Thin lines that change lives

Project completed
Women carrying baskets walk on a trail bridge.
Every day in Nepal, 1.3 million people use trail bridges to carry out their household chores, go to school or visit health centres. © Trail Bridge Programme Trail Bridge Programme

In Nepal, trail bridges are vital for rural mobility. Almost 80 of them were severely damaged or destroyed during the earthquakes of 2015, jeopardizing access to education, health services and local markets for thousands of inhabitants in the mountainous regions. The SDC joined the reconstruction efforts, basing its intervention on the long-standing expertise it has in the country. 

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Agriculture & food security
Employment & economic development
Rural infrastructure (till 2016)
Rural development
Agricultural development
Agricultural services & market
Agriculture value-chain development (til 2016)
01.08.2014 - 30.11.2019
CHF  10’998’000

On 25 April and 12 May 2015 the two powerful earthquakes which struck Nepal resulted in a catastrophic loss of lives and damage to essential infrastructures. The livelihoods of over 2.28 million households were affected. 79 trail bridges out of the 6,500 known in the country collapsed. 

In Nepal, these trail bridges are fundamental for rural populations, especially those in rugged mountainous terrain. Due to the lack of motorable roads, people there continue to rely on trails and tracks to access markets, administrative offices, health facilities, schools, or perform household chores. 

Reconstruction of trail bridges: a priority

After the earthquakes the Nepalese government prioritised the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the damaged trail bridges in light of the importance of rural infrastructure for rebuilding livelihoods. It made an appeal to the Swiss government for material and technical support. 

The SDC responded positively by providing materials (cables, bulldog grips, steel parts) amounting to CHF 1 million, while the Nepalese government funded construction processes. Technical assistance for the survey, design, construction supervision and reporting was provided as well by the SDC through a mandate to the NGO Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation. 

The support of the SDC came in addition to a contribution nearing CHF 11 million already committed for the period 2014-2019 to help the Nepalese government and other partners in the construction and repair of trail bridges. 

Over the last 40 years more than 6,500 trail bridges have been built in Nepal with Swiss support. 1.3 million people use these bridges every day.

Iswari Prasad Dulal sitting.
Iswari Prasad Dulal. © Trail Bridge Programme

Before the earthquakes around 80 people used to cross the Rampate Amare trail bridge in the district Sindhupalchowk every day, Iswari Prasad Dulal (63 years) explains. The inhabitants were forced to find other means after the disaster. “You can imagine how difficult it was for people to cross the river. You had to take a detour of up to one hour and during the monsoon, the rains later made it even more difficult.” The bridge was finally rehabilitated in 2016.

"User committees" in charge of the works

By the end of 2015, the majority of detailed bridge reports (consisting of surveys, earthquake-resilient designs and cost estimates) had been prepared, allowing for the reconstruction work to start. ‘User committees’ undertook and managed the reconstruction work. In that way the local communities were fully involved. They were supported on technical and social aspects by local NGOs, technical officers at district level and staff of Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation. 

In the course of the year 2016, 62 bridges were repaired and rebuilt thanks to the SDC’s support, and another 10 by April 2017 (two years after the earthquakes). Seven remaining damaged bridges shall be rehabilitated by July 2017. Repair work was given priority over the construction of new bridges that had been planned prior to the earthquakes. The labour-intensive construction work generated approximately 172,500 person-days of employment. In addition to rebuilding bridges, the SDC’s funding allowed the timely injection of much needed cash into the devastated villages.

Sanu Maya Tamang standing.
Sanu Maya Tamang. © Trail Bridge Programme

Sanu Maya Tamang (52 years) was a member of a ‘user committee’ that was established to reconstruct the Jhangrali 100 metre-long trail bridge in Dolakha district. The committee decided to build a new bridge 200 metres downstream and all works were completed in five months. “We were all eager to finish it as soon as possible as our lives were totally disrupted”. Sanu Maya Tamang, and her family have also started to rebuild their house as well as a shop. “I did not even think about rebuilding before the bridge was built. How could I have transported the materials? Now things are slowly getting back to normal.”

People returning

Two years since the earthquakes struck, there are signs that lives and livelihoods are slowly recovering, as the government and donors also heavily invested in the reconstruction of community infrastructure such as drinking-water systems, schools and health facilities. 

People who left their houses in the immediate aftermath of the disaster are returning. Houses are being rebuilt to higher standards and as per the government’s building norms. Food items and other necessities (including building materials) are available again in local shops, and villagers are now able to perform household chores, such as collecting fodder, fuel-wood and taking cattle to graze safely. All of this was made possible thanks to the newly rebuilt trail bridges.

Two students use the reconstructed trail bridge.
These secondary students can now go to school again. © Trail Bridge Programme

Since the reconstruction of the 62 metre-long Pikhuti trail bridge in Dolakha district, approximately 150 people use it daily to cross the river. This includes fifteen students who go to the Higher Secondary School in Singati. Some of them missed several months of their studies after the earthquakes because there was no bridge, and their parents could not afford to rent rooms on the ‘good’ side of the bridge in the bazaar. Today, the youngsters – and their parents as well – are happy that they can go to school again.