‘Nepal hasn’t done all that it should have done for growth’Jeffrey D Sachs, a world-renowned professor of economics and a global leader in health policy and sustainable development, arrived in Nepal on Saturday on a nearly 24-hour trip.
Jeffrey D Sachs, a world-renowned professor of economics and a global leader in health policy and sustainable development, arrived in Nepal on Saturday on a nearly 24-hour trip. This is his second visit to the country since August 1994. Prof Sachs, who became a full professor at Harvard University at the age of 28 and was appointed University Professor at Columbia University in 2016, is known as one of the intellectual fathers of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a United Nations-led initiative that aimed at halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education within 2015. After its success, Prof Sachs, who has advised dozens of heads of state and governments on economic strategy across the globe for over 30 years, has started focusing more on sustainable development. Rupak D Sharma and Bibek Subedi of The Kathmandu Post caught up with him Sunday to discuss steps that Nepal needs to take to spur economic growth and achieve Sustainable Development Goals. Excerpts:
You’ve been here after 22 years. What differences did you find?
Nepal has made a lot of progress in the last 20 years. And I’m very happy about it. I’m hoping that development works would move ahead at even faster pace in the next 20 years. I’ve been looking at and listening to some of the achievements and also discussing what can be done to accelerate the pace of sustainable development in the country.
During your last visit you had said Nepal should look into coming economic boom in India and decide how best to ride the wave. Since then Nepal’s northern neighbour, China, has emerged as world’s second largest economy. But Nepal is stuck in low-growth trap. Do you think Nepal has missed the boat?
I don’t think Nepal has done all that it should have done or could have done, given that the two giant neighbours have been among the fastest growing countries in the world. Well, it’s a complicated thing to deal with these giants. But Nepal has big markets and big opportunities because both China and India are growing at about 7 percent, although Nepal has not been able to grow so fast. This is because Nepal has failed to attract investment in areas such as hydroelectric. It’s been more than a generation since the country started talking about tapping hydroelectric potential. But nothing has happened. So, with major investments, it would be possible for Nepal to move ahead at much faster pace.
Do you think Nepal’s difficult terrain, which makes construction of hydro projects expensive than in countries like Laos in Southeast Asia, is a bane?
Well, hydro projects are generally built in mountainous areas. One of the richest countries in the world—Switzerland—also has a lot of mountainous areas. So, that’s not a problem per se. It is said Nepal has potential to generate 40 GW or more of hydroelectric power, but Nepal just has not really implemented a lot of projects that have been on the books for decades. If Nepal were to deploy a big portion of its hydroelectric potential and sell some of it abroad or use more electricity domestically in areas like transportation, the country’s air would be cleaner and the economy greener. So, I think Nepal actually has a tremendous opportunity for development based on hydroelectric power potential.
Let’s change the topic. You’ve passionately advocated for sustainable development and believe economic growth can and should be fair, inclusive and environmentally sustainable. Recently, 193 members of the United Nations have adopted the Sustainable Development Goals to eradicate world poverty and hunger by 2030. Do you believe rich countries will provide funds and technology to low-income countries like Nepal to achieve these goals?
The biggest problem facing Nepal is lack of infrastructure of energy, roads, communications and quality social services.
I think Nepal should develop specific projects in hydroelectric power, transportation, health and education to get adequate funds. I think both public and private funds would be made available to Nepal if these projects are more aggressively put forward.
But US president-elect Donald Trump has indicated that he’ll put US’s interest first before solving problems of other countries. Won’t such attitude make regional and global problems harder to solve?
It might. But we don’t really know what Donald Trump is going to do as president. So, I don’t think it’s right to jump into conclusions in any event. But in case of Nepal, it’s also true that it lies in the fastest growing region of Asia and that means Nepal has real opportunities irrespective of what the US does. Besides, China, India and multilateral lending institutions, like the Asian Development Bank, are ready to provide funds to Nepal. So, I don’t think Nepal is going to be held back by Donald Trump because this country has opportunities to develop a lot of good and bold investment programmes and it should do so.
Lastly, how has clinical economics—a term that you coined to describe the art of differential diagnosis in economics like that performed by medical clinicians—evolved over the years?
Clinical economics is the basic idea that helps you know the context in which you are operating. One solution does not fit every country because each country demands a good diagnosis and then accurate prescription.
So, clinical economics has helped solve more problems over the years.