The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People’s Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India. Nepal has a population of approximately 30 million. Kathmandu is the nation’s capital and the country’s largest metropolis. Nepal has a rich geography. The mountainous north has eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest. It contains more than 240 peaks over 6,096 m above sea level. This mountainous area contrasts sharply with low-lying, fertile and humid south which is much more urbanized.
Nepal has been a monarchy throughout most of its history. However, a decade-long Civil War by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) during the 1990s, meant that many of the community institutions (user-groups, savings groups, etc.) that had been initiated by International NGOs collapsed following their forced withdrawal. These events left Nepal with a greatly impoverished institutional infrastructure, both in local communities and in local government. They also left the country with a legacy of division and bitterness which has been an obstacle to the revival of collaborative deliberation, planning and development.
Recent major changes
“Nepal is transiting into federal democratic republican order. It’s the biggest transition in Nepal’s history” (The Republica, 23 Nov 2017). Local elections in May 2017 elected local bodies for the new federal order with greatly increased powers, responsibilities and resources to help local communities attain their rights to health, education and other services. However, these bodies lack clear operating guidelines and policies to govern at the local level, and methods for engaging with local communities are not clear. There is an urgent need for the vacuum to be filled, to bridge the gaps between communities and local elected bodies, and within local elected bodies.
Why the FEST approach is so relevant
The community empowerment approach, FEST, developed byd SS, has empowered communities of poor and marginlised people to access internal and external resources across 7 of the 75 districts in Nepal to address their rights to well being. This has been done with Irish Aid support, among others. However, with the “sudden” change to new federal local government structures and the newly elected bodies in May 2017, and with the lack of clear guidelines and policies for their bodies, the FEST approach and the groups and CBNOs formed by the empowered communities have a unique historical opportunity to enable communities and local elected bodies to work together to establish more accountable and effective governance and thereby greater community access to rights and services.