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In the hills of Nepal a bridge is not just a crossing place, it’s a lifeline which can mean the difference between poverty and prosperity. The latest edition of DFID's Developments magazine highlighted the positive impact of suspension bridges on poor rural communities in Nepal. “The bridge is like my wife,” laughs Ain Bahadur Thapa, a 60-year old farmer. “I have been with her for so long, I could not live without her.”
And he is not alone. All across this most mountainous country in the world, more and more suspension bridges are slung elegantly between previously distant rural communities – separated either by the dangers of torrential river flow or the impracticality of a day’s walk to a crossing place.
“Before we had the suspension bridge,” says Devendra Thakuri “several people were washed away when they tried to cross the river in flood. People had to take their clothes off and carry them on their head as they waded through. Children, on their way to school, would throw their bags over first. It was dangerous. But the bridge has connected us all up. It’s a lifeline.”
Ain Bahadur Thapa estimates that around 200 people a day cross the 150 metre chain span, hanging securely above the roaring river in the gorge below. But just 50 metres around the hillside, another, newer bridge connects a different stretch of mountain, across the same river. Several hundred more people use this one every day, including Gopal Pariyar, who is carrying his plough on his back. “I live on the other side but my farm is on this side,” he says. “If I had no bridge, then I wouldn’t be able to farm and I would be very poor.” “In fact,” he adds, “I would probably go hungry”.
Farmers carry their produce back and forth, children walk to and from schools they previously could not attend, mothers take children to clinics, and traders set up stalls to hawk their produce. DFID has contributed some $100 million to upgrade the infrastructure of Nepal in the past 10 years and together with new roads and better sanitation, the money has helped construct more than 120 suspension bridges. Each one represents a kind of miniature globalisation, the hyperlinking of village to village. It’s just as vital for the local economies as the linking by road and rail of the economies of European countries, or the linking by sea and air of global trading blocs.
“This is ideal for my shop,” explains Putali Nepali, 60, a seasonal labourer, about to open for business selling vegetables and sweets at the bridgehead. Expounding her plans, you realise she is describing the location in terms not unlike those of an airport or train station – a bustling centre of commerce and communication. “Many hundreds of people a day use this bridge as it connects us to six villages. Without the bridge it would take us a day’s walk to get there, now it takes a few minutes.”
And a bridge helps people become more prosperous says Sarita Pokhiel, 30, mother of four who also farms on one side of the river and lives on the other. “God knows what I would do without it,” she laughs. “I would earn so much less, have less produce, be less able to put my children in school. The bridge makes us less poor.”
Developments Issue 43, 2008 - Download here: