Monsoon rains have always been a cause of pain and anxiety for the inhabitants in Nepal’s Terai, the southern plain area bordering India. This year, the monsoon has taken its toll of 75 dead and hundreds of houses destroyed so far. Siddhartha Nagar, a town in the Nepal-India border named after the prince who later became Buddha, is also located in the Terai. The town has been vulnerable to flooding every monsoon season, causing loss of life and property, and consequently misery, frustration and anger.
This year, Siddhartha Nagar has stood more resilient than before to the seasonal downpours, with no casualties and hardly any damage to public property. In less than half an hour of heavy rain, the water drains out. No ponding and no inundation.
We can attribute part of this good news to an ADB-supported urban infrastructure program being implemented in the municipality under the Integrated Urban Development Project (IUDP). Key to this program and addressing the longstanding problem of inundation are two structures: 30 kilometers of drain pipes in the city center and a huge drain north of the city, both of which prevent flood waters entering the city and divert water to the Danda and Ghaghara rivers that flank the city in the East and West. While the drains facilitate the flow of the water, they also hold several billions liters of water to prevent ponding.
The town was established 50 years ago. It is spread out in the plains, a trade transit at Nepal-India border, and located as the nearest city to Lumbini to the West, the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Located to the North is Butwal town, to which a road corridor is being developed as an industrial belt. As such, Siddhartha Nagar by any measure has vast potential to develop as a major economic and tourism hub in the region.
“Inundation held it back,” says municipality chief executive Bishnu Dutta Gautam. “Year after year, we lost urban infrastructure like roads and drains quickly to floods and inundation, causing problems in transportation and sanitation.”
And not only drains are being built under the project. Around 10 kilometers of roads through the heart of the city and solid waste management infrastructure are also being constructed. With 60% of the work on the new and upgraded drains and roads completed, the city is visibly cleaner, and transportation services have improved significantly.
Shailendra Shrestha, chief engineer for the municipality, thinks the new infrastructure will help Siddhartha Nagar become an economic hub. There is already evidence of growth toward that end. Ten big companies are investing in the construction of luxury hotels and a casino. Many businessmen are buying property for new industries and setting up new offices to do trade from here. The price of real estate has shot up seven-fold in some places. Gautam says that they have already met the annual revenue target from trade that other cities at the border are struggling to achieve. Also, trade with neighboring India will benefit from the ongoing establishment of Nepal’s largest Special Economic Zone in Siddhartha Nagar to take full advantage of the city’s location.
Another significant investment by ADB in Siddhartha Nagar is in upgrading the Gautama Buddha Airport to international airport status by 2017 to attract even more investment to promote religious tourism to Lumbini, where millions of Buddhist pilgrims travel to each year to visit the birthplace of Buddha. Both cities will be connected in the future by a six-lane highway, 30% of which is already completed.
So if you plan to visit Lumbini, by 2018 you can fly directly to Siddhartha Nagar to its international airport, make the pilgrimage and then hop back on the flight home – a virtually hassle-free experience.