IT for Development
Where are we in the Global Map of IT?
- Vinaya Kasajoo
The main vision of the Nepalese IT Policy 2000
is to “Place Nepal on the Global Map of information technology
within the next five year.” Where are we in that map after
losing three precious years?
Nepalese media, both print and electronic covered as the first news
the inauguration of the first interactive religious website by the
queen on May 19 this year. It was the first time that a royal dignitary
such as the queen had inaugurated a website. (www.shripashupatinath.org)
Two more websites also were launched on the same day, which were
also covered by the media. Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil
Aviation inaugurated a website of his ministry (www.tourism.gov.np)
while Miss Nepal launched the website of World Wildlife Fund Nepal.
Dozens of websites are launched every week, but most of them remain
unnoticed not only by the media but also by the people for whom
they are made. Even the royal palace launched its website www.nepalmonarchy.gov.np
, last July. Almost all the ministries of the government have their
websites. With the support of UNDP and other development organizations
some of the municipalities, village committees and nongovernmental
organizations also have created their websites.
Attraction and enthusiasm to adopt new information technology is
increasing continuously and it seems that people have found a panacea
in the form of Internet.
Taiwan and Hong Kong, China have become the two of the top three
mobile economies worldwide, crossing 100 percent teledensity, and
while in Nepal and Bangladesh there are around 15 and 6 telephone
lines, respectively for 1000 people in each country, the lowest
in the world. Asia Pacific, the home of over half of the world's
population, is the most diverse region in the world with verities
of cultures, languages, religion and people. But the diversity is
most distinct in the digital divide among the countries of this
According to ITU's report "Asia-Pacific Telecommunication
Indicators 2002" the region emerged as the world's largest
telecommunication market in 2001. It is today home to over one-third
of the world's telephone subscribers. In the last 10 years there
have been immense and dramatic changes in telecommunications scenario,
particularly the mobile phone, in this continent. Even the least
developed country like Cambodia has eight times more mobile phones
The report says that the Internet in Asia-Pacific has grown steadily.
The region had some 160 million users at the end of 2001, accounting
for one-third of the world total, and more than any other region.
The region has more users of high-speed mobile Internet than the
rest of the world put together.
Disparity among the Asian countries is not only the consequence
of the physical diversity and inequality between the countries but
also the result of centuries of western colonization. There is competition
and also rivalry among the nations. They communicate among them
in the language and manner of their colonizers, which is quite alien
to the people of these countries. It causes misunderstanding and
erodes self-confidence and self-respect; make them blind-followers
Recent regional meetings, workshops and seminars have expressed
quite strongly the need for regional cooperation and united action
among the Asian countries to create vibrant Asian economy, culture
and society with the help of new information and communication technologies.
Nepal is a small country of about 26 million people and an area
of 147,181 square kilometer sandwiched between world's two most
population giants, China and India. It is a land of different kinds
of diversities because of its unique geographical and geo-political
situation. With a vertical span of 200 kilometers, north south,
the altitude of the land ranges from 70 meters above sea level to
the highest point on earth, Mount Everest (8500 meters). 17 % of
its land is covered by Snow-clad Mountains while 64% land lies in
mountain and hill area. Only 19 percent land is in the plain and
fertile area, Terai, where 46% of the rural population lives. 85%
of the total population lives in the rural area while only 15% live
in urban areas.
While the country is stretched from east to west all the rivers
originate from the snow clad Himalayan mountain range in the north
and flow southward making it difficult for the people to move east
west, thus creating hundreds of small states, principalities and
isolated, linguistic, ethnic and indigenous groups of people.
Because of the long autocratic rule for centuries the country remained
isolated from rest of the world till 1951, when a multi party democratic
system was introduced that continued for a short period of ten years.
Then the king introduced absolute monarchy, which continued for
30 years. A popular democratic movement ended the autocratic monarchy
and established multiparty democracy within the framework of a constitutional
monarchy in 1990. In October 2002, the king dismissed the elected
prime minister and his cabinet for "incompetence" after
they dissolved the parliament and were subsequently unable to hold
elections because of the ongoing insurgency. The country is now
governed by the king and his appointed cabinet. However, after seven
months of cease fire and, third round of talk between the government
and the Maoists, the Maoist unilaterally declared the end of cease
fire in September 2003. Situation of a kind of civil war and at
the same time the political movement of constitutional parties to
reinstall the parliament has created political limbo in the country
and future of democracy seems uncertain.
Padam Maya Gurung, 34, who was undergoing jail sentence in a murder
case in a prison situated in a hilly district, Tehrathum, suffered
imprisonment for extra six year because it took six years to deliver
the court order to the prison authority. She has filed petition
in the Dhankuta Appeal Court demanding compensation for excess incarceration
of six years, more than the court verdict. The Supreme Court, based
in Kathmandu had given verdict to release her in 1996 after the
term of penalty. But she was released from the jail only in May
2002, because it took six years to deliver the letter to this effect
in the Tehrathum District Court. - Gorkhapatra Daily, November 13,
Postal service, which was started about two hundred years before
and still carried by men on foot, is the most common and dependable
form of communication for the rural people and the government offices
Development of mass communication in Nepal, which started to take
initial shape only after 1951, was interrupted for 30 years, during
autocratic Panchayat system. Although mass communication is the
only sector, which can claim to have developed most during the last
12 years of democracy, it is highly concentrated to a few urban
centers, particularly in the Kathmandu.
Because of its urban based, too politicized and elitist, highly
polarized and sensational characters and low circulation the mass
media in Nepal has not been able to play an effective role in articulating
the problems, reflecting the voice of the majority of the people,
living particularly in rural areas, or safeguarding the citizens'
rights and, in effect, strengthening democracy and enhancing development.
There is vast imbalance of facilities between the capital and the
rest of the country in the information and communication sector.
Out of 26 million people only 2 million people live in the Kathmandu
valley. But about half of the newspapers are published from Kathmandu.
All five TV stations are based here. Out of 25 FM stations 10 radio
stations are in Kathmandu. According to the statistics of 2000 the
national access to electricity, radio sets, TV sets and telephone
line for households is 24.6%, 49.7%, 13.9% and 3.4% respectively.
However the urban figure is 79.8%, 71%, 55.4% and 20.6% respectively
and in rural area it is 16.5%, 46.6%, 7.8% and 0.9% respectively.
Adverse geographical terrene; diverse culture, language and ethnic
composition; lack of transportation; inadequate telecommunication
infrastructure; political isolation and centuries-long feudal/autocratic
administrative system, mass illiteracy (around 60%) and the internal
violence during last eight years, which has caused more than 8000
death and destruction of basic infrastructures, such as water, electricity
and telecommunication, have badly effected the communication of
IT capacity map
The number of telephone lines, fixed and mobile, has reached around
400,000 in Nepal. Most significantly more than 68% of the telephone
lines (including mobile phones) are distributed in the Kathmandu
valley. While the national teledensity is around 1.5%, it is 23%
in Kathmandu and 0.14% in the rest of the country. 60% of the villages
have no access to telephone.
Out of the total capacity of 70 thousand mobile phones, which started
only two years back, around 34 thousand mobile phones were distributed
in the valley while only 3 thousand were distributed outside the
valley, till last June. There are about 30,000 Internet account
holders/customers in the country and it is estimated that about
200,000 people use email and Internet. Out of 18 Internet Service
Providers (ISP) 15 are providing service. However, all of them are
based in Kathmandu. Very few of them are providing service in some
urban centers outside the valley.
Although the government has announced policy to involve private
sector in the telecommunication service, no significant change has
been seen. Government has not allowed private sector to operate
full-fledge telecommunication services.
Use of IT at present
Nepalese used the Internet, for the first time, as a credible and
easy source of information during the dreadful royal massacre on
June 1, 2001 to get the news which they could not get from mainstream
media. That was the first time when people outside Nepal browsed
the Nepalese website to its utmost capacity.
There are lots of inconsistencies and contradictions in the development
of this country. People of hill and mountain areas of Nepal used
aero plane and helicopter before they saw vehicles. Similarly the
people who had never read newspaper or listened to radio are enjoying
satellite television with the help of solar energy. This leapfrog
development can be experienced in the Information Technology (IT)
sector too. Those people who had barely made a telephone call or
seen a computer in their life are now benefiting from Internet.
It seems that the people have suddenly found a miraculous pot in
the form of Internet to fulfill their all kinds of wishes. Students,
researchers and intellectuals have found that there is no better
alternative to IT for increasing the dimensions of the knowledge.
The human right activists, development workers and social advocate
have been using it for increasing their supporters and raising funds.
Businessmen have realized that they can increase their profit through
IT. Professionals have been benefiting from wide rang of contact.
Even the farmers and craftsmen, who live in rural areas, have got
opportunity to sell their product in international market. Local
products are getting global market. Political leaders, decision
makers and bureaucrats have realized that IT is the most effective
tool to empower the people, deliver services, promote good governance
and strengthen democracy.
Despite the adverse situation and poor telecommunication status
of the country there is great enthusiasm among the youths and IT
professionals who have volunteered for the development of IT in
the country from the beginning. As a result, Nepal is gradually
heading towards a state where IT is no more a luxury, but a necessity.
Development agencies and civil societies are already utilizing it
and the policy-makers, bureaucrats and politicians are realizing
that poorer the nation, the higher the importance of IT. It is capable
to deliver development to the rural poor of a country like Nepal.
Areas of use of the Internet are increasing every day. INGOs and
NGOs are in the forefront to benefit from the Internet. Use of ICT
has increased in many sectors including government, civil societies
and economic sector within a short period. Other sectors such as
health, education, business, tourism, governance and mass communication
are also using Internet. It has increased the efficiency and capacity
of the organizations and benefited the people in various ways.
Media and online journalism:
Dialogue within and among the people, the communities and different
institutions, which is so important for strengthening democracy,
enhancing development and empowering people, is increasing rapidly
with the increase of communication tools such as telephone, fax,
FM radio, email, and Internet. Nepalese mass media is using IT in
various ways for accessing and increasing the sources of information
speed up the flow of information and getting feed back. Online journalism
has made it quite easy for people abroad to get online news about
Nepal and vice versa. The overall meaning of journalism is changing
since anybody with a computer and a telephone line can be a journalist
and produce his/her own media or broadcast voice and video through
Democracy and governance:
For a strong democracy there should be constant and vibrant interaction
between the government and civil society, between the administration
and the common people. Internet provides opportunity for two way
dialogue between the state and the citizens. It affects the decisions
of the peoples' elected representatives and policy makers; make
the local and central governments, and public organizations accountable,
transparent, and more sensible, and reduces corruption. It also
makes the service delivery by the government and other organizations
more effective and responsible.
All the government ministries, departments, corporations and district
offices are going to have their own websites and their databases
are going to be linked by national network within five years. Other
organs of the state, such as Judiciary, Parliament, Election Commission,
Human Rights Commission, Bureau of Statistics etc have their websites
and databases in the computer. Any body can send email to the Commission
for Investigation of Abuse of Authority against corruption by public
servants or the peoples' representative. (See www.akhtiyar.org.np)
There are many websites dealing with the human rights situation
of the country which give updated information on violation of human
rights to the human right activists around the world. (See: www.insec.org.np,
www.cvict.org.np, www.cehurdes.org.np, www.cwin-nepal.org)
Internet facility for the MPs:
Free Internet and telephone facilities were provided to the members
of the parliament with the objectives of popularizing new information
technology and increase the dimensions of knowledge. Since the majority
of constituencies did not have telephone and Internet connection
it was unthinkable that the MPs would use Internet as a tool to
interact with their voters and get their consensus on any bill tabled
in the parliament. But interaction between the MPs and their voters
was successful to some extent through the radio program "Phone
in with the Parliamentarians" for making the peoples' representatives
realize their responsibilities and empowering the voters.
Telecenters in rural areas:
A pilot project to install 15 rural telecenters in 15 different
VDCs in 9 Districts is already under way, under the joint management
of Ministry Of Science and Technology and National Information Technology
Centre and the UNDP-funded ICTs for Development programme. Each
telecenter will provide telephony and Internet access, plus specialised
local content which is being developed for the purpose. The aim
of the project is to establish 1500 such sponsored telecenters within
next five years.
District Information and Documentation
Centres: The UNDP-funded Local Governance Programme
is setting up 30 District Information and Documentation Centres
(DIDC), each with a networked computer. These will be linked to
the Ministry of Local Government. The project is closely linked
with the new development approach of social mobilisation to form
Community Based Organisations. The DIDCs will be both a resource
and an outlet for the CBOs, providing a channel whereby they can
express their needs. A different UNDP-funded programme, PDDP (Participatory
District Development Programme), is providing similar facilities
to a similar number of other Districts.
A current proposal, awaiting approval, is for Japanese support
for NTC to install pilot multipurpose community telecenters (MCT)
in 10 VDCs in the Kathmandu Valley, each 2-3 hours’ drive
from Kathmandu and with population over 4,000. The purpose is to
develop a sustainable model for MCTs, trying out different approaches
to charging and comparing MCTs with simple public call offices.
Each MCT will have 2 phones, 1 computer with modem, a fax machine,
printer and uninterruptible power supply.
Nepal is also using geographical information system (GIS) in 66
districts to assist planning in various sectors. It has also started
using global positioning system (GPS). Internet is also used for
environmental conservation initiatives within and outside the country.
A District Treasury Control project has linked computers in 64
Districts and major municipalities to central government. This has
made cash management faster and more transparent.
institutions are using IT increasingly, and an initiative to start
distance learning has begun recently. Some of the books and documents,
including text books, in Nepalese language are available in Internet.
People are using e-libraries. Students browse websites to seek appropriate
college, syllabus, scholarships and jobs. Thousands of students
and their guardians outside the capital have started browsing the
result of school and college examinations in the Internet, which
was not possible to see before three years.
Health: The HealthNet
provides online access for doctors and nurses to international health
databases and Nepalese health information. A Local Area Network
connects more than 70 terminals on and near the Tribhuvan University
Teaching Hospital campus, providing direct access for on-site staff.
Distant doctors can access HealthNet using a secure dial-up method.
HealthNet provides week-long training for doctors who are not yet
familiar with computers, the Internet and search methods. People
can donate blood and request for blood donation through website,
www.bloodmembers.com . Telemedicine has a vast scope and utility
has begun in Nepal but it has not been able to develop as in other
countries because of the lack of cyber laws, which is in the offing
now. Tourism industry is using internet to expand its business around
the world. Some websites are helping to demonstrate handicrafts
of the rural craftsmen, thus helping them to sell their product
in international market. Because of the lack of laws regarding electronic
transaction the development of e-commerce and export of software
has been hindered for long time.
are websites which provide information about agricultural products
and the market price of different town of the country. AgriPriceNepal.com
is a pioneer Nepali website on agricultural market information for
Nepal, jointly hosted by the Rural-Urban Partnership Programme,
the Agro Enterprise Centre and the Federation of Nepalese Chambers
of Commerce and Industry. Subscribers can get latest price and source
information for more than 150 agricultural commodities in 18 major
markets of Nepal.
Telework: IT based
business such as call centers, cyber cafes, medical transcription,
digitization of maps and documents; software production etc. has
begun since last five years. Consequently considerable numbers of
youths are attracted to get training and join the IT based professions.
Art and Literature:
There are some websites, such as www.spinybabbler.org, www.aarohantheatre.org,
www.mpp.org.np, www.thopathopa.com, www.kasajoo.com, www.cybernepal.com.np,
which provide art and literary materials and news on literary activities.
Some of them are in Nepali and other national languages. There are
Nepali literary magazines originating from Nepal and abroad in Nepali
Culture, Tradition and Religion:
With the help of some websites Nepalese living abroad can perform
religious, cultural and traditional rites, rituals and ceremonies.
International donor community has been using Internet for long time
in Nepal. They have also supported national and regional non-governmental
organizations to establish their own websites. Although these websites
are not used so much within the country due to the language and
technological constraints they have been quite useful as a tool
of advocacy for social change in Nepal and raise fund for projects
that helps to uplift the life of the people. It has been very easy
for the international development organizations based outside Nepal
to understand the reality of the country; evaluate the seriousness
of problems; realize the need of the grassroots people and identify
the areas which need intervention and decide the plan and project
to address the problem. It has also helped them to monitor and evaluate
the project. Similarly people from any part of the world can support
the vulnerable communities.
Internet fidelity is increasing in Nepal and the number of network
and websites is increasing considerably. However, it seems that
the target audience of most of the websites and their promoters
is not within the country. They are meant for international visitors,
who can communicate in English language. For example Nepal's most
used online news www.nepalnews.com is visited by around 40 thousand
people daily all over the world. Out of the total visitors only
15 percent visitors are from Nepal, according to its editor. The
present telecommunication infrastructure and the other facilities
necessary for using Internet are quite limited. It is estimated
that less than 1% of the population use email and Internet while
the total number of Internet account holders is around 30,000 (less
Language is another great barrier for accessing and using computer
for majority of the Nepalese. English was and still is one of the
official languages in the South Asian countries, which were under
western colony. But, Nepal is the only country in South Asia which
was not under any western colony. It was isolated for centuries.
Consequently very few Nepalese can communicate in English, which
is the dominating language in the Internet. Until the software that
runs computer programmes, are made in Nepali language using Nepali
font it is impossible for more than 90% Nepalese to operate computer
and browse Internet themselves.
The following statement by Dr. Michael L. Dertouzon, engineer,
inventor, theoretician and director of the Laboratory for Computer
Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who had predicted
the many ways the information revolution would affect human lives,
may help to understand the ground reality about the use of IT in
'I learned it from Nepal'
"Bill sees this expanding world of network as an opportunity
for poor people to sell their wares, get educated participate in
the world marketplace and pull themselves up from poverty. I see
the exact same thing with a time scale of 15 years – and only,
if we help.
"I learnt it from Nepal. A while ago, I had this naïve
assumption that I could go to Nepal, obtain computers and training
for the Nepalese and get them to have a 20 percent jolt in the G.N.P.
But here is what I found out: Only 30 percent of the Nepalese are
literate. Of that 30 percent only 10 percent speak English. Even
if I got someone to provide every one of them with a computer with
communications, what could they do with them? They have no skills
"To get people to do this, I would have to educate them, and
people don't get educated overnight.
"So, 15 years. From this and other experiences, I've concluded
that the information revolution, if left to its own devices, will
mean that the rich are going to buy more computers, be more productive
and become richer, and the poor will not be able to do that and
will stand still. History teaches us that whenever the gap between
rich and poor increases, we have all kinds of troubles.
(Source: Claudia Dreifus, The Kathmandu Post, Cyberpost, September
Energy for IT: Computers
cannot run without electricity, which is available mainly in urban
areas. It is very difficult to supply main line electricity to rural
households which are scattered far and wide. Alternative energy,
particularly solar energy and micro-hydro power seems to be the
most practical source of energy to promote IT in the rural and remote
area of the country. To date more than 25 thousand households are
using it to light the houses and watch TV. Very few of them are
using it to run computer. One of the objectives for prioritizing
solar energy projects should be to increase the access and use of
IT in rural and remote area.
Digital Divide within the country:
There is a great digital divide within the country, between the
urban and rural areas, and Kathmandu valley and rest of the country.
More than 95 percent of the websites originate from the capital
city. The number of the Internet users is not increasing at that
ratio of the increase in the number of websites. Number of Internet
account holders is estimated to increase by 20 to 30 percent every
All the Internet Service Providers depend on Nepal Telecommunication
Corporation (NTC) for the connectivity with the end users. Apart
from the Internet charges the customers have to pay the telephone
charge at the rate of the voice telephone, which is quite costly
in comparison to other countries. At the same time NTC also provides
Problems regarding the access to Internet, particularly in rural
areas, are related with lack of telecommunication infrastructure,
lack of ISPs, unreliable and variable power supply, low bandwidth
leading to slow connection, lack of local software and hardware
support, lack of awareness among local people of facilities offered,
poor location and inadequate opening hours and inadequate dedicated
As technology is advancing, the gap between the information haves
and have nots is also widening. Digital divide is increasing not
only between the rich and poor, but also within the communities
and between different sexes and races and ethnic groups of people.
IT may therefore have a greater role to play in giving voice to
the deprived vulnerable sex, race and groups of people. It is important
to make them information providers rather than information recipients
Meeting the challenges
Among various challenges and problems of access and use of IT such
as adverse geographical condition, poverty, high illiteracy, unfriendly
Internet and telephone tariff, domination of English in Internet,
unfriendly licensing policy and high fee and tax for Internet business
(small entrepreneur), lack of electricity and diversity of language
etc., inadequate telecommunication infrastructure and monopoly of
Nepal Telecommunication Corporation (NTC) are the main impediments
for the development of IT in Nepal. Therefore overhauling the telecommunication
policy should be one of the preconditions for the development of
IT in the country. At the same time is also necessary to formulate
relevant policies and laws, adopt appropriate technology, utilize
external assistance and conduct training.
The main challenge seems to be more socio-cultural than the physical.
The fear of cost and mastering new technology is not as great as
the fear of loosing control over the existing knowledge/information
system. For example, the bureaucrats in the government offices usually
dislike the idea of keeping all the official documents in the computer
and networking within the ministry, department or the office. Therefore
in the websites of the ministries of the government we see the biographies
of the ministers, messages from the ministers, secretaries and the
head of the departments instead of the relevant data. It is true
not only in the case of the government offices. This kind of media
hierarchy is prevalent in many organizations, NGOs and within the
Overcoming this socio-cultural or mental barrier seems to be the
greatest challenge which many Asian countries including Nepal have
to address. Once this mental barrier is crossed all other barriers
such as policy, law, monopoly, tariff, access, rural connectivity,
computer literacy etc. can be overcome. This is a unique problem
of most of the Asian countries and we should find out the solution
Whether people are ready or not it is true that IT is no more a
luxury now even for a country like Nepal where the teledencity has
not crossed 1.5 percent. It is also true that the poorer the nation,
the higher the importance of IT. In comparison to neighboring countries
the situation of landlocked ness and scarcity of physical resource
makes IT more important for Nepal. IT has great potential in empowering
people, which is the crucial for strengthening democracy and enhancing