Nepalis Take Two-pronged Approach

Marty Logan

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KATHMANDU, Mar 25 (IPS) - Expect to see Nepal's unique two-pronged flag fluttering often at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Karachi until Tuesday. Groups based here that are attending the meet say they will both lead and hop aboard protests against King Gyanendra's rule as well as push their own unique social agendas.

In some cases, the two goals will converge, they told IPS.

Facing government reluctance to hand over some woodlands in the southern 'terai' (plains), community forest user groups have been "capturing" the areas and managing them, says Bhola Bhattarai at the Federation of Community Forest Users of Nepal (FECOFUN).

On average, these groups control 215 hectares of forest, engage in activities that generate savings of 75,000 rupees (1,049 US dollars) and count 337 households as members, according to FECOFUN research published in 2005. One message Bhattarai says he will deliver in Karachi is: "This is social mobilisation. It is not a project, it is not driven by NGOs, it is something done by the people themselves."

That go-it-alone approach is successful in some cases but in other ways the forest users groups have come head-to-head with the government of King Gyanendra. The monarch jailed his own prime minister and seized power on Feb.1, 2005, promising to return multi-party rule and end a 10-year Maoist uprising in three years.

For instance, soldiers and police have occupied forests in pursuit of Maoist rebels, blocking community access, and last year the palace issued a directive that FECOFUN says threatens the autonomy of the 14,000 local groups that manage community forests.

"The community forest process is a democratic process — those who believe in democracy support it but the present government doesn't believe in it," says Bhattarai.

'We Call on the Global Community to Re-establish Democracy in Nepal' is the slogan that FECOFUN will carry to Karachi.

Around 20,000 people are expected to attend the event, the third WSF of the year — the previous ones were held in Africa and South America. Debt relief, the Iraq war, water issues in South Asia, bonded labour, relations between religions and human rights in Pakistan are some of the themes that will be addressed in 460 activities. The majority of foreign delegates hail from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

ActionAid? Nepal is sending seven employees and 13 activists from partner organisations. They will focus on three issues: the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; inclusion in development and the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women (2002). SAARC, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, was created in 1985 by the region's seven nations.

"I see it as a forum that generates political interest and enthusiasm rather than coming to any conclusions," says Anil Pant, team leader of ActionAid's human security and governance programme.

By bringing together various social movements for discussions, you "enable cross-fertilisation. It also helps to create a sense of solidarity, which is important because sometimes you feel that you are fighting alone," he adds in an interview in his central Kathmandu office.

There is little chance that any protester at the WSF, which was created as an alternative to the government and business-dominated World Economic Forum in 2001, will have to march alone.

"You join protests when they go past, you speak off the cuff," says Pant, who attended two previous WSFs. "We're taking the national flag — whenever we get 50 people together we'll start a demonstration (against the Nepali government)."

A 2005 report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Nepal sounded the alarm about the threat of HIV/AIDS. "Data suggests that Nepal has entered the stage of a concentrated epidemic," said the progress report on the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This means that HIV/AIDS prevalence consistently exceeds five percent in some sub-populations such as female sex workers and injecting drug users.

If the disease were to follows trends elsewhere it would move from those sub-groups to the general population, warned the report. This has the potential to cause an explosive epidemic.

Yet, "we didn't get any money from the Global Fund and we haven't been able to find a convincing reason why," said Pant, explaining why the issue will be a priority for his group in Karachi. "We don't want a repeat of this next year and we don't want people to wake up suddenly one day and find it's become a crisis."

Conversely, SAARC's anti-trafficking convention was the first human rights convention in the Asia-Pacific? region, says Pant. But governments have yet to take it seriously.

It is estimated that 150,000 women and children are trafficked in South Asia every year. "SAARC can do something meaningful about this because it is a common problem" and one that must be tackled cooperatively, since it always involves at least two countries — sending and receiving, Pant added. (END/2006)