Gravity lightens load for hard-working rural women

Ratada, April 4

Until recently, Belkosha Bohora faced a brutal daily workload.

With her husband away labouring in India much of the time, she not only managed all the household chores and farming but also regularly carried heavy loads of apples, potatoes and medicinal herbs to market a two-hour walk away, returning along the muddy and steep paths with her pack full of rice.

Over the years, the relentless hard work resulted in eight miscarriages, she said.

“I used to carry goods even a week after giving birth to my children, as we would go hungry if I didn’t,” the 41-year-old said.

Many women in her village, in Kalikot district, similarly have regularly suffered from miscarriages or uterine prolapse in the face of heavy workloads, she said.

But the women of Ratada now have help to lighten the load, in the form of a gravity-assisted rope-and-cable system that lets them transport heavy loads across their steep rural terrain in a basket suspended from a wire.

Ratada’s cable system, installed about seven months ago by development charity Practical Action, stretches 680 metres from the hillside village down to the Karnali highway.

The 3 million rupee ($43,000) system was funded by the European Union, Jersey Overseas Aid and local authorities, with the community contributing labour, said Dev D Bhatta, who manages projects for Practical Action in the region.

It is one of four such systems now installed in Kalikot and neighbouring Jumla district, in Nepal’s Karnali province, he said.

Residents of Ratada, which has 130 households, say it is literally a load off their backs.

“Now the situation is different. It is very easy for us. Goods are easily carried to our village,” said Bohora. “My daughter has reached the age when she had to carry goods but now she doesn’t need to,” she added.

Instead, in a province where the literacy rate is just 58 per cent - lower than Nepal’s national rate of 66 per cent - children that used to help their mothers carry produce to market are attending school regularly, Bohora said.

Ganesh Sinkemana, a senior project officer for Practical Action, said the technology is cost effective and environment friendly as it doesn’t require fuel and runs instead by harnessing gravity.

The cable can carry about 100 kg of goods downhill, with the downhill force harnessed to simultaneously pull about a third of that amount of weight uphill at the same time, Bhatta said. Users pay a small fee of about $0.15 per 10 kg carried to help maintain the system.

Bekala Bohora, a Ratada resident who hurt her leg two years ago when she slipped carrying a heavy load of goods along the muddy mountain paths, said the system has made life much easier for residents.

“Often landslides would block the road and we had to return without even reaching the market,” said Bohora, whose surname is common in the village.

In an era when climate change is bringing more extreme weather, including harsher rainstorms and mudslides, safe and reliable low-carbon transport is particularly important, backers say.

Dharmaraj Regmi, a member of Parliament from Karnali province, said his region, one of the poorest in Nepal, faces many problems from illiteracy and early marriage to poor health systems and lack of effective transport.

But “transportation facility is a basic infrastructure that can aid in solving many of other problems too”, he said.

“Most of the villages in Karnali province are untouched by roads and mountainous terrain makes it more difficult to build roads there,” he said.

Danta Nepali, deputy mayor of Tilagufa, the local municipality that includes Ratada, said the new cableways have been an economic boost in a region where key apple and medicinal plant crops are produced in the mountains but sometimes struggle to reach markets.

“Lack of transportation was a major constraint in marketing them,” she said. Cable systems “have aided in taking these products to the market with less effort and time”. “This is helpful in improving women’s health in those villages,” she added.

Residents of Ratada say the new transport system has given them one particularly precious benefit: a bit of free time. “We even get time for rest,” Belkosha Bohora said.