Nepal’s Himalayan challenge in holding general elections

By Sangam Prasain

Kathmandu, Nov 18 (EFE).- The authorities in Nepal face the challenge of inhospitable terrain and rough weather in transporting electoral material to the remote, high altitude areas of the Himalayan ranges in time ahead of the general elections on Sunday.

Earlier this week, a team of election officials and security personnel tried unsuccessfully to reach Himali Community School in Mustang district, near the border with China.

The “thick snow” on a stretch of road prevented them from reaching their destination, Deputy Police Superintendent Rabindra Poudel told EFE.

He added that an excavator was used on Friday to open the way for the team that is expected to reach the Himali polling station for its 35 voters.

Nepal’s mountainous terrain, which covers 15 percent of the total area, mainly comprises of mountains and hills, much of which are at altitudes of over 3,000 meters over sea level, that are difficult to access.

Even during the coronavirus pandemic, it took weeks for the government to distribute vaccines in remote areas. The challenges become more acute with the approaching winter, as the snow cover becomes thicker and covers the roads.

In many rural areas of Nepal, people will probably stay at home rather than travel to polling stations due to the intense cold, deputy spokesperson for Nepal’s Election Commission, Surya Prasad Aryal, told EFE.

“It’s hard in cold weather to come on foot to vote,” said Aryal.

Usually, people living in the high altitudes descend to lower regions to avoid the cold winter.

However, this year, the electoral commission has circulated notices to all local governments asking them to urge voters not to leave their homes until election day.

Still, according to several Nepalese media outlets, people from Darchula, Upper Mustang, Dolpa and other areas have already descended on the lower altitude camps.

Dirgha Raj Upadhyay, the district head of Darchula, in the extreme west of Nepal, told EFE that almost all government officials were mobilized for the elections, including security personnel.

“It normally takes three to four days to reach some of the polling centres on foot from the district headquarters,” he said, adding that “there is no road access to reach many polling centers.”

Fortunately, “there has been no snowfall in many areas of Darchula as of Friday,” and officials managed to arrive by Thursday, “but we can’t predict how the weather will behave,” he said.

The rural municipality of Api Himal in Dharchula district is one of the most remote areas of Nepal, with about 9,000 inhabitants. Although officials have already reached their destinations, their challenges are not over yet.

“Conducting elections in such remote areas like Api Himal is very difficult,” said Upadhyaya.

“(Hence) we have asked the Election Commission to arrange helicopters to bring back the ballot boxes from such remote areas as the officials have to carry them on their back and walk for days,” he added.

In this region, there are at least ten polling stations on very difficult terrain, and if it rains, it can take even a week to return to the headquarters “because the primitive roads become slippery,” he stressed.

Nepal’s meteorological bureau has forecast snowfall and light rain in the high hills and mountainous regions on election day.

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