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It's hard to see your country slide backwards

Nepal, June 9, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps

Last night we had tea with our friend Bal, a Nepali entrepreneur who has a remittances and web portal business here in Kathmandu. He told us how hard it was to see Nepal going backwards. The roads in the capital are deeply rutted and eroded. Camps of squatters live in squalor along the once-scenic river that runs through the city. The stench is overwhelming. "You used to be able to go down there and walk along the river," said Bal. "Now you don't want to go near the river."

The squatters have migrated from rural areas in search of work, money, a better life. They haven't found it yet.

"Thirty years ago, we were seen as a leader in the region," he said. "Nepal was the first country to use hydropower. The roads in Kathmandu were good. Now, we're so far behind our neighbors."

In the past decade, the royal family was assassinated, an inept monarch took over, the monarchy was overthrown, and a Maoist insurgency arose. Upheaval, disruption and violence took their toll. And the constant strikes and protests crippled the country. Now, even the strikers are sick of it.

"They would be paid a small amount to go to a protest, maybe they'd get a hot meal," said Bal of the strikers. "Now they don't even want to do it anymore. They feel like it's not worth it. They're striking against strikes."

Today we'll meet with our team here, in preparation for our travel to the field tomorrow.