Sixty years of bridge building in Nepal

1959 was the founding year both for FAIRMED and for the development partnership between Switzerland and Nepal. To fittingly celebrate this double birthday, FAIRMED invited all interested parties to Zurich for an information event under the title of “A Look to Nepal”. There, Deputy Director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Ambassador Thomas Gass gave his insights into the special relationship between Switzerland and Nepal.

“Federalism represents a historic opportunity for development in Nepal,” said an optimistic Thomas Gass of the future of the country. ©Karin Scheidegger.

“During my time in Kathmandu, I was able to build and cement numerous bridges. These are bridges of friendship and of the deep affinity between the two countries,” said Thomas Gass of his role as Ambassador in Nepal. Moreover, these were not only bridges of friendship. “Over the last 60 years, Switzerland has helped to build more than 8,000 actual bridges,” joked the SDC Deputy Director. Thanks to this construction effort, the daily travelling time for the population living in remote rural areas has been reduced by several hours. Accordingly, these people now have more available time for work, education and leisure. The road bridges have also made a significant contribution to job creation and reducing production costs

Over the past six decades, the development partnership between the two countries has grown to encompass a good deal more: “The cooperation began with the production of cheese and Tibetan carpets,” explained Gass. In the following years, there was a strong emphasis on the transfer of technical knowledge as well as infrastructure construction.

From the monarchy to federalism: Adapting policy to the reality on the ground

Among other things, Switzerland is today working to support the democratic development of the state, which has a new constitution since 2015 and is now organised on a federal basis. This change resulted in the new formation of 753 local governments and 7 provinces, and thousands of Nepalese citizens were appointed to public positions. “Federalism represents a historic opportunity for development in Nepal,” said an optimistic Thomas Gass of the future of the country.

Advising and training municipal politicians and the heads of health facilities is another important pillar of the activities being pursued by FAIRMED in Nepal. The decentralised structure means that the provision of basic medical care in communities is the responsibility of the newly appointed local politicians, who frequently lack the knowledge required to accomplish this challenging task.