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Wednesday 21 December 2005
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NEPAL: Focus on rural development in Maoist areas

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

©  Naresh Newar/IRIN

Villagers in a remote part of eastern Nepal sit down to hear the plans of an NGO planning to introduce irrigation to increase farm production

SANKHUWASABHA, 30 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - It’s a daunting task for development worker Narab Bhupal Rai. Not only does he have to walk for days to reach the remote villages where he works, he also has to run the gauntlet of Maoist rebel leaders who regularly interrogate him about his work and political affiliation. Despite the difficulties, Rai continues to carry out his duties.

“What choice do we have? The Maoists control 80 percent of the district and say they have the authority to know all about our activities,” explained Rai.

He is employed by a local NGO, Sili Chong Club and works in nearly 11 Village Development Committees (VDCs), located in the remote hills of Sankhuwasabha district, in Koshi province, 200 km east of the capital, Kathmandu.


In this area the nine-year-old Maoist insurgency means there is no government presence outside the small district headquarters. The entire region has been claimed by the rebels as their capital in the eastern part of Nepal. It's a part of the country characterised by inadequate health facilities, water shortages, poor agricultural production, low literacy rates and widespread discrimination against women.

Despite the hardships endured by the largely rural population, aid workers say that the number of NGO programmes in the area have been drastically reduced. Most are now confined to the district headquarters of Khandbari, the only place in the region that remains well protected by government security forces. The NGOs are tired of Maoist demands to pay ‘donations’ to the movement and demands that they register with the ‘people’s government’ for permission to launch and maintain their projects.

“The conflict has caused too many problems. We cannot work at the same pace as before and it’s the poor who are deprived of our assistance,” said development worker Durga Gautam.


Several volunteers from remote community-based organisations explained that aid and development work can continue as long as it falls within strict parameters imposed by the Maoists: NGOs must be transparent and honest and must not be funded by Washington or the Nepali government.

Programmes related to women’s development, irrigation, agriculture, health and water, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), Germany’s GTZ and the World Bank, are all running smoothly. They add, however, that road construction projects are sometimes closed by the rebels because they are partially funded by Kathmandu.

Several village-based community leaders told IRIN during a recent visit to the region that no aid workers had been harmed, beaten or killed so far, but the fear of attack remains very real for those at risk.

“The Maoists often come to our villages and check our progress to ensure that we are working according to our plans,” said Mina Gurung, head of a women’s training group in Sitalpati, about six hours walk from Khandbari. “We show them all our budget expenses and they also ask local villagers if they are satisfied with our work,” added Gurung.

Other development workers are unhappy that the rebels are constantly looking over their shoulders.

“Ultimately, it’s the people who monitor whether we are doing a good job or not. If we fail in our work, then they are the ones who decide whether we should stay or leave,” said Rudra Thapa from Rural Reconstruction Nepal (RRN), one of the few NGOs that works in the remote areas of the district.


Aid workers feel they are caught between the government and the rebels. Often NGO staff are compelled to pay a monthly ‘income tax’ of 10 percent of their total salary. The danger of being forced to do this is that those who pay are then vulnerable to interrogation and arrest by security personnel because they may be regarded as guilty of funding the insurgents with their payments. Many of them have already been harassed by the local government administration.

The situation for NGOs becomes even more treacherous because there is no consistency amongst rebel leaders, according to staff.

“There are different sets of Maoist rules and policies in every VDC. The senior leaders have given the VDC Maoist in charge, full freedom to introduce any policy to suit their interests,” explained Thapa.

Now NGOs who are suffering under this difficult and dangerous system have had enough and want the United Nations to take the rebels to task over the issue.

“The working environment is not safe for us. The international agencies, especially the UN, have to really put strong pressure on the top Maoist leadership to ensure that the junior cadres allow us to work without any threats or pressure,” said aid worker Srijan Adhikari.

Local people, who are the ones with most to gain from the development work, are also fighting back against the restrictions imposed by the rebels. Recently, in the remote Jaljala VDC, villagers took on the rebels after a local NGO was warned to stop work on an income generation project. They told the rebels that they would be prepared to fight against them if the project closed down.

“The Maoists agreed not to create any more obstacles for the project and it is now running successfully,” said Prem Shrestha, a local village worker. “The people will do anything to protect such a project that is really helping them,” added Shrestha.


 Theme(s) Children
Other recent NEPAL reports:

Soldier kills 12 civilians,  15/Dec/05

Maoists ceasefire extension welcomed,  2/Dec/05

UN appeals for US $4.7 billion in life-saving aid,  2/Dec/05

Government crackdown on broadcast media continues,  29/Nov/05

Rebels and political parties unite to oust king,  24/Nov/05

Other recent Children reports:

SENEGAL: Everyman’s library, 21/Dec/05

LIBERIA: UN renews ban on arms, diamonds and timber, 21/Dec/05

NIGERIA: Eight children die in attack on oil pipeline, 21/Dec/05

NIGER: Campaign targets double threat of polio and malaria, 21/Dec/05

SUDAN: Children bearing the brunt of Darfur conflict - UNICEF, 21/Dec/05

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