Rethinking development approaches: Do we really need view towers and tall buildings?
Nepal is in the golden phase of progress, as it enjoys government stability after a long time and has local government with self-deciding powers. But this period can prove to be the worst if decisions are taken unwisely.
Being an agricultural country, Nepal is importing agricultural products worth more than $2 billion. Nepal ranks at 93 in importing goods worth of $11.03 billion, and ranks at 164 in export of goods worth $818.7 million (2017). Remittance comprises 30 percent of total GDP of Nepal while also receiving two dead migrant workers daily for past seven years. With one-quarter of the population still below the poverty line, Nepal is 30th poorest country in the world.
In this scenario, Nepal needs to step forward in investing on innovation, agriculture, technology, research and development. With more than 40 percent of its youth population, about 2,000 youths migrate abroad in search of employment and opportunities on a daily basis.
Nepal is recovering from catastrophic earthquake and it’s high time that it chose investment areas wisely. But the idea of development seen through the pattern of investment is quite the opposite of what Nepal is going through regarding its economic and financial condition. There are some high-rated projects that Nepal has been investing on without thinking about immediate and long-term impact on its economy.
One of the high-rated projects Nepal has launched is reconstruction of Dharahara worth $30 million in Kathmandu, which has been claimed as a project of national pride. Was it really necessary to invest so much of money on rebuilding Dharahara? This money could have been invested on improving public transportation and safe streets that could have increased the quality of urban living.
The tallest statue of Gautam Budhha is set to be built at the estimated cost of $159 million at Jhapa and it also indicates how the priorities of investment and concept of development has been proceeding in Nepal. Also, with less than 1 percent of area being open spaces in the valley, the idea of constructing view tower at the estimated cost of $50 million has started without feasibility study regarding urban design and supporting fabrics.
Rampur has been finalised for the construction of Gautam Buddha International Cricket stadium worth $30 million. Has there been study on how the supporting infrastructures are going to come along with the stadium? Is the university premise really suitable for the construction of such a large infrastructure? Detailed study on areas such as impacts to existing land use, infrastructure, access to major streets, parking availability and campus connectivity needs to be carried out.
Couldn’t we have proposed research labs and innovation centers to modernise agricultural sector or technological advancement, which would have helped Nepal to uplift its economy in the long run? The initiative of the foundation can’t be discouraged but megaprojects like this which have the power to change the shape of the city and affect the urban dimensions need to have a detailed pre-study regarding economic aspects, return of investment, and social, environmental and economic aspects.
Without having detailed research on feasibility, pay-back period, contextual understanding and technology to support them, developing countries like Nepal tend to copy the infrastructures that are seen in developed countries. Not only do they tend to copy the infrastructures without contextual evaluation, but sometimes copy the outdated model of development. In an under-developed country like Nepal, ranking 30th in the poorest countries in the world, rethinking development approaches is imperative for a sustainable future.
Nepal with demographic data of more than 40 percent youth population can utilise its human resources for the development of country and minimise the dependency ratio. Investment needs to be done in upgrading education system into a whole new model, which only not produces graduates but also capable youths. Investment needs to be done in agricultural sector in order to increase productivity of the country, to make it capable to export and enhance economy; in environmental and cultural heritage to promote tourism industry; in improvising access to health and education to all its people from diverse social and geographical background and these sectors are to be in the top-most agenda of development.
The country needs to promote quality education, employment opportunities, free market and entrepreneurship among young people and engage them in the country, thus discouraging migration. Investment on these sectors ensures long-term return for the development and prosperity of the country.
In the local government front, each of the municipalities can identify the best initiative that fits in their context and start economic progress with the foundation they are in. Instead of focusing on tall buildings, wider roads and infrastructures — the conventional concept of development, in short — it’s time to invest on institutional development which helps in identifying the best possibilities, set priorities and then work on with strategy and procedures to achieve the goals of sustainable development. Scientific restructuring and capacity development of institutions is needed to enable them to lead their individual areas in an integrated approach.
Prioritising view towers and megaprojects without contextual analysis while neglecting investments on basic fabric of development from the grassroots will have a long term impact on pace and sustainability of development. Demography, needs of community, environmental, social and economic sustainability needs to be the major forces considered while planning infrastructures. The traces of development we are laying today are going to be there for succeeding generation as well. Rethinking the model of development we are following today is necessary for a sustainable future. At a time when Nepal has achieved political stability and favourable situation in geo-politics, the way we approach development is going to shape future prosperity of the country.
The writer is an architect and a researcher.
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