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Next steps for Nepal?

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I arrived in Nepal last week and the day I arrived the Prime Minister resigned! My week since has been trying to make sense of a multitude of contradictions and intensely complex politics.

The tourist side of mountainous Nepal
The picture-postcard side of Nepal (Credit: Wendy Cue, UNOCHA Nepal)

I’ve arrived to head up DFID’s development programme in Nepal, which is worth about £172 million over the next three years. I don’t know Nepal very well - even though I lived for 3 years next door in Bangladesh. I first came here as a tourist 12 years ago, and Nepal has a reputation as a tourist destination – a Himalayan paradise. It certainly has a lot to offer with the beautiful mountains, colourful culture and lovely, friendly people, but Nepal is also the poorest and most unequal country in South Asia with around 31 % of Nepalis living below the poverty line. This means they don’t have enough money to buy food and basic necessities. The country is also already being hard-hit by climate change.

Over the years, I have been aware of the Maoist insurgency, which lasted a decade from 1996 to 2006. I remember watching the BBC last year when the Maoists joined the government after being democratically elected and thinking “Wow! What a turnaround!”

The queues for petrol
The queues for petrol (Credit: Kantipur publications)

But the country is not really what I expected. Okay, so I haven’t been outside Kathmandu yet, but still. There is a lot of traffic in Kathmandu now, despite fuel shortages and long queues at petrol stations. The arrival of petrol tankers from India is noted on the front page of the papers, with details on exactly where the fuel has been delivered to. There are power cuts for about 16 hours a day, which means that people have to plan their lives around when the power might be on, but they helpfully publish schedules of the “load shedding” to enable people to do just that.

And the politics…I really wasn’t completely prepared for the politics! It’s a highly-complicated political environment with 24 or so political parties. I’m learning fast about the various allegiances and alliances but with the recent resignation of the Prime Minister it’s hard to second-guess what exactly might happen now.

A Maoist political rally
A Maoist political rally (Credit: Kantipur publications)

Every day there have been demonstrations in front of parliament and at other hotspots in the city and reports of violence between supporters of different political parties in some of the regions. The newspapers have detailed daily updates on the negotiations between the various political actors on possible alliances to form a new government. But most people don’t seem to expect that to happen any time soon, and neither do they appear to be too concerned at the thought of being without a government for a while! Nepal has had 21 governments in the last 20 years, so frequent changes and periods without a designated leader are nothing new…

But after nearly a week here, I’m struck by how contradictory it all is really. On the one hand Nepal is a beautiful, peaceful and rather magical place, which is quite rightly a magnet for tourists from all over the world. On the other hand, it is an extremely poor country beset with major challenges, including a rather difficult and very complex political situation. It is chaotic and violent at times, but at the same time very cultured and somehow ordered.

The political situation is such at the moment that nobody knows how or when the current impasse might be resolved. It could be peaceful, or it might not be. Some people I’ve spoken to see this as a moment of opportunity – a clearing of the air between age old enemies, after which the political parties can come together to make a fresh start. Others see it as a very dangerous situation, which if agreement cannot be reached could plunge the country back into unrest and bloodshed.

For the sake of this beautiful country and all the lovely, friendly people I’ve met so far, I very much hope it’s the former. Without peace and stability, it’s really difficult for government to deliver services, for economic growth to increase and provide more and better jobs, and for the UK and others to help support development. And it’s development that the poor people in this country desperately need and deserve. Along with everyone else, I will be watching closely to see what happens and looking to see how we can drive forward the development that’s needed.

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  1. Comment by ujwal posted on

    I'm so happy to know that you love Nepal more than our political leaders. Please keep up your love and concern for Nepal and Nepalese people. We small people surely remember your love and thank you always from our hearts.

  2. Comment by Khem Raj Bhandari posted on

    I am really pleased to see your words and love for Nepal. I hope DFID will continue its support to Nepal to alleviate poverty in our poor country, "also by not providing fish in hand rather teaching how to do fishing". Your leading contribution on behalf of DFID will be highly appreciated and wish you for your nice stay in Nepal.

    - Khem, a Nepali student from Germany.

  3. Comment by Angus Dunkley posted on

    Dear Sarah

    I really hope you love your stay in Nepal. I left in 1999 after six years with DFID as Financial Adviser. I also project managed the building and site you are in so I hope you like this too. I think there are still some staff left from my times - just mention my name and they may remember. I also hope you guys do a bit less taking these days and a bit more doing!!!

    I am now in Doha Qatar as Director for the Qatar operations of BDO, an accounting firm - glass tower block, designated underground parking space, Starbucks. The only comfort is that half of Kathmandu seems to have migrated here - just no "soongoor ko masu"

    All the best

    Angus Dunkley

  4. Comment by Shyam Kumar Rai posted on

    Dear Sarah

    I am really happy to read your article about Nepal. even a short period you have come to know the reality about Nepal. I don't know how you take it but I am sure that you have had stuff to write about which might be something interesting for someone specially from Europe. I know the situation we have in Nepal is unimaginable in your country. I request you to keep writing more and more so that the people from other parts of the world know.

    All the best

    Shyam Kumar Rai

  5. Comment by Shakya K posted on

    Nice to read of your article ,

    Donner organization has big role in Nepal in all sector including political ,
    hope your organization will play vital roll for the peace and stability of this nation.

    K shakya

  6. Comment by K Ghimire posted on

    It is very nice commitment and sympathy towards the under developving country like Nepal. But DFID have global commitment to poverty alleviation is a major agenda it is very much appreciateable. But the DFID should have through monitoring value of money where is it investing and where is it going on Nepalese people need development we want to welcome you in Nepal in every sector to assist to develop our country. We always with you.

    Kudos to Sarah Sanyahumbi.

    K Ghimire

  7. Comment by Mochi Sada posted on

    Congratuation for nice picturisation of Nepal's situation of Mid May. Till today, probably you have understood the underlying causes of conflict and transitional unrest of Nepal. It is not only poverty that have caused problem, it is really unjustice and unfair distribution of wealth and opportunity that have made general people angry. Government and donors all have two tongues. They say one thing and do other thing. As a biggest bilateral donor, DFID is also responsible to make Nepali people feel justice. You can start from yourself by giving opportunity to most marginalised janajatis, Dalits and Madhesis; and also awrding DFID resources to not only big "Babusaheb" and "Bahunbadis" but also to the organizations of marginalized people.

    Best wishes for your success as DFID head.

  8. Comment by S. Paudel posted on

    Dear Sarah,

    I am really happy to read your post and to know your love for Nepal. I wish you all the best and have a pleasant stay in Nepal.

  9. Comment by Prem Bhandari posted on

    Hi Sarah,

    Really loved to read your views. Hope that you are moving towards the direction as you expected. I will be more than happy if you could help strengthen evidence-based policy making through encouraging high quality scientific research in Nepal. This is lacking in the nation.


  10. Comment by Dipendra Paudel posted on

    Dear Sarah,
    Is there any developmental plans that DFID is implemeting in Nepal ? If so why no to make it public so that Nepalese and the society who are still out of access e.g.: Road,Bridge,Water Supply,education,health,sanatitaion e.t.c. can know in advance that DFID is funding to our society and to those which aren't can ask for help to other donor agencies.
    Also it could help to the Nepalese if you can public or address the dvelopmental issue and challenges that you're addressing during your tenure as a DFID head in Nepal.
    Dipendra Paudel
    Programme Director

  11. Comment by John Simmons posted on

    While i think in the UK we could do with a bit more choice in political parties, 24 is a bit rediculous! Maybe they should remove a few. Well i do hope they resolve the problems over there soon

  12. Comment by Gopal Raj Khaniya posted on

    Do you publish the notise use the dfid fund really use and what is actual outcom.

  13. Comment by sarah posted on

    Dear Gopal, our external website includes general information on the projects, objectives, spend, aid effectiveness - seee our Project datatbase at:

    And for any detailed questions, you can approach our Public Enquiry Point:

  14. Comment by ishwar shrestha posted on

    Welcome to Nepal. you tenure will be successful
    Prof ishwar Shrestha