Hans Andersen

May 152017
 

Typical scene from the May 14 local election: peaceful voting in general, says EC

Initial Election Commission (EC) figures suggest a huge voter turnout: 71 percent! But was it a peaceful local election on May 14? In general it was, says the EC in a preliminary status of this first phase of the election process.

Indeed, reports on violent incidences are relatively few so far. The local election covered 34 districts – the rest of Nepal’s 75 districts are slated for local elections on June 14 – and (only) in four of these districts was violence reported:

Bombs were part of local election violence: socket bomb detonated by the army in Bhaktapur (photo: AP)

BHAKTAPUR: Early Sunday morning, a socket bomb – one of many leading up to the election – was found near the residence of UML mayoral candidate for Madhayapur Thimi Municipality, Madan Sundar Shrestha, and was detonated by an army bomb squad.

HUMLA: Supporters of Nepali Congress (NC) candidates and “rebel” candidates clashed around a polling station, and police fired two shots in the air to get the situation under control as supporters of NC’s candidate, Bhim Bahadur Shahi, and rebel candidate, Prakash Bahadur Shahi, pelted stones at each other.

Security was tight at the polling stations but booth capture and theft of ballot boxes did occur (photo: Skanda Gautam)

DOLAKHA: UML candidates and their supporters blamed NC and Maoist-Center candidates and cadres of capturing the election booth, preventing UML supporters from casting their votes and even from reaching the polling station. In one ward, police fired shots and a woman sustained minor injuries.

DOLAKHA: In the Melung Village Council area, police opened fire when NC and Maoist Center cadres attacked police to capture the election booths at the polling station. One man was shot and killed as a result. Locals told journalists in Dolakha that other people were injured in the incident as well.

In Kalikot, ballot boxes were stolen after voting was done, in a situation like this one (photo is from Lamjung district)

KALIKOT: Two persons were injured when Chand-Maoist cadres clashed with police in Malkot Village Council and police opened fire. Throwing stones at the police, the Maoist cadres were trying to capture the ballot boxes and set fire to them.

KALIKOT: An unidentified group – suspected by police of belonging to the Chand-Maoist faction – robbed the ballot boxes in the Naraharinath Village Council area as plainclothes police were bringing the ballot boxes to the counting station. The police officers involved have gone missing as well.

In the evening on May 14, the UML asked the Election Commission to arrange for re-election in a number of districts (the names of which are not known to us) where – the UML claims – election booths were captured and voters were put under threat.

To this account should also be added violent incidences during the days leading up to the election:

Family members and party friends demanding justice after murder of Kul Bahadur Tamang, son of local UML candidate in Dolakha

DOLAKHA: On May 9, Kul Bahadur Tamang, son of a local UML Ward Chairman candidate, was attacked and killed by Maoist Centre cadres in the Gaurishanker Village Council area. A total of 49 local cadres have been charged with involvement in the incident.

RUKUM: On May 9, Maoist Centre and UML cadres clashed in Musikot, leaving three injured. Police fired three rounds in the air to disperse the agitated crowd. Earlier on that day, police fired warning shots at a nearby Sanibheri Village Council polling station as well.

Police at the site of clashes between NC and Maoist cadres in Rukum

NAWALPARASI: On May 10, a bomb went off during an NC campaign speech at Purano Kawasoti Bazaar. The bomb exploded while Amrit Shrestha, an NC ward chairman candidate, was addressing a crowd, and everybody subsequently fled the area.

NAWALPARASI: On May 10, police recovered and disarmed socket bombs at the houses of three mayoral candidates in the district. The bombs were found at the houses of Maoist Center candidates, Durga Dutta Dhungana and Dansiram Bashyal, as well as UML mayor candidate, Bhimlal Adhikari, in Madhyabindu municipality.

SYANGJA: On May 11, a socket bomb was recovered at the residence of NC mayoral candidate in Galyang Municipality, Lal Gopal Aryal. The bomb didn’t go off, says police, because it was wet from the rain.

BHAKTAPUR: On May 12, a cylinder bomb exploded in the Changunarayan Municipality area right in front of the residence of RPP leader, Madhav Khatri. Eight window panes in Khatri’s house were shattered.

BHOJPUR: On May 12, a UML cadre, Sharda Tamang, was shot at with a rifle while out for an evening walk by a Maoist Centre cadre, Ekindra Bhujel, at Helaucha in Bhojpur municipality.

JUMLA: On May 12, a bomb exploded at a polling center near Bhairab Secondary School in the Sinja Village Council area. The incident happened at night.

HETAUDA: On May 12, an unidentified group – possibly Maoist Chand cadres, police says – abducted a Maoist Center ward chairman candidate in the Manahari Village Council area, Ram Kumar Uprety, while he was leaving home to go for a walk.

DHANGADHI: On May 12, the army defused two bombs planted at two separate locations in downtown Dhangadi. Police suspect Maoist cadres led by “Biplov” to be behind the bombs with the aim of spreading fear among voters.

Will election violence play a role in the local election on June 14 as well? Indeed, the potential for violence seems greater in the Terai district, given the Madhesi issue, but hopefully the generally peaceful conduct on May 14 – albeit incidences did occur – will come to inspire the second phase.

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May 082017
 

On April 20, the local election was split into two phases: May 14 (1st phase) and June 14 (2nd phase)

It’s a virtual cliffhanger to follow the drama in the run-up to the local election. The election was recently split into two phases – May 14 and June 14, as opposed to just May 14 – and now the second phase may be in the balance.

For reasons never made quite clear to the public, the newly formed six-party Madheshi coalition, Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN), continues to reiterate a Madheshi demand for more local government units in their districts.

Madheshi leaders demand more local government units to be added in their districts

On March 8 the government partially met this Madheshi demand. It adjusted the decision of the Local Bodies Restructuring Commission (LBRC) upwards – from 719 local units to 744 – in order to grant more local units (Village Council divisions) to the Madheshi districts.

But the Madheshi coalition was still not content. They demanded more local government units in their districts. The UML made strong objections and yet, on April 28 the government granted the RJNP another 11 local units.

The LBRC defined the number of local units in its report of January 6 (picture) but it was changed to satisfy Madheshi demands

The UML objected as the LBRC was the body mandated to determine the number of local government units. The LBRC submitted its final decision – 719 local units in total – in January after much political interference already.

The government seemed to argue, on its part, that unless giving at least partially in to this Madheshi demand, the Madheshi coalition would boycot the local election and likely even try to obstruct the election in their districts.

The two-phase local election allows time to debate and satisfy Madheshi demands and avoid another Madhesi protest (picture)

But adding local units alone is not enough to appease the Madheshis. Their further demand – amidst UML protest – is that the government has a constitutional amendment in favor of Madheshi interests approved in parliament.

Indeed, on April 20 the local election was split into two phases – the election in the Madheshi districts to be held only on June 14 – after a government decision made to allow more time to debate and satisfy Madheshi demands.

After impeachment of Karki and RPP’s exit: can the government have Madheshi amendment passed in parliament?

Last week, the cliffhanger of the June 14 local election got worse. The RPP decided to leave the coalition government in protest against an impeachment of Chief Justice, Sushila Karki, issued by Maoist and NC government leaders.

Without the RPP onboard, the Maoist-NC government may now face great difficulties in securing a majority in parliament needed to approve the Madheshi constitutional amendments, if indeed it goes ahead and tries.

Will the Madheshi demands be met before the second phase of the local election on June 14? Will the Madheshi coalition participate in the local election even if their demands, including the constitutional amendment, are not met? The answers to these questions – hence the fate of the two-phase local election – remain uncertain.

Apr 272017
 

These scenes from Palanchowk illustrate the situation right now in so many other villages.

One question rises above all others on the 2-year anniversary of the earthquake in Nepal: how could it take so long to distribute the government reconstruction grant? Until now, less than 2,000 of the over 600,000 eligible households who lost their homes in the April 24, 2015, disaster have received more than the 1st instalment – a mere 50,000 rs. – an amount which can barely cover the costs of building the foundation for any new house.

Most victim households in the worst affected districts merely got the 1st instalment: 50,000 rs. (click picture to enlarge)

Shortly after the earthquake, the government high-handedly promised every victim household a total reconstruction grant of 200,000 rs., recently raised to even 300,000 rs., and yet hundreds of thousands of households still live in tin shacks unable to afford building a new house. The situation is more or less the same across the fourteen worst affected districts, as shown opposite. Many of these households – already badly tested by the elements summer and winter – will face a third monsoon under a tin roof.

Political infighting over who’s to chair the NRA is another reason for the delay in grant distribution

The official reason for the government’s delay in distributing the grant starts with problems of making an ”exact count” of the victims. Then comes difficulties in issuing ”victim’s ID cards” and a troubled procedure of releasing the grants only through local bank accounts. Along the way, political in-fighting over who was to chair the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) only made matters worse. Can these problems, though, explain the whole delay in distributing the reconstruction grant? Well, it’s hard to judge or know for sure. But it’s certain that the earthquake has proven to be a prolonged disaster:

Living under a tin roof will continue for the far majority of victim households for still some months to come!

Feb 132017
 

Scenic wildlife, here inside Bardiya, a potential threat outside the reserves.

Wild animals lurk as a real threat to villagers living near some of Nepal’s national parks and local forests. In some districts, the risk of animal attack even exists inside the local towns. These attacks are a tragic reminder of how difficult it can be to achieve peaceful coexistence where human settlements and animal territories overlap. Last month alone witnessed several attacks involving all of Nepal’s “big five”:

Local threat to villagers and their livestock: the Himalayan Black Bear

BEAR. On January 30, a 54-year-old man in Salyan district was attacked by a bear just outside his home. He was the fourth villager in his area to be injured by the animal! Says one of the locals: “A bear along with a cub keeps entering the village in the evening after 5, attacking anyone it comes across”.

Calm one second, charging the next: scenes from a rhino attack in Chitwan.

RHINO. On January 28, a 35-year-old woman in Chitwan was out on her daily routine, collecting cattle fodder inside the jungle area, when she encountered a rhino. Many villagers who live near the jungle collect fodder, and rhinos are a quite common site. But in this case the rhino charged – and the woman was killed.

The elusive leopard hunts even inside human settlements and sometimes attacks occur, as here in Kapan.

LEOPARD. On January 8, four men were injured as a leopard was cornered and turned aggresive in a village in Kanchanpur district. Indeed, leopards are a real threat far beyond local forests and national parks. Last summer, a leopard attack occurred as a 61-year-old woman was stalked and killed just outside her village home at 10 at night.

The tiger can be observed in some safety on elephant back or motorbike like here in Bardiya, while encounters on foot can prove fatal.

TIGER. On February 7, one police officer and two other men were injured while trying to capture a tiger that had run amok in a village adjacent to the Parsa Wildlife Reserve. In fact, they were lucky. Last November, a 45-year-old man in a Nawalparasi village was killed by a tiger when out collecting grass for his cattle.

Elephant – darted with a sedative – after raiding a village in Bardiya.

ELEPHANTS. Wild elephants – the last of the “big five” – are in fact responsible for the highest number of fatalities as well as destruction of crops and houses. For example, just before New Year, a herd of elephants ravaged through a small town in Bardiya district, killing one man and injuring two others.

How big, though, is the risk of animal attack? Indeed, in the country as a whole it is quite low. One study shows that from 2010 to 2014, elephants – on top of the list – attacked 27 people a year on average, killing 18, while tigers – at the bottom – attacked 9 people a year, killing 5. So, the risk is relatively low.

But locally, the threat of animal attack can be a huge issue. In villages around the jungle reserves in Chitwan and Bardiya, villagers have struggled with elephant herds for decades. Using torches and loud instruments, they sometimes manage to scare the heards away. But every year entire villages are badly hit!

Two Tharu villages attacked by elephants last September lost loved ones, houses and crops but also their feeling of safety. Said one villager: “Elephants come at any time. They don’t care about day and night. This has stolen peace out of our lives.”

Animal attacks have become more frequent over the last two decades or so. Animosity towards these beautiful wild animals is part of the result. Villagers have staged retaliatory attacks sometimes deep into the reserves, killing 17 elephants in the last few years, as a case in point, just as many locals demand of the government to take action.

Growing animal populations and forest corridors are part of why animal attacks are going up.

But why has the number of wild animal attacks grown? One cause is that more people have settled near to where the animals live; another that animal populations have grown, pushing more animals outside the natural parks in search of food and territory; and a third is an increase in forest cover which is allowing animals to scatter over wider areas.

It is necessary to keep animal populations down now, said Krishna Acharya, former head of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, back in 2013. The number of animals is not huge – tigers count around 200, elephants not more than 125, rhinos around 650 animals – but the habitat avilable is limited, so there’s not space for many more!

Another part of the problem: human activity moving closer to forest reserves, here locals with firewood from inside Chitwan National Park.

Conservationists are celebrating Nepal’s success in protecting its endangered mammals. The population of tigers, elephants and rhinos has increased sharply over the last ten years. But the flip-side of the coin is, paradoxically, that this very success may lead authorities to deem culling of the populations necessary to protect human lives.

Has the authorities, though, started culling the populations? Not to our knowledge. Instead, it has pledged to double the tiger population by 2022! One study says electrical fences around livestock and houses, proper storage of food items that attract elephants, and better tools for scaring off the animals, may help. But will that be enough?

Says Krishna Acharya on Nepal’s animal conservation: “The time has now come for us to determine how many such wildlife species we can have in our protected areas.” The attacks just last month involving all of Nepal’s “big five” underlines that the question of how to solve the intensifying conflict between humans and wild animals is as acute as ever.

“The numbers of rhinos and tigers are increasing in the national park and they are moving out in search of food and space. Meanwhile, the increasing human population needs more of the natural resources available, and that competition creates conflict.” Krishna Acharya, former head of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

“We are used to the elephant menace. People have died even earlier. The recent incident has only added to our losses and refreshed our sorrows and fears. The government cannot provide security and we can’t evacuate our ancestral place. This has complicated the problem.” Shyam Chaudhari, Suryapatuwa VDC, Bardiya.

PS: Wild animal attacks are tragic and the risk extremely scary. But even if taken together, Nepal’s “big five” are a much smaller threat compared to the country’s venomous snakes. No certain data is available, but health authorities estimate that 20,000 mostly villagers are bitten every year and 1,000 do not survive.

Feb 032017
 

PM Dahal and his Cabinet just asked EC to start preparations for local elections in mid-May

The Cabinet decided on February 2nd to instruct the Election Commission to get things ready for local elections by mid-May. So, it finally announced at least an approximate election date. Will the elections happen for sure, though? Well, it’s hard not to be optimistic. However, there are still hurdles ahead, to say the least.

The last word from the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) is that they can’t go ahead with local polls whatsoever unless the Maoist-NC government’s proposal for amendment of the constitution – which is in favour of Madhesi demands – has been passed. The Madheshi Morcha (SLMM) even pledged just a few days ago that if local elections are announced without meeting their demands with respect to the constitution, they will return to violent protest. Continue reading »

Jan 312017
 

Was the budget shifted to some other district? The incomplete bridge at Kamala river, Sindhuli.

It’s just another example of local infrastructure projects that are left half completed for years, sometimes forever. We once witnessed a similar case in Chitwan where the government was said to have funded a dike project along a river to protect villagers from the annual floods. On inspection to the remote river bank, however, all we found was a bit of rock and iron in the water! In this more recent case, it’s a bridge across Kamala river in Sindhuli that’s still incomplete.

The pillars were erected four years ago and the bridge project was off to a good start. But then nothing happened. Was the budget shifted to some other district or project after another party came to power; was it misused, perhaps even siphoned off by politicians, bureaucrats and contractors involved; or was the money simply not enough to complete the project in the first place? We don’t know. But those are typical questions, and locals along Kamala river are still waiting for an answer.

Jan 282017
 

Mira Rai in her right element: from Maoist guerilla to international trail runner

Young ultra-runner, Mira Rai, grew up in a village in the eastern district of Bhojpur. As a young girl, she joined a local Maoist platoon – it was under the Maoist conflict – where she learned not only guerilla warfare but also how to train and run in the mountains. Today, she’s a professional trail runner, and a good one too. She has several international medals to her name, close to taking the Ultra Sky Marathon World Series Championship in Europe, too, and now she’s a National Geographic People’s Choice Adventurer of the year! Read Mira’s fascinating story here – plus a bit about trail running in Nepal.

Jan 242017
 

Will they make local elections happen in May? PM Dahal and Chief Election Commissioner, Yadav.

It’s hard to believe but if PM Dahal’s promises and recent actions are anything to go by, local elections might happen as early as in May – 20 years after the last local election was held in Nepal. Dahal just informed Chief Election Commissioner, Yadav, that he plans to announce the election date “in a few days”, and meanwhile the parliamentary State Affairs Committee just passed two election-related bills critical to going ahead with fresh local elections.

Huge obstacles in the way of local elections still exist – at least last time we checked – such as the dispute over delineation of provinces under the new constitution and the restructuring of local units. Will Dahal somehow make local elections happen now, nevertheless? Indeed, promises of local elections have been notoriously broken in the past. But optimism with a dash of caution could seem in order… (another update will follow soon).

Jan 172017
 

Waiting for the NRA’s reconstruction grant: one of 600,000+ households who still got little or nothing to rebuild their homes

The formation of Nepal Reconstruction Authority (NRA) in the fall of 2015 was as political as the creation of many other “high-level” commissions and agencies in Kathmandu. Barely had donors pledged over 4 billion dollars in reconstruction grants and loans before the main parties started to bicker over who was to chair the NRA. The CEO of the new agency would come to manage – together with the Prime Minister – a huge sum of money. Was it to be Nepali Congress’ (NC’s) man, someone closer to the UML, or maybe someone affiliated with the Maoist party, or…? Continue reading »

Dec 022016
 

Is it witchcraft or ancient healing knowledge? Have a glimpse of the mother shaman in action.

She is the only woman to have ever been accepted into the highest order of shamans in Nepal – and she was even selected for a trip recently to meet with other shamans in Africa. Her residence is inside Kathmandu valley, but she orginates from a Hill district where she learned her insights and skills from old village shamans. At her clinic, she receives locals as well as foreigners every day – and in this video, she prescribes remedies to a young mother and her baby. Is it “witchcraft” or ancient healing knowledge?! Well, watch to have a glimpse of a shaman’s craft, centuries old.

The video was shot by Arun Chalise at LocalNepalToday.

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Oct 202016
 

Still waiting for the LBRC and the first local election since 1997: local politicians, here in Chitwan.

Still waiting for the LBRC and the first local election since 1997: local politicians, here in Chitwan.

Ever tried to contact a ministry by email and never get a reply? Well, many have, and now the chairman of the Local Bodies Restructuring Commission (LBRC) has too. Trying for a second time to write the Ministry of Local Development and Federal Affairs to get data on Ilakas – the areas supposed to form the territorial basis of Nepal’s future local bodies – without getting a reply, the LBRC is about to give up on time frames and deadlines. We can’t set a deadline with such lack of cooperation from the government, says an LBRC official. So, Continue reading »