KATHMANDU, Nepal – 2015 is a troublesome year for the Nepalese as a massive quake of 7.9 magnitude struck the country on April 25, followed later by the ethnic Madhes agitation and the fuel crisis.
The devastating quake, the worst natural disaster to hit Nepal since the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake, killed over 9,000 people, injured more than 23,000 others. It also destroyed property worth billions of U.S. dollars.
At a time when Nepal’s new constitution drafting process was gaining momentum in July this year, four dissident Madheshi parties announced protest programs against th ongoing constitution drafting, arguing that the first draft of the new constitution did not address their concerns.
Even after the the official promulgation of the new constitution in September, the Madheshi parties refused to accept it by announcing fresh protests.
The prolonged unrest in the Terai region has so far claimed 50 lives so far, including eight police personnel, according to reports.
The 2015 Nepal blockage began in September, triggering an economic and humanitarian crisis in the country. The government of Nepal has accused India of imposing undeclared sanctions on it which has been denied by India.
As a landlocked nation, Nepal imports all of its petroleum supplies from India. The blockade choked imports of not only petroleum, but also medicines and earthquake relief materials.
As the year of 2016 is just around the corner, the Nepalese have pinned hopes on its northern neighbor China to revive trade, tourism and supply of fuel in the new year.
Rajesh Kazi Shrestha, chairman of the Nepal China Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said “2015 witnessed only losses in our business due to the devastating disaster and fuel crisis. As Nepal and China have already agreed to open seven new border points, I am hopeful that trade will flourish in a significant manner”.
In November, Nepal and China agreed to open seven new trade points in Mustang, Gorkha, Sankhuwasabha, Dolakha, Humla, Mugu and Taplejung district. Both sides have already decided to operate the customs offices effectively after rebuilding the infrastructures.
Currently, these border points are used only for local trading purposes. Nepal has been using only Rasuwagadhi border point, some 150 km from the capital, for inland bilateral trade at the moment.
“Khasa-Tatopani route has been shut for more than 8 months due to which our loaded vehicles are stranded there. If the roads connecting with both Tatopani and Rasuwa border are expanded and infrastructures are made intact, Nepal could gain more benefit from China,” Shrestha, who is also former assistant minister for commerce and supplies, told Xinhua.
More than 1,500 entrepreneurs are dependent on China-Nepal border trade. Nepal exports mainly handicrafts, wooden artifacts and pashminas, among others, to China. In return, China has been providing duty-free access to more than 8,000 Nepali goods.
Aman Munankarmi, a handicraft artist based in Bhaktapur, said “I am hopeful that I can organize more handicraft exhibitions in China in the new year which will promote Nepal’s products and trading”.
More than 15 Nepalese companies hold handicraft exhibitions in different cities of China like Beijing and Guangzhou almost every month.
Meanwhile, travel entrepreneurs and stakeholders, who have been reeling under huge loss owing to low number of tourists’ arrival after the earthquake and fuel crisis, have also placed high hopes on the world’s second largest economy.
The tourism industry will become hopeful if China can be the number one tourist source market for Nepal in the coming year. Their hope has been backed by the recent decision of the Nepali government to waive the visa fee for the Chinese tourists on par with the similar treatment to SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries.
Keshav Pandey, managing director at Green Park Resort located in popular tourism hub Chitwan, said “Waiving of visa fee for Chinese tourists has brought some positivity to revive the business. If the visa policy is implemented well, I am sure a large number of Chinese tourists will visit us in the coming year.”
According to the Ministry of Tourism, Nepal received 800,000 tourists in 2014, among which 123,805 were Chinese tourists. India, which is the first source market, sent 135,000 visitors to Nepal.
With the latest visa policy and more air connectivity between Nepal and Chinese cities, Nepal will embrace for a booming tourism in 2016.
“2015 was a problematic year for us in terms of both earthquake and Indian blockade. I hope tourism, which accounts for nearly 4 percent of the country’s economy, will revive the loss in the coming year”, Narendra Bilash Bajracharya, deputy director at Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square Conservation Program, said.