On the trail of respondents in Ilam, Nepal

“Down from the green house, following the power lines”. Imagine walking for half a day to find a respondent, pulling out the address of his house in 2012 and finding this type of instruction. If you’re following the path (or indeed reading the mind) of the enumerator who found this household in 2012 it can be obvious where to go. But if you’re coming from a different direction, it’s easy to strike off with false confidence down a 200m drop that you will then have to re-ascend.

Ilam Bazar is the capital of Ilam district in the Eastern region of Nepal. Driving up from Bhadrapur airport to reach the ‘Green City’, as it’s known, the tropical flatlands of the terai give way to dark hills of bamboo forest and then to tea plantations, in permanent mist. This is one of nine sites in three districts which make up Nepal’s contribution to the SLRC panel survey. A panel survey means that you have to interview exactly the same respondent – in our case after an interval of three years.

One striking thing about the fieldwork here in Nepal is the physical intensity involved. From the hotel, on the first day, we walked for almost an hour even to find one of the enumerators. After this we followed his search for a respondent. Generally the process involves trying to follow the instructions from the first round, ending up on roughly the right track, asking for directions, checking the GPS coordinates, realising you’ve gone uphill instead of down and doing it all again.

In fact, the GPS coordinates of the house from 2012 do not help much in narrowing down the search for a respondent. Even if you can see that you are only a few hundred metres away from the spot in question, on hilly terrain there will almost certainly not be a straight or obvious road from A to B.

For example, in Rolpa the team had ‘tested’ the GPS coordinates’ accuracy by managing to find the exact same coordinates specified in one of the 2012 information sheets. It was, as the supervisor Annal had put it, “under a rock by the river”. But it turned out the respondent had been employed as a forest warden and this was presumably why she was interviewed at that pleasant and quiet spot – now in 2015 she was nowhere to be found.

Respondents are also often absent for the day, meaning that appointments must be made. The fieldwork in Ilam is a couple of weeks later than it was in 2012, delayed due to the protests and fuel shortage. Two weeks is all it takes however for the harvesting of the paddy fields to have begun, meaning that many respondents are now several hours walk away, busy in their fields.

I couldn’t join the other half of the Nepal team in the Western terai district of Bardiya but fieldwork there is finally underway, after being postponed due to protests. An unofficial blockade of Nepal’s borders from the Indian side is creating an acute shortage of fuel and supplies, in a country which is still recovering from the devastating earthquakes of April this year. Now at last the fieldwork there is finally underway

Against the backdrop of these challenges and many others in the SLRC’s five survey countries, we are now on the brink of finishing the second round of this unprecedented panel survey. But were we crazy? In 2012 Rachel reflected on the accusation that the SLRC had bitten off more than it could chew in attempting a panel survey in fragile and conflict-affected states. Yes, there have been problems – environmental, political, security-related, you name it, yet two countries have completed both rounds of the survey (Uganda and Sri Lanka) and the other three (DRC, Pakistan and Nepal) are weeks away from completing too.

So no, we weren’t crazy.


Reference Mallett, R., Hagen-Zanker, Z., Slater, R., and Sturge, G. (2015) Surveying livelihoods, service delivery and governance: Baseline evidence from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Uganda. SLRC Working Paper 31. London: Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium.