Friday, March 13, 2015

ICT as a Rural Livelihood Option: A Study of Nangi Village, Nepal

ABSTRACT
Like other Asian countries, Nepal has also witnessed major changes in information and communication technology (ICT) in the last decade. This paper assesses the impact of the Nepal Wireless Networking Project, which is in operation at Nangi village in western Nepal, on the livelihoods (viz., physical, financial, social, human and natural aspects) of people living in a place beset by armed conflict. The study analyses the ruralurban connections, the benefit augmentation and the harm reduction measures and discusses sustainability and replicability of such projects in the Nangi village of Myagdi district in Nepal.

Apart from the questionnaire survey, focus group discussions with women’s group and field observation methods were used for data collection from 33 out of 106 households. This paper argues that even if the presence of state mechanisms is rare, peoples’ concerted actions may result in stronger livelihood options. However, mere access to technology cannot produce geometric success; communities need skills to use such facilities as livelihood options.

Recommended citation: Ghimire, Safal. 2012. ICT as a Livelihood Option amidst Conflicts: A Case of Nangi Village in Nepal. 2012. In: Uzma T Haroon et al. Redefining Paradigms of Sustainable Development in South Asia.Islamabad: Sang-e-Mill Publishers.

INTRODUCTION
The past two decades in Nepal have been marked both by democratic changes as well as development of media. With this, the use of ICT has accelerated. Onta (2006) states that people’s livelihoods, be they rural or nonrural, are shaped by modern techniques. Further, rural knowledge system, socialisation, small enterprises and even the integration of rural communities with the urban ones are associated with digital development (Chapagain 2006). In this context, the paper assesses impacts of ICT on the livelihoods of the people in a village beset by the Maoist insurgency (during the period 19962006) in Nepal.

This paper looks at the benefit augmentation and harm reduction measures while assessing impact of a wireless fiber (wifi) project in Nangi on different livelihood assets (such as physical, financial, social, human and natural). It also analyses the ruralurban connections generated by ICT during times when state institutions were less effective because of the armed conflict. Sustainability and replication of such interventions are important factors. It delineates how ICT is functioning, or should function, to be an alternative livelihood means and to address the root causes of conflicts.

Conflict and Livelihoods in Nepal
The tenyear Maoist insurgency in Nepal affected people’s livelihood in many ways. The Maoists waged the insurgency mainly to highlight the exclusionary social and political practices as well as economic imbalance and regional disparity of development. Health, education, agriculture and transportation were severely disrupted due to the armed conflict (Upreti and MüllerBöeker 2010). Schools were used as warshelters, healthposts were bombarded, and many agricultural fields became land mines. Natural resources are considered the supporting pillars for rural livelihoods but, for many villagers, there was no secure access to such resources (Ibid.). Social harmony disappeared in many conflictridden areas and postwar communalism rose, especially in the Terai Madhes, the southern plain of Nepal (Upreti et al. 2012). Infrastructure worth US $70 million (approximately) was destroyed, reconstruction of which is estimated to cost US $50 million (approximately) (Upreti 2009). In the given situation, it is safe to say that people were compelled to either cope up and live with the same situations or search for alternative livelihoods. The following section features a case study on the role of ICT on the livelihoods of a village during the armed conflict in Nepal.


Emergence of ICT in Nangi Nangi village falls in Ramche Village Development Committee of Myagdi district in western Nepal. Although 80 kilometer away from Pokhara, the western regional headquarters, in terms of state services and infrastructures it is farther than its physical distance. The seven hours long uphill climb to reach Nangi has earned itself the title of rural hinterland in the lap of Himalayas. Even though the village has high potential for the cultivation of medicinal herbs, yak farming and rhododendron, it only became known a decade ago. The village also gained popularity when Nepal Wireless Networking Project led by Mahabir Pun took momentum (Pokharacity n.d.). Before this project, the provision and quality of three basic services, education, health and communication, were pitiful. The village suffered from lack of quality education; there were no doctors in the area and people had to travel great distances to seek medical facilities at the regional headquarters Pokhara. Also, communication was significantly hampered as people had to travel to convey and receive required information. These three things have changed overtime under the strong leadership of Mahabir Pun the proponent of rural wifi system in Nepal. The development of wifi benefited the locals tremendously and the community leadership shown by Mahabir Pun earned him the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award 2007.

Born in Nangi village, Mahabir Pun spent his school years with no proper books or efficient teachers, yet he was determined to do ‘something’ for his remote village. However, his family migrated to Chitwan during this time and he completed his school life there and taught in a local school for 12 years. After winning partial undergrad scholarship to study Science Education in 1996 from Nebraska, he returned to Nangi village after 24 years and established Himanchal Higher Secondary School. Later, he went back to the US to study Educational Administration.

Pun decided to work on rural education and networking science in which he had expertise, to improve upon the livelihoods and associated problems of the people of Nangi. He succeeded in accumulating some resources and technical assistance after continued efforts and fundraising to connect the village to the World Wide Web. After this successful connection, Himanchal Higher Secondary School established the Nepal Wireless Networking Project under its management committee in 2003. This simple and costeffective wifi project helped interconnect rural and urban places, facilitated telemedicine and tele communication services and introduced the successful approach of livelihood development to the rest of Nepal. As that was a peak time of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, working on it ran a high risk. [Download full paper here.]

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