News Around the Globe

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The Kigali government has urged residents of areas of the capital prone to heavy rains, floods and landslides to relocate. From 2011 to 2013, deaths caused by natural disasters increased 87 percent in high-risk zones, and injuries increased 72 percent. But a year after the initial relocation deadline, most homeowners refuse to comply without compensation for their properties.
Gloriose Isugi, GPJ Rwanda
April 9, 2014
“Relocating is a big challenge to us because there is no compensation. Telling someone to leave without showing him where to go is a big problem. The leaders should know that we lack means.”

KIGALI, RWANDA – Ernest Nizeyimana has been avoiding relocating for a year.

Nizeyimana lives with his wife and three children in the Gatsata sector of Kigali, the Rwandan capital. The primary school teacher owns his home, an old house on a hill below a forest.

Gatsata is prone to flooding, landslides, lightning, heavy rain and wind. When it rains a lot, rainwater runoff from the forest causes flooding and landslides in the area.

Nizeyimana and his neighbors dig and build canals to divert water coming from the forest, but it does not always work. When heavy rains hit the hilly area, natural disasters destroy houses and claim lives.

The city government twice urged Nizeyimana and his family last year to relocate because his area was at risk for natural disasters, he says. But Nizeyimana refuses to relocate without monetary compensation for the value of his property, which the government is not offering. Without compensation, his family cannot afford to buy another plot of land and to build a new home.

“Relocating is a big challenge to us because there is no compensation,” Nizeyimana says. “Telling someone to leave without showing him where to go is a big problem. The leaders should know that we lack means.”

The government is focusing on communicating the necessity of relocating to avoid peril and on assisting low-income residents. It has not agreed to reimburse homeowners for the properties they vacate.

“Our duty is to make sure that all dwellers of high-risk zones are aware of the danger, and we train them so they know what to do during a disaster,” says Geoffrey Kyatuka, an environmental expert for the Kigali City Council. “There is no compensation involved, as they are the ones who decided to build houses in high-risk zones.”

The natural disasters that strike during the country’s rainy seasons have not yet affected Nizeyimana's home. So, like other residents of Gatsata, the family has stayed.

“We are waiting for the government to give us a place where to go,” Nizeyimana says. “There wasn’t any damage to my home, and I didn’t take any strategy to protect my family from disasters.” 

Last year, the Kigali city government urged residents in high-risk zones, such as hilly places and areas prone to flooding and other natural disasters, to relocate. Although all renters have evacuated the areas, most homeowners still refuse to move without compensation for their properties.

The government has identified places for residents to relocate and offers varying levels of assistance depending on their income levels. But it recognizes that relocation is a long-term project. In the meantime, it continues to warn residents of the perils of staying in high-risk zones. It also funds projects to make these areas safer.

Bruno Rangira, director of media and communications for Kigali, says the government implemented its relocation program in 2008 to prevent rainy-season disasters. It renewed the program in 2013.

“Relocating families in high-risk zones is not a new policy,” says Fréderic Ntawukuriryayo, the public relations and communications officer for the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs. “But it was reinforced in February [2013] in a meeting chaired by the prime minister after devastating rains destroyed many homes in several sectors of the city.”

Each of Kigali’s three districts – Kicukiro, Gasabo and Nyarugenge – includes high-risk zones.

Last year, the Kigali city government instructed residents in high-risk zones to leave their homes by March 31, Mayor Fidele Ndayisaba says. Homeowners received an extension until September.

But of the 6,595 families living in high-risk zones in 2013, just 2,529 families have moved, according to a report Rangira’s office prepared for the Kigali City Council. That leaves more than 4,000 families living in defiance of relocation orders.

There are two rainy seasons in Rwanda – from February to June and from September to December. Winds and rains have gotten worse in recent years, Ntawukuriryayo says.

“Climate change is the primary cause of these natural disasters,” Ntawukuriryayo says. “Heavy rains and strong winds are causing damage throughout Rwanda.”

An international compilation of climate measurements confirms a sharp rise in rainfall in Rwanda over the past century. Rainfall during the September-December rainy season rose 10 percent from the first recorded period, 1900 to 1930, to the most recent, 1990 to 2009, according to the World Bank’s Climate Change Knowledge Portal. Rainfall during the February-June rainy season increased 3.82 percent over the same period.

Theogene Ntaribi, who is in charge of disaster research and capacity building in the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs' Research and Public Awareness Department, says the disaster toll rises each year.

The number of deaths caused by natural disasters rose 87 percent from March 2011 to November 2013, according to a ministry report. The number of people injured by natural disasters increased 72 percent over that time, despite a 9-percent decrease from January 2012 to November 2013. During that period, natural disasters killed 227 residents of high-risk zones and injured 314.

Property destruction also has risen steadily. In 2011, natural disasters destroyed 2,445 houses; in 2012, that figure rose to 3,345 houses; and in 2013, it rose again, to 3,919 houses, according to the ministry report. In all, natural disasters destroyed 9,709 houses in Rwanda between May 2011 and November 2013.

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The urban development that has occurred in Mexico City’s central area since 2001 is generating gentrification concerns in some neighborhoods. Rent for newer apartments in these localities sometimes costs 84 percent more than for older apartments in the quarter. This year, the government plans to study whether restoration projects have displaced low-income residents and to develop mechanisms that promote social inclusion.
March 28, 2014
“Fear that they will run us out? Of course!”

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – The simple one- and two-story houses that line Cerrada Lago Andrómaco, a tiny street in the central area of Mexico City, the nation’s capital, contrast with the surrounding high-rise luxury apartment buildings.

About 70 families live in the houses on this street in the Miguel Hidalgo delegation, says Patricia Ramírez Reyes, 28, one of its inhabitants. She remembers when the neighborhood, called Ampliación Granada, was filled with factories. Then, five to seven years ago, the neighborhood began to transform from an industrial district to a sector of luxury apartment buildings.

In an urban development plan issued in 2008, the government of Mexico City earmarked the Granada and Ampliación Granada neighborhoods in the delegation principally for financial and business activities, commercial centers and activities related to residential use.

That same year, near the area where Ramírez lives, Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helú began developing the Plaza Carso, a massive building complex that includes corporate towers, residential buildings, a shopping center, two museums and a theater. The website for Plaza Carso calls it the largest mixed-use development in Latin America.

Slim is the second-richest man in the world, according to Forbes magazine. The U.S. business magazine ranked him the richest man in the world from 2010 to 2013.

In addition to Plaza Carso, the neighborhood is home to various apartment buildings for middle- and upper-class residents. The purchase prices range from 1.2 million pesos ($90,000) to $1.1 million (14.43 million pesos) for two-bedroom apartments, according to Metroscúbicos, an international real estate website. Prices listed in dollars signify an elite status.

Ramírez, who has lived in Ampliación Granada her whole life, says the growing real estate development has improved the neighborhood’s image. But it also has generated traffic congestion, insecurity, noise disturbance, construction-related damage to some houses, and a hike in the cost of services.

Her neighbors fear they will be expelled from the neighborhood, she says. Theirs are the only detached houses on the block among the new apartment buildings.

“Fear that they will run us out?” she asks while sitting in the improvised stall she erected in the street to attend to the moving business her family has owned for 35 years. “Of course! Because the rest look at us strangely; we do not have buildings; perhaps we are not people of their category or of the status of people who are coming to live here with money, with a lot of money.”

Some of the new residents are arrogant and view longtime residents with disdain, she says. They treat their less affluent neighbors badly and make them feel inferior. On the other hand, some newcomers are friendly and approach her to talk and ask how the neighborhood used to be.

New residents should adapt to the existing way of life in the neighborhood, Ramírez says. Instead, she and other longtime residents feel pressure to accept the changes, even when they were not consulted about them.

“We are adjusting to their changes,” she says, “when I think that, through us living here longer, they should adapt to how we live already, and it is not like that. But we hope that they do not oust us.”

The urban transformations in Mexico City’s central area are troubling longtime residents. Urban development experts and real estate professionals say the gentrification of certain neighborhoods is a result of public housing policy, but the city's urban development authority says it is driven by market conditions. Social inclusion policies, stricter urban management and residents’ associations are among proposed solutions as the government plans to study the effect of development on low-income residents.

Since 2001, government and private investment has been concentrated in Mexico City’s central area, which comprises four delegations. It is the area the local government decided to strengthen in terms of housing, shopping, services and street furniture in order to take advantage of existing structures it could renovate, according to the city government’s General Urban Development Program.

Within the central area, the Miguel Hidalgo delegation was issued the second-highest number of housing licenses between 2000 and 2011, according to the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information Technology. During the same period, Cuauhtémoc and Miguel Hidalgo were among the delegations where the majority of commercial construction licenses were granted.

The majority of real-estate construction in Mexico City’s 16 delegations in 2012 and 2013 occurred in these two delegations, according to the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing.

These delegations in central Mexico City are becoming gentrified, says geographer and urban development specialist Luis Alberto Salinas Arreortua. Gentrification occurs when an affluent population begins to occupy rehabilitated and newly built structures in an older neighborhood, displacing low-income residents.

Gentrification can occur directly or indirectly, Salinas says. It occurs directly when structures occupied by low-income residents are demolished and replaced with costlier properties. It occurs indirectly when construction and an influx of affluent residents cause increases in rents and the cost of services, such as electricity, piped water, solid waste removal. This indirect shift can also occur when businesses geared toward a more affluent population replace traditional commerce, displacing residents who cannot afford the more expensive cost of living.

Affected neighborhoods include Condesa, Roma Norte and Centro Histórico in the Cuauhtémoc delegation and Granada and Ampliación Granada in the Miguel Hidalgo delegation, says Salinas, a Mexico resident, in a Skype interview from Madrid, the capital of Spain, where he is completing postdoctoral studies at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

Salinas is one of the few Mexican researchers who has studied and has published research on gentrification in the country. He has further distinguished himself by basing his research on field work in Mexico City.

Salinas has studied the case of Condesa, a middle-class neighborhood in Mexico City. In Condesa, he says, commercial establishments and services such as restaurants, bars and nightclubs have replaced traditional businesses such as independent grocery stores, shoe stores and butcher shops. This has increased the number of houses and apartments. It also has increased traffic congestion and pollution and has caused a shortage of parking spaces.

A similar process is occurring in the Roma Norte neighborhood, Salinas says.

Viviana Nuño, 23, has always lived in Roma Norte, she says. For the past three years, she has rented an apartment just three streets away from Álvaro Obregón, an avenue that has seen a proliferation of restaurants and bars in the past five years.

Nuño has also witnessed the expansion of apartment buildings, she says. Longtime residents have suffered consequences, she says. Cars fill the streets. The neighborhood is less tranquil. And some services have become more expensive while their quality has declined.

“Before, it used to be calmer,” she says. “Before, [on] a Sunday, this [neighborhood] used to be empty. Now on Sundays, you see the restaurants open, the bars. You see different buildings each week, apartments for rent. Because the neighborhood was old, there are buildings that they either restore or they demolish, and they begin the construction of new apartments.”

Rents have increased because the neighborhood is in style, and students, foreigners and young people from rich neighborhoods have come to live there, Nuño says.

She currently pays 5,600 pesos ($420) monthly for a spacious apartment that she shares with her mother, her sister and her niece. But she pays a lot less because she knows her apartment’s landlord.

The cheapest rent for an older apartment in the neighborhood is now 8,000 pesos ($600), sometimes for spaces much smaller than Nuño’s apartment, she says. Meanwhile, on the same street where she lives, a newer apartment about the size of hers rents for 14,500 pesos ($1,105) per month, more than $500 – 84 percent – higher than the cheapest rent in the neighborhood, according to Metroscúbicos.

María Félix Plaza Miranda, 64, has been living on Mesones Street in the renovated section of Centro Histórico for 40 years. Because she owns her apartment, she is unaware of rent increases, she says.

But she has noticed changes such as the conversion of a nearby street into a pedestrian corridor where more than a dozen restaurants and bars have opened. She sees the changes as positive because the new businesses create jobs.

“Everyone needs to work,” she says.

But although the changes have improved the neighborhood's image, they have not addressed its problems, such as insecurity, Plaza says.

Gentrification has also been occurring outside the city’s central area, Salinas says. Examples include the Centro Histórico neighborhood in the Coyoacán delegation, the San Ángel neighborhood in the Álvaro Obregón delegation, the Tlalpan Centro neighborhood in the Tlalpan delegation, and the zone of Santa Fe, which is part of the Álvaro Obregón and the Cuajimalpa de Morelos delegations.

Local stakeholders disagree on the cause of gentrification in the capital.

The local government encourages gentrification in order to promote private sector urban development in areas where it is occurring, Salinas says.

“When investments are given the green light,” he says, “they are encouraged with different tax policies on investment and are left totally open to the point that private investment is practically what will be leading the transformations in cities. From there, we see how they are basically shaping the cities with private interest.”

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Fearing that witchcraft caused a series of dog biting incidents in the second half of 2013, residents of a village in Cameroon have beaten to death most of the community’s dogs. To prevent inhumane treatment, some owners have sold their dogs for food. Veterinary officials, however, attribute the assaults – one of them fatal – to rabies and insist the solution is to vaccinate all dogs annually.
Photo Courtesy of WSPA
March 21, 2014
“I am calling on all dog owners to vaccinate their dogs annually. Rabies is equal to death.”

BAI KUKE, CAMEROON – Monica Imeh spent four months in the hospital last year after an unleashed dog invaded her home and bit her. She believes the attack, one of three in the village last year, signals a new form of witchcraft ravaging her community.

Imeh, 39, was cooking in her kitchen in Bai Kuke, a village in southwestern Cameroon, when suddenly a dog entered the house, jumped on her and bit one of her breasts, she says. She mustered the strength to pry the dog’s jaws off her breast and to push the animal away.

Imeh calls the incident extraordinary. She had seen dogs bite people but had never seen one cling to a human for so long.

“This was pure witchcraft in daylight,” she says.

The dog that bit Imeh left her home and bit a neighbor, a fact she calls evidence of witchcraft. The neighbor was not badly injured, but Imeh nearly died of an infection that followed the biting.

A local nurse immediately gave Imeh and her neighbor an anti-tetanus serum, or ATS. Three days later, Imeh started vomiting blood. She later passed out. She was rushed to Kumba General Hospital, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) away, where she was admitted.

“My case was very serious, very serious,” Imeh says. “The other victim was given an ordinary ATS, and he was fine ever after. But me, I stayed in the hospital for four solid months.”

A doctor treated her wound and administered pain management but did not diagnose her illness, she says.

“The fact that the doctor couldn’t diagnose what was wrong with me was a clear indication that it was something out of the ordinary,” she says.

She blames the attack on witches and wizards.

“Some people even try to convince me that it could be rabies,” she says. “What rabies? Why did the doctor not diagnose me of rabies if that was the case?”

Imeh, who has fully recovered, says she finds it hard to believe the incident was natural.

Imeh and her neighbor were among three people bitten by free-roaming dogs in Bai Kuke in the second half of 2013. The third, a 13-year-old boy, died after the attack.

The biting incidents raised fears that witchcraft was ravaging the community, which lets its dogs roam free. Consequently, Bai Kuke residents beat most village dogs to death. Some dog owners have sold their dogs for food to protect them from inhumane treatment.

But doctors outside the village attribute the biting incidents to rabies, a viral disease that causes inflammation of the brain and violent behavior. Veterinary officials encourage hospitals to obtain proper diagnoses by sending the brains of offending dogs to diagnostic centers for analysis. The government encourages people to vaccinate their dogs against rabies.

But Bai Kuke does not have a veterinary clinic to vaccinate dogs, and most residents are not aware that they can send dogs’ brains for analysis to detect rabies. Because villagers have nearly eliminated the dog population, no biting incidents have been reported in 2014.

The spate of biting incidents was unusual for Bai Kuke. Samuel Maita, the interim chief of the village, says he had not heard of any biting cases in the village for three years before 2013.

No national statistics on dog biting cases are available, says Dr. Walters Andu, regional chief of service for veterinary services at the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries in the Northwest region.

But there have been incidents nationwide. For example, the Boyo division of the Northwest region reported four cases last year, Andu says. All four victims died.

Cordelia Malle’s 13-year-old son died after a dog bit him in Bai Kuke around the time of the attacks on Imeh and her neighbor. Malle also believes that witchcraft caused the attacks.

“They say it is a kind of disease that attack[s] dogs,” she says, crying. “What kind of disease is that?”

She believes witches or wizards killed her son.

“They killed my baby for nothing,” she says. “What did my young baby do that they had to take his life?”

Malle and her son were eating in their sitting room when a neighbor’s dog came into the house and bit the boy on one of his legs. The dog gripped the leg for more than 30 seconds. A neighbor came to the rescue, hitting the dog until it freed the boy.

Villagers beat the dog to death.

Malle rushed her son to a health center in Bai Kuke. He recovered within a week. But he fell ill again two weeks later, complaining of pain in the area of the wound. Malle took him to the Mbonge District Hospital 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) away, where doctors treated his wound but did not diagnose an illness. He died still complaining of pain from the wound.

“I don’t want to think about this confusing situation,” Malle says tearfully. “Where is my son?”

Maita, the interim village chief, says the dog biting incidents surprised the villagers because they had not witnessed such attacks for years. He is not sure whether witchcraft or rabies caused the incidents.

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Members of the Triqui community are among the thousands of indigenous people who migrate from their communities to Mexico City each year with hopes for a better life, but its members say that they instead have found discrimination, marginalization and underemployment. About 65 families have lived in makeshift homes in the streets of the capital for three years while the government builds apartments for them. Although younger generations are losing interest in their language and traditional clothing, older Triquis attempt to maintain their customs.
March 12, 2014
“There are many people who make fun of us, who look at us strangely, who begin to criticize us, to say hurtful things when we speak the language or wear the clothing. Because of that, we no longer use it in the same way.”

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – Employment prospects drew Juana Gutiérrez, 49, to Mexico City, Mexico’s capital, when she was a teenager. But life in the capital has been a struggle.

Gutiérrez migrated to the capital from San Juan Copala, a village in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, in order to work as an artisan because there was no work in her community, she says. She is a Triqui, an indigenous group that is native to Oaxaca.

Gutiérrez’s inability to speak Spanish was the first barrier that she encountered in Mexico City, she says. She could not understand what people were telling her, and some people made fun of her because she spoke Triqui.

After 35 years of living in the city, Gutiérrez still speaks Spanish with difficulty.

“There is much [of the] language that you do not understand, but my sons all speak Spanish,” she says proudly in a labored Spanish.

Gutiérrez is part of the Triqui indigenous community that settled on a piece of land in an impoverished area of Mexico City’s Centro neighborhood more than 25 years ago. There, they lived in laminate houses until they persuaded the Institute of Housing, an organ of the city government that serves low-income residents, to build apartments for them on the land, says Rosario Méndez de la Cruz, another Triqui resident.

While this construction is happening, the delegation has allowed the Triquis to settle in the street, where they have lived for the past three years, Méndez says. The approximately 65 families live in cramped rooms as small as 9 square meters (96 square feet). They have erected dwellings from laminate sheets, wood and cardboard, and they live without a drainage system or running water.

The government is supposed to finish the apartments and let the community move in this year, Méndez says. The families will own the apartments, which they will pay off monthly.

The Triquis are one of 62 indigenous groups in Mexico and one of 57 groups in Mexico City, according to data from the city government’s Ministry of Rural Development and Equity for Communities.

Mexico City is the principal destination for indigenous people who migrate from their communities within Mexico in search of better living conditions, according to a 2010 report by the Center of Social Studies and Public Opinion of the Chamber of Deputies.

But the reality for indigenous communities living in the city is not encouraging. Almost half the population has a maximum income equivalent to twice the daily minimum wage of 65.58 pesos ($5), and one-third live in cramped living conditions, according to the report. Although 93.3 percent of indigenous people living in the capital have running water and 99.2 percent have electricity – unlike in the rural communities they left behind – their living conditions in the capital continue to lag behind those of the rest of the urban population.

Triquis in this community in Mexico City also lack viable job opportunities, which makes it hard for them to improve their standards of living.

The majority of Triquis are artisans who sell handmade crafts. But the arrival of similar products made in China has devalued their products, says Venancio Martínez Flores, a 32-year-old Triqui man in this community. The ban on street trade in the part of the city’s Centro Histórico, or historical center, where the Triquis used to sell their goods also hurt their earning potential.

The city government banned street sales in 2007 in this zone in order to preserve the historical area, according to a government document. It created commercial zones where vendors could sell their goods instead.

But the stalls in the commercial plazas are too expensive, says Yolanda Martínez Flores, 30, a Triqui resident who is not related to Venancio Martínez Flores. A 3-meter (10-foot) stall costs 5,000 pesos ($385) per month.

Another challenge the Triquis confront in the capital is discrimination from the local population, which contributes to the erosion of their culture.

As a result, young members do not want to learn the language nor wear the traditional clothing, Yolanda Martínez Flores says.

The youth have stopped wearing the traditional clothing and speaking the native language because people make fun of them, Méndez says.

“It is already being lost,” she says, “[because] there are many people who make fun of us, who look at us strangely, who begin to criticize us, to say hurtful things when we speak the language or wear the clothing. Because of that, we no longer use it in the same way.”

The community members ask the government for permission to sell in the streets or to receive fixed posts to sell in the Centro Histórico at an affordable price. In the meantime, they try to preserve their traditions as they await their new homes.

GPJ translated this article from Spanish.

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The government increased the salaries of all its employees by 18 percent for the current fiscal year, but this is half what they had demanded. To make ends meet, some workers borrow from their retirement savings, take on additional work, live apart from spouses or sell land.
March 7, 2014
“The government has not provided its staff enough salary to live their lives.”

KATHMANDU, NEPAL – Gyanendra Prasad Aryal, 42, has been working for the government since he was 23. But his low salary has made it a difficult two decades.

Aryal works at the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control in Kathmandu, the country’s capital, as a non-gazetted officer, a staff position below officer.

“My life is more or less the same before I got the job,” Aryal says. “There is no change.”

Born in another district in the region, Aryal moved to the capital to live with his aunt when he was 9 because there was no school in his village for higher studies, he says. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts from Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu and joined the government service after passing the exam given by the Public Service Commission, the government’s recruiting agency.

After starting as a non-gazetted second-class officer in 1990, Aryal earned a promotion to non-gazetted officer in 2007. When he started working for the government, his salary was around 1,240 rupees ($12.40) per month. The government increased the salaries of government workers for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, and his salary is now 17,090 rupees ($170.90) per month.

But Aryal says it is still not enough to support his family.

There are mandatory deductions each month from Aryal’s salary that go toward his retirement savings: 10 percent for the Employees Provident Fund, 10 percent for the Citizen Investment Trust, and 1 percent for the Social Security Fund, he says. As a result, he receives only around 13,500 rupees ($135) each month.

But the family needs 7,000 rupees ($70) to rent their two-room flat and more than 5,000 rupees ($50) for food each month, Aryal says. School fees amount to 1,290 rupees ($12.90) for his 10th-grade daughter and 1,190 rupees ($11.90) for his eighth-grade son. Their flat is far from the school, so they spend around 2,000 rupees ($20) per month on transportation.

“Therefore, to manage everything with my salary is very difficult,” Aryal says.

Health problems and a lack of education make it difficult for his wife to contribute financially. At times when his monthly salary cannot cover the family’s needs, he has to take loans from his retirement savings.

His wife, Kusum Aryal, 37, says that it is difficult to raise a family with her husband’s income. They eat meat just once a month and buy new clothes only during festivals. Even then, they buy from mobile, roadside shops because they sell cheap items.

“It has been 15 years since I got married,” she says. “Until now, my husband and I have never gone outside for any kind of entertainment. I went to a restaurant once because [of] my children’s stubbornness. Entertainment is a distant dream while living [on a] government salary.”

Although the government increased the salaries of all government employees this fiscal year, workers say their earnings are still not sufficient to support themselves and their families. Their inferior pay also hurts the public by lowering the quality of services, as skilled professionals seek jobs in the private sector or abroad and government employees weaken the integrity of their work. Recognizing these difficulties, the government is reviewing employee benefits, but workers are not optimistic.

There are more than 80,000 government employees in Nepal, and nearly 20,000 of them work in Kathmandu, says Bholanath Pokharel, the former chairman of the Nepal Government Employees' Organisation, citing data from the Department of Civil Personnel Records of the Ministry of General Administration. The organization is a union for government employees that works to safeguard their rights and interests.

The public sector workers have been lobbying the government for lodging allowances for staff who relocate to Kathmandu for work, a lunch allowance for all employees and an education allowance for their children, Pokharel says. They have been demanding these benefits since before democracy came to Nepal in 1990 but still have not achieved them.  

The government brought together top unelected government officials, economists and representatives of the Public Service Commission to form a high-level pay commission to study this issue and recommend changes. The chief secretary, the highest-ranking unelected official in Nepalese government, chaired the commission.

The commission found and published in a 2004 report that it was impossible to meet the daily basic requirements of a family with a government salary, says Pokharel, who was a member of the commission. The commission recommended an increase of 9,574 rupees ($95) per month for government employees to be able to afford food, clothes, housing, electricity, water and medical care.

The government has attempted to address this issue, but employees say its changes are insufficient.

The Ministry of Finance increased the salary of government officials by 18 percent in the 2013-2014 fiscal year to improve their living standards, says Ram Sharan Pudasaini, the joint secretary and spokesman for the Monitoring and Evaluation Division of the Ministry of Finance.

“The government has increased the salary of its officials because it understands their problem,” Pudasaini says.

The monthly salaries now range from 40,800 rupees ($408) for the highest level of Nepalese bureaucracy, the chief secretary, to 12,800 rupees ($128) for the lowest post, he says. The government also introduced a motivation allowance of 1,000 rupees ($10) per month for all workers and health insurance for them and their families.

But the raise is only about half the 35-percent increase that government workers had demanded, says Pokharel, now a training officer in the Ministry of Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation. He emphasizes that it gives no relief to government employees because the inflation rates in the country have also increased.

The Nepal Rastra Bank, the country’s central bank, estimates that the annual average inflation, based on the consumer price index, rose to 9.9 percent in the 2012-2013 fiscal year from 8.3 percent in the previous year.

Pokharel compares the salaries of government workers in Nepal to those in other South Asian countries.

“Among the government officials in Asia, the Nepalese government personnel get the lowest salary,” Pokharel says. “To live a simple life, the salary of the office helper should be 20,000 rupees ($200). The salary of the higher post should be decided on the same basis.”

If the government does not increase its workers’ salaries to keep up with the social and lifestyle changes taking place in Nepal as a result of globalization and modernization, the employees will not be able to support themselves, he says.

“The government has not provided its staff enough salary to live their lives,” Pokharel says.

Krishna Hari Pandey, a 47-year-old office assistant for the General Post Office, agrees.

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