A bridge to fearRural Nepalis continue to rely on risky tuins to cross rivers; the government must speed up efforts to replace them.
It is unfortunate that the practice of crossing rivers by clinging to a rope strung high between the banks continues in Nepal. Admittedly, during a time of low development and economic growth, these cable contraptions, known as tuin, saved much time and many lives when people had to cross rivers. However, with Prime Minister KP Oli himself having promised an end to wire crossings, it is surprising that they are still to be found—and in regular use—all over the country. While it cannot be said that the government has not made any progress towards replacing them, that the original deadline of making Nepal 100 percent tuin-free has been missed by almost three years is unfortunate. Hope remains that the government can speed up the construction of replacement bridges in every municipality in the country so that Nepalis do not have to risk their lives unnecessarily.
Nepal has been blessed by a vast network of rivers, tributaries and streams. In fact, there are over 6,000 rivers of all sizes in the country. While such freshwater sources mean that most of Nepal is habitable, they also cause mobility problems. Many rural areas are separated, either by deep, fast-moving rivers or the ravines and gorges that the rivers cut. This means that markets, schools, administrative offices and even access to the outer world in rural Nepal are separated by such river systems. Due to the speed or depth, or other geographical challenges, humans (and the goods they carry) cannot cross the rivers easily. Boats are not an option in such cases.
In such circumstances, tuins had been a godsend. The cable-based crossings were easy to construct—much easier than bridges—with the most basic ones involving one looped rope running on pulleys that people grab on to get across. The most complicated contraptions involve a metal or wood basket attached to the said rope and pulley system. For decades, perhaps even centuries, these tuins provided easy crossings to the people. While there was always a danger of such a system failing and breaking, the risks associated were lower than attempting to cross a harsh river or gorge in any other way. Yet, no one can call them a safe option. Every year, the tuins break, or people fall off them; every year, this results in the death of many. Many more lose appendages while using the contraptions.
Despite the severe problems, tuins continue to be used. Without governmental support, locals cannot hope to amass the skills and resources needed to move on to better mobility structures like permanent suspension bridges. It was in this context that the then KP Oli-led government, in 2015, was lauded for promising to rid the country of tuins within two years. After all, there were still 237 temporary bridges, including 155 tuins, in use in 43 districts around the country.
Almost five years since that decision, much remains to be done. It is a wonder whether the Rs3.25 billion allocated for the project has been spent well. But people in places like Humla and Darchula, among others, continue to depend on tuins. Delays in the construction of necessary infrastructure in Nepal are not new. They have become a part of the Nepali construction culture, with even development schemes labelled national pride projects facing delays. Yet, while some delays may mean a heavy economic loss, in the case of tuin replacement, it is more of a matter of life versus death. The Oli administration has been replacing the tuins, but not at a fast enough pace. It needs to make this project a priority—saving all citizens from abject hardship would indeed be a matter of pride for Nepal.
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