Anish Bhandari (email@example.com) works at the Centre for the Study of Labor and Mobility (CESLAM) at Social Science Baha, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Those who have probably known Kathmandu for a long time can see that it has changed its structure over the years like every other rapidly urbanizing city. The eighteenth SAARC summit hosted in Kathmandu and the government's road expansion project in recent years has transformed the gaze of the capital city of Nepal. One can see the construction workers with their helmets, jackets and tools working along the road sides everywhere in the city. It is also clearly visible that Kathmandu is slowly expanding to the peripheral hills which has difficult landscapes with forests and national parks. This expansion is due to the booming urbanization in the country and across the region. According to the 2011 Census Report, the urban population constitutes 17% (4,523,820) of the total population and Kathmandu alone accommodates a total of 1,744,240 people.
The fact that Kathmandu accommodates more people than its capacity in terms of the resources such as drinking water and electricity proves that the thriving urbanization is responsible for changing the structure of the capital city. The road expansion project and housing apartments building construction are the large scale constructions going on in Kathmandu. Also, the Melamchi Drinking Water pipes installation and solar lights installation along the city roads are speeding. The proposal of the government to construct the flyovers in Airport-Kalanki section and overhead bridge in New Baneshwor junction are also in the pipeline. However, these large scale construction projects are proposed without proper research and planning[i].Folks across the county come to Kathmandu not only because of their aspirations for better economic opportunities and access to basic services such as health and education but also because of the central administrative structure of the government that requires people to come to Kathmandu for multiple reasons such as visa procurement or final departure from the only international airport of the country. No wonder Kathmandu is one of the rapidly urbanizing cities in South Asia because it not only accommodates the permanent dwellers but transient migrants as well. Urban development, therefore, is an important indicator of change.
Urbanization brings forth lots of challenges as well as opportunities. One of the major challenges is its effective management. Administrative flaw of the unstable governments and policy based contestations, lack of coordination and cooperation between various departments and ministries of the state are some of the major challenges of the rapid urbanization in the valley according to the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority personnel[ii]. Apart from the government headed projects, private house and building constructions in Kathmandu have covered the fertile agricultural land of the country. Nevertheless, in an effort to introduce the scientific land use system, the government of Nepal has set out Land Use Policy 2012 which envisages controlling rapid urbanization and haphazard use of land to ensure proper utilization of the scare land across the country. Although this policy has raised a ray of hope in terms of the scientific management of land, lack of necessary acts to implement the objectives set forth by this policy is still a challenge. Importantly, the urban development action to manage the 'slum' and 'squatter' communities in Kathmandu is another important aspect that the concerned stakeholders are unable to accomplish in terms of urban development. It has evidently led to some violent confrontations between the government forces and the people living in such settlements in an attempt to manage this portion of the population[iii].
However, despite lot of challenges, there is an underlying and mostly overshadowed range of opportunities for the people and organizations involved in this process of urbanization. Talking about urbanization, probably the most intrinsic but overlooked facet is the construction sector and employment opportunities provided by it. Construction sector provides opportunity in terms of employment it calls for workers but does not require a skilled labor, although skilled labor is always preferred. In terms of the wages, however, skilled workers are obviously paid more. Nevertheless, skilled manpower being scarce in the country, the construction industry itself provides on-the-job training opportunities to the people who are engaged in it. Most of the construction workers have engaged themselves in this sector as a fresh recruit. They have learned the work on-the-job either working as a helper or directly through experience. And those who have worked in this sector for long enough have been able to upgrade themselves as petty-contractors and sub-contractors. Construction industry is one such sector which is trying to attract large foreign investments in Nepal. For instance, an Italian company CMC di Ravenna which specializes in tunneling and currently working for the Melamchi Diversion Scheme project, views Nepal as a potential market for tunneling work[iv]. Hydropower construction, for example, is yet another sector that is facing crisis in terms of its under-utilization in Nepal. The government not being able to carry out such large projects by itself leaves these sectors to fall prey on the hands of international agencies that are waiting for a green signal by the Nepali government to operate in such areas.
However, the main challenge that the construction industry is now facing is to attract and hold the labors that it molds. For example, not being able to pay according to the increasing inflation in the economy is one major impediment to sustain the laborers in the construction sector in Nepal. Another reason, and probably the most important one, is that young people are attracted by foreign employment no matter the consequences. Young people want to go abroad once in their lifetime at least to see and to experience the life abroad. This probably has to do with the social and cultural change that Nepal is facing at the moment.
Rapid construction is going on in Kathmandu. And rapid construction demand workers. Data shows that around 7% of the total population have gone abroad for better employment opportunities[v]. Most of the people who go abroad are unskilled and semi-skilled people. Apart from earning a decent salary (compared to Nepal), most of them are exposed to hazardous situations and harassments from their employers. For instance, holding the passports, unnatural deaths and inadequate pay according to work are some of the most common issues pertinent to the Nepali workers abroad. In such light, construction sector could provide the people with an alternative at home. The construction sector silently watches the prospect workers going abroad unable to interest them towards its own veil. Or maybe it is moving ahead in such a pace that it does not have time to stop for a while and call the people to fulfill its own demand for work.
[i]"Flyover madness". For more details see, http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2012-04-14/flyover-madness.html
[ii] Based on an interview with Kathmandu Valley Development Authority Commissioner.
[iii]"Urgent Action Appeal". For more details see, http://hlrn.org.in/documents/NP-DDFE-080512.pdf
[iv] Based on the fieldwork at the construction of tunnel for Melamchi Water Supply in Kathmandu.
[v]"Labor Migration for Employment: A Status Report for Nepal 2013/2014".For more details see, https://asiafoundation.org/resources/pdfs/MigrationReportbyGovernmentofNepal.pdf