Integrating the internally displaced: An integral part of urban governance in Nepal

Integrating the internally displaced: An integral part of urban governance in Nepal
Integrating the internally displaced: An integral part of urban governance in Nepal

November 2005; When Mehar Singh and his family arrived in the lively Terai town in Nepalganj, near the Indian border three years ago, all he had was 1000 Nepali rupees ($14 U.S. dollars) in his pocket, and a strong will to protect his family-even if it meant leaving their livelihood and hometown behind.

Mehar Singh had a small teashop near the local police station of his hometown. Following an attack by the Maoist insurgents, the station and surrounding areas were abandoned, leaving the town under Maoist control. Knowing that Mehar's shop catered mostly to the police forces, the Maoists started threatening his family.

The Singh family was one among the thousands, who left their home to escape from the then nine-year old conflict between the Government of Nepal and Maoist insurgents. The conflict has led to an extensive exodus from the hilly areas-often the haven for the insurgents-to the lowlands of Nepal, or further towards India.

An exact number of displaced people is difficult to get, but estimates range from 100,000 to 150,000 people. It's important to note that the conflict may not be the direct cause for hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. Many of them are forced out of conflict-ridden districts by the lack or absence of basic services like education and income-generating opportunities.

Inevitably, those who stay in Nepal gravitate toward urban areas, resulting in an exploding urban population in many towns. For example, the estimated annual population increase in Nepalganj - where the Singh family now lives - is 8.3 per cent from 2001 to 2003. This is significant, compared to the 1.9 per cent annual increase from 1991 to 2002.

Shortly after arriving in Nepalganj, Mehar Singh and his family were integrated in a Tole Lane Organisation (TLO). Because of their dire situation, TLO members encouraged Mehar to take loan and start a small enterprise.

Through UNDP Rural Urban Partnership Programme Mehar got a loan of 5,000 Nepali rupees ($70 U.S. dollars), which he invested in a small teashop. His business flourished, Mehar's business now has grown from a small, non-descript tea stall, to a larger facility-that can be rented for special functions-with many more tables and chairs, plus a refrigerator.

His monthly earnings range from 15,000 to 20,000 Nepali rupees ($202-$270 U.S. dollars), out of which he is able to save 2,000 to 3,000 Nepali rupees ($27-$40 U.S. dollars) monthly. From this saving Mehar Singh plans to invest in a new refrigerator.

When the time comes for peace to prevail in Nepal, will the Singh family consider returning to their hometown? "No," Mehar says emphatically. "The business is simply too good in Nepalgunj."

The case of Mehar Singh is one of the many success stories. Reaching the Internally Displaced People and assisting the municipalities in coping with the influx of people is an ever-challenging process.

One of the biggest challenges for UNDP Nepal is to create an environment of trust and mutual understanding among the host communities and the migrants. RUPP is continuously refining its work with urban governance and improving the livelihood of the marginalized people of Nepal, including the internally displaced.

UNDP Nepal has been working on improving urban governance and rural-urban linkages through the Rural-Urban Partnership Programme (RUPP) since 1997, in response to the changing landscape and the enormous pressure on the infrastructure and public services in municipalities hosting the migrants. In 2003, affirming the fundamental human component of this issue, internally displaced people (IDP) became an integrated focus of RUPP.

RUPP is building on an all-inclusive approach reaching out to all households in the urban and rural areas where the programme operates.

Each municipality is geographically divided into community organizations called, Tole-Lane Organizations (TLO). In turn, the membership of each TLO comprises of the households falling within its assigned boundaries.

The TLO functions as an extended decentralised structure of the municipality, undertaking planning, prioritising development activities and delivering certain services for the municipality. The programme provides sustainable livelihood opportunities to TLO members through the municipality by making funds for micro-credits available for the poor sections of the TLOs, seed grants for small scale infrastructure projects (e.g. public sanitation, market facilities and community buildings), as well as enterprise and leadership training and social awareness creation on critical issues: HIV/AIDS, among others.

Support is also given to small-scale enterprises with a focus on products/services, which have a market scope beyond the TLO to stimulate regional trade and growth and provide services to both urban and rural areas.

The municipality takes ownership of the programme and a Municipal Development Fund Board supervises its implementation. The Board consists of representatives from civil society organizations and the private sector and is supported by the Mayor and the Municipal Board and Council.

UNDP Nepal supports municipal ownership through capacity building efforts in management and planning. This ensures ownership of the process and sustainability of the activities undertaken. As for the IDP issue, assistance is focused on the area of influx. The approach is to stabilize the municipalities most pressed by the in-migration, while reaching out to all needy in the area of influx-be they permanent residents or IDPs. The goal is to minimize the risk of conflict between the original community members and the newcomers (assistance is foremost provided to vulnerable groups, considering factors, such as poverty, ethnicity/caste and gender).

At the grassroots level, the challenge is to ensure integration of IDPs into existing TLOs as equal members of the community, eligible to the same benefits and equally accountable to contribute to the development of their respective TLOs. To achieve this, awareness raising campaigns need to be in place among the TLOs to inform IDPs of their rights, responsibilities and opportunities IDPs. This will facilitate their integration and assure the communities that additional funds will be channeled to IDP affected TLOs to meet their specific needs.

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