© Helvetas / Narendra Shrestha

Trail Bridges for Safe Routes

© Helvetas / Narendra Shrestha

Trail bridges in Nepal are one of most successful projects.  Trail Bridge Support Unit (TBSU), a SDC project implemented by Helvetas continues to advise on technical issues. Bridge construction is now fully integrated into government budgeting and planning processes. The formation of local, socially inclusive bridge user groups, introduced by Helvetas, has become a standard national procedure for most bridges.

  • Project Name
    Trail Bridge Support Unit
  • Project Phase
    2014 to 2019
  • Funding
    This project is an SDC mandate.
  • Thematic focus
    Rural Access

Over 7,500 real changes

Over 7,500 trail bridges have been built in Nepal – some two thirds of them with Helvetas’ support. Each of these bridges makes the routes used by an average 1,800 people shorter and safer. Following the construction of a new trail bridge, school attendance increases on average by 21%, and consultations at health centers go up 32%. In 39% of cases, new stores, snack bars and repair shops open up near the bridge.

Nepal’s trail bridges are a standout success in development cooperation. From early days when all construction aspects were overseen by Swiss engineers, Nepalese engineers are now fully in charge and are developing new designs for new needs.

Initially, clear priority was given to connecting remote mountain settlements, but these days there are also demands for designs that suit lowland areas. Nepalese engineers are also providing advice on trail bridge construction in other countries.

Working with the Government of Nepal, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has commissioned Helvetas to continue providing technical assistance to the national trail bridge program. Helvetas also works with educational institutes in providing technical courses to engineers and technicians.

© Helvetas
A dangerous way to school: many schoolchildren in Nepal have to rely on risky constructions to cross rivers. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
A suspension bridge  makes the way to school safe. And it opens the way to markets and hospitals. © Helvetas

Trail bridges are more than mere infrastructure. From the beginning, Helvetas sought to foster community spirit, developing a participatory process of bridge construction and maintenance that has become a national government guideline. This guideline applies to all short span bridges (less than 120m long), which represent 90% of trail bridges in the country; only long, technically complex bridges are built by contractors.

For each short span bridge, the future users discuss the bridge site, gain an understanding of basic technical issues, organize materials, and contribute hard days of labor (or the financial equivalent). And in the process, they make the bridge their own. Upon bridge completion, a public meeting is held to verify that it meets quality standards and that the funds have been used properly.

Helvetas’ partner organizations help set up bridge maintenance committees to oversee the operation and upkeep of the bridge. These committees must include women and members of disadvantaged groups, who often have little or no say in other aspects of public life. For many committee members, this is their very first step towards political participation. Which makes each suspension bridge a training ground for democracy.

Technical assistance to the Trail Bridge Program of the Government of Nepal is provided by Helvetas under a mandate of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

© Helvetas/Flurina Rothenberger
«I get lots of business thanks to the bridge. But the most important thing to me is that my children now have a safe route to school.»

Amritha Bhandari, mother and owner of a snack bar by the Ranighat suspension bridge, Hariharpur, Nepal

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The Rise of the Shahi Family

The history of the Sahi family shows that real change is possible. Not overnight, but from generation to generation.


The most vulnerable communities suffer from dirty and scarce water. Annually we help up to 500,000 people get new access to drinking water and basic sanitation.

How Helvetas Supports People in Nepal

Helvetas launched its first projects in 1956 in Nepal. Our operations have since expanded to include everything from vocational training to building bridges and reducing disaster-related risks.

Trail Bridge Support Unit
GPO 688 Kathmandu

Phone: +977 1 5531 107
Fax: +977 1 5526 829
E-Mail: tbsu.np@helvetas.org