Bridging Communities: Swiss Support for Trail Bridges in Nepal
The World Bank also supported the expansion of the trail bridge network in Nepal. Faris Hadad-Zervos, Country Director for Nepal, takes stock.
Faris Hadad-Zervos, Country Director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, The World Bank © SDC
Adorned with hills, mountains, and a vast network of fast-flowing rivers and streams, Nepal’s diverse landscape is spectacular. Amidst this captivating terrain, however, lie natural barriers to connectivity and access. Here, trail bridges serve as vital lifelines, especially for remote rural communities. Today, one million people cross one of Nepal’s nearly 10,000 trail bridges each day, on shorter and safer journeys to work, school, health centers, social events, and other destinations.
The success story of Nepal’s trail bridges owes much to sustained Swiss technical assistance, dating back to the 1960s. This partnership has evolved over decades – shaping technical standards, ensuring and improving quality, undertaking survey and mapping initiatives, and providing scholarships and training for Nepali engineers. And when Nepal began its transition to a federal structure in 2015, critical capacity-building support was extended to local levels as newly formed palikas took charge of trail bridge construction.
Thanks to these efforts, trail bridges are now a wholly Nepali endeavor. Initiated by local communities, implemented mostly by palikas, and built by Nepali engineers using domestically produced parts. This is no mean feat. As development partners, it represents the ultimate aspiration we hold for our work – creating interventions that are both transformative and rooted in local ownership.
The impact of these bridges goes well beyond preventing perilous river crossings and shortening commute time. They’ve created jobs in construction, boosted school attendance, and even generated tourism. Women, who often shoulder a larger share of transport burdens to fulfill their domestic, social, and economic roles, have benefitted significantly. 53 percent of daily trail bridge crossers are women and children performing household chores such as collecting firewood and grazing animals.
Building on Swiss support, the World Bank is proud to have also played a role in this story. From 2009 to 2013, the World Bank financed the expansion of the trail bridge network as part of the Rural Access Improvement and Decentralization Project. This supported the construction of 745 trail bridges. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation also provided a US$0.5 million grant for this initiative.
While Swiss support for trail bridges in Nepal approaches its final chapter this November, lessons from its success will continue inspiring efforts to improve connectivity in both Nepal and other countries. In Nepal, much work lies ahead. Many more and much better roads, highways, and bridges are needed to strengthen rural connectivity. Nonetheless, we remain optimistic. Just like the trail bridge success story, we believe that the right approach lies in sustained partnerships across government levels, technology transfer, innovative design, and capacity building.