencies to become online volunteers in various projects.

In the context of the recent Nepal earthquakes, labs have given a great lesson for the need of digital volunteerism in Nepal. The basic goal of the crisis map was to match the needs of quake affected people by connecting the relief efforts being conducted by various agencies during the catastrophe.

Reports show that in the recent time, there has been excessive use of tech tools for the preparedness and post disaster response of disasters and emergency events.

The use of mobile technology in recent time has acted as the fastest and reliable means of communication to get timely updates. Use of social media has been another big platform to obtain necessary information.

There is an initiative called Tweak the Tweet (TtT) – an idea for utilizing the twitter platform for crowd sourcing information during disasters and emergency events.

With the use of the hashtag, the user can collect necessary information and take action promptly.

Science and technology today has contributed tremendously towards the improvement in strategic interventions by introducing different ways of early warning systems and with the introduction of it, things are in control and the number of human death has decreased notably.

This practice has not been noticeable in the context of Nepal, as it has recently purposed an Early Warning System (EWS) framework to take control of disasters.

To get the most of such system, the local people should know how to use such technology and its significance. Thus, a group of trained digital volunteers will have to be there to operate and let others know the use and significance of it at the local level.

Nepal brought out its first IT policy in 2000 then in 2003 a High Level Commission for IT (HLCIT) has been formed and in 2007 AD, the Right to Information Act has been made and in 2010 an Information Technology Policy was brought up.

Promoting IT professionals with conducive environment and promoting the concept of digital volunteerism can bring significant changes in a short time.

A large number of young Nepalis live in other countries. Digital volunteerism can be a significant way to retain their expertise in different aspects of the country’s development. Branding different places of Nepal and promoting it globally as a tourism destination can play a significant role to promote tourism.

Mapping different places of the country through the online platform like Open Street Map (OSM) can be another significant way of engagement of nation development work.

In recent time, raising fund from the crowd sourcing platform is taken as a meaningful way of uniting together to help any person in need. Social, environmental and political campaign can be initiated from the social platforms through different activities like signing petitions and trending in twitter, Facebook and other social medias.

Initiatives like, Telemedicine Service through the use of telecommunication and information technology can provide clinical health care from a distance.

Digital volunteerism is not a new platform as various organizations around the world are doing significant works to promote its essence. Humanity Road that delivers disaster preparedness and response information to the global mobile public before, during and after a disaster is a digital volunteer promoting platform.

Standby Task Force (SBTF) organizes digital volunteers into a flexible, trained and prepared network ready to be deployed in crisis.

The time has come when the humans and computers should work together to bring digital revolution through digital volunteerism.
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Everyday we are contributing towards the process of data generation through the digital technologies we use in our daily life. Every day, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated through the Internet, so much so that 90 per cent of all data has been generated in the past two years alone. This is due to the increasing use of social media, online platforms and rapid urbanization. Use of social media has increased so much that there are more than 901 million active Facebook users around the world. Every second 4,000 tweets are generated and 10,000 payment card transactions are made globally. But, all this data and information being generated is worth very little unless translated into insights.

Researchers believe that the contribution and use of data and information are more from cities where there is reach of digital technologies the most. The challenge is to harness such data and information generated for the development of future cities. Use of data and information generated requires intense processing such as cleaning, analysis, visualization and interpretation.

A United Nations study of urban population in the 1950s shows that 30 per cent of the total population of the world live in urban areas. But, in recent times the population has increased so fast that it is expected to be 66 per cent by 2050. Today, the growth of urban population is a major concern for policy makers as the responsibility is added to improve the lives of billions. The rise of urban areas comes with the technological advancement and maximum use of data and information. The challenge is to improve quality of data and information that are being generated and make use of acquired data in city planning, among other things.

There has been no significant transition in Nepal from agriculture towards information and technology sectors which results in the drifting of the major population of the country from rural to urban areas.This lag has also largely fueled international migration. A study of urban cities in 2013 by the World Bank shows that Kathmandu Valley is one of the rapidly growing urban areas in South Asia with 2.5 million people and growth rates of 4 per cent a year.The century-old framework and inexperience of bureaucrats to deal with data driven technology has left Nepal behind other countries. This has affected citizens of Nepal from enjoying the opportunities coming from digital technology.

According to the 2011 census, 17.2 per cent of Nepal’s population currently have access to the Internet which is a huge increase from 1995 when there were less than 50 users nationwide. According to Nepal Telecommunication Authority (NTA), the users of mobile phones have reached 27.07 million which is almost the country’s entire population.

In recent days, the government of Nepal has initiated a few leads to address some of the civil problems with the use of digital technology. The Government launched a taxi receipt system in Kathmandu Valley to address the existing problem of overcharging and fraud. Likewise, in December, 2016, Lalitpur Sub-Metropolitan City introduced a mobile app called ‘Hamro Lalitpur’ to help citizens track the location of garbage collecting vehicles.

Since today’s social, economic and environmental challenges require a strong understanding of data and technology, the government’s new initiatives will have to engage people, the public and private institutions in every possible field for making it reactive, cost effective and transparent.

The initiative like Hello Sarkar is a benchmark to address citizen’s query using crowd-sourced data. However, there should be an integrated plan in various levels of government to study the frustrations and suggestions of the public through digital technology.

The use of the crowd-sourced open data after the 2015 Nepal earthquake was highly successful. The open data compiled by ‘digital humanitarians’ through various digital platforms was transferred to volunteers and government agencies working on the ground, responding to the needs of earthquake victims. Many of the rescue, damage assessment, relief distribution tracking, and reconstruction monitoring projects were made possible with the use of open source data.

The advancement of digital technology has created a huge gap between the common citizens and bureaucrats. The level of understanding of digital technology among the common people is improving day by day, whereas the bureaucrats are still working with traditional approach of governance. The young generation are coming up with innovation and new experiments which has already created tremendous pressure on the government to switch their out-dated practices into digital practices. Ever-growing urban problems, such as traffic congestion, unplanned urban settlement and pollution are exacerbated by outdated government monitoring systems which fail to implement data driven solutions. With more data being generated it is the right time to debate and put forward a plan for data driven development. The time to bring all civic actors and the government together to solve existing and future problems through advancing digital technology has come.
Khatiwada is working at Kathmandu Living Labs

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