Today, November 9, Nepal inaugurated the country's 10,000th suspension bridge. They are the fruit of an initiative launched over 60 years ago by the development cooperation and humanitarian aid organization Helvetas. The initiative has been financed since 1974 by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and was developed jointly with the local government.
With Nepal's rugged topography and more than 6,000 rivers and streams, the aim of these bridges is to improve access to healthcare and education, and to promote economic activity in remote areas. The approach has evolved considerably over time: While Helvetas and the SDC initially implemented the construction projects themselves, local community ownership soon became a priority.
Since Nepal's federal constitution came into force in 2015, collaboration has also helped to develop the skills of the three institutional levels (state, provinces and municipalities) in the construction, maintenance and operation of bridges. The approach, which was initially limited to technical aspects, has now been extended to include aspects of citizen participation and good governance. The Nepalese authorities now have the resources and technical expertise to pursue the project independently. The SDC has therefore decided to end its support in this area at the end of 2023.
The 10,000 bridges built to date are making a lasting difference in the lives of 19 million people, reducing their commute by an average of 2.5 hours a day. It is also estimated that the inauguration of a new suspension bridge leads to a 16% increase in the number of children attending school and a 26% rise in the number of consultations at health centers. What's more, one in five bridges attracts shopkeepers who open new stalls, including food vendors and craftsmen.
By 2023, a record 750 bridges had been fully financed by the Nepalese government. During this last year of support, Swiss aid was limited to the following aspects: technical know-how, expertise in implementation methods, quality assurance and maintenance, and training of the relevant departments to ensure that activities can continue independently after 2023.
Knowledge sharing will also continue: Nepalese engineers, who have become masters in the construction of suspension bridges thanks to Helvetas and the SDC, are passing their knowledge on to other countries such as Ethiopia, Burundi, Bhutan, Indonesia and Guatemala as part of Helvetas' South-South cooperation efforts.