Urban Life

The growth of Kathmandu Valley from rustic temple towns to a malignant urban growth has consumed its life force. Rather than gently welcoming newcomers to the city, it overwhelms them with its cacophony of voices, streets that look like they have a perpetual riot, odours that assail the nostrils, and menacing touts. Kathmandu’s dystopia, its descent into chaos and filth maybe depressing enough. But the situation in other towns of Nepal is worse.

It used to be said in rural Nepal that you knew you were approaching a village when human droppings started dotting the trail. Our towns proclaim their presence in even more dramatic ways. Black plastic bags float in the air like balloons, open sewers overflow into pavements, endless queues of dilapidated vehicles honk their heads off, abandoned cows and stray dogs amble along thoroughfares, and aimless groups of people loiter the streets. Welcome to Nepal.

Despite their over-stressed infrastructure and underserved municipal facilities, these cities are growing in all directions. This can only mean more squalour and more nastiness in the future. Economic growth and urbanisation are so closely interlinked that one without the other appears unimaginable. But there have to be better methods of planning, building and managing towns than the free-for-all way in which we run our municipalities now.

Early this week, Nepal Engineers Association organised a workshop to discuss ‘Public Private Partnership approach to municipal level infrastructure development and services’. Like most consultations, the event turned out to be largely ritualistic, but participants did succeed in pinpointing the reasons why urban growth in Nepal’s towns is unplanned and getting worse.