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Getting Nepal’s urbanization right

Getting Nepal’s urbanization right

With growing numbers of urbanizing corridors in all seven provinces, urbanization has become an unstoppable force in the country’s development. This, coupled with booming e-commerce, is a major driver of growth, in what is a tested route to high economic growth for developing countries. Countries in South East Asia and Africa have taken these paths to developing vibrant economies. But we in Nepal also lack a coherent approach to developing large-scale connectivity projects that facilitate both urbanization and e-commerce.

Underpinning the importance of urban development, the government adopted the National Urban Development Strategy (NUDS) 2017. Going beyond, the government, with technical support of the Asian Development Bank, started a separate unit of Urban Planning and Development Center (UPDC) under Department of Urban Development and Building Construction (DUDBC). The center has been conducting research and building a knowledge pool required to advance sustainable urban development. Under UPDC and with the ADB’s financial support, a multi-disciplinary Urban Corridor Development study was completed in 2019, both in the east and west, laying a foundation for economic corridors in both areas. The government has already initiated the process of implementing corridor development in Province 1 and Lumbini Province, again with ADB support.

Recently, the World Bank also provided $150 million to improve urban governance and infrastructure projects in municipalities of two strategic urban clusters: eastern-Tarai region (Province 1 and 2) and western region (Gandaki and Lumbini Provinces), complementing government efforts to expedite Nepal’s urbanization. The World Bank’s support in urban development has come at the right time: there is a critical need to help municipalities enhance their urban governance and develop cross-municipalities infrastructures such as road, solid waste management, drinking water as well as education and health services. Nepal is at a crossroad of transforming urban governance by empowering local governments in the new federal set-up. The support of both the World Bank and the ADB in this needs to be in line with the spirit of constitution for there to be meaningful cooperation among local, provincial, and federal governments. The support for municipalities should also be done in close coordination with provincial governments.

One big challenge identified by scholars with Nepal’s three-tier federal model is ensuring seamless communication and cooperation among different tiers. It is vital that federal government agencies and our development partners accommodate all stakeholders, from top to bottom, for the institutionalization of federalism and achievement of the goal of prosperous Nepal. We need to keep emphasizing this, as we are yet to fully emerge from our unitary mindset.

Urbanization is also linked to rural-urban linkages and correlates with migration. People’s movement in search of jobs and better health and education services also call for robust and sustainable urban infrastructures. Environment-friendly urban cores attract upwardly mobile people. The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us of the importance of a balance with the larger eco-system; it is critical we do not blindly follow traditional growth models.

Our local and provincial governments desperately need to ensure better infrastructure and public service delivery. And this is exactly where the development partners come in—not just to fund old-style projects but also to invest in preserving our heritages and natural resources. The whole process of development and prosperity should thus be revisited. Doing so starts with the development of our urban cores the right way.