Poor showNepal has not been able to make sustained progress in bringing down the poverty rate
Achieving sustainable development goals, alleviating poverty and improving the well-being of disadvantaged communities are the major development challenges every developing country faces. Poverty is a complex, widespread and multi-dimensional phenomenon. It is also a relative term. It is the inability of people and families to fulfil basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, health and education.
Economic deprivation has been considered to be a dominant dimension of poverty as many other problems arise due to lack of sufficient income to meet basic needs. Poverty is a major problem in Nepal as about a quarter of the total population lives below the poverty line. The country’s Human Development Index remains among the lowest in the world.
Despite six decades of planned development efforts, Nepal has not been able to make sustained progress in reducing poverty and improving the living standards of the people. We do not yet know who the poor families in particular communities are. We do not have precise data on who (government, INGOs, NGOs, donors, financial institutions, others) is doing what in addressing the issue of poverty and how many of the poor have been reached so far. And most importantly, we lack enough homework to understand the root causes of poverty. We do not know why some people are poor. Is it due to social and cultural practices, social stratification, lack of resources, ignorance or a combination of these or other factors?
As the reasons behind poverty may differ from family to family, a blanket approach may not work for all. There is no single approach that can be followed to alleviate poverty. Each country and community must devise its own strategy and model that is appropriate to its context. Till date, we have been merely treating the symptoms of poverty and not its root causes.
Dynamism of poverty
I have worked with NGOs, INGOs, donors and technical service providers for almost 25 years. Based on my experience, I can say definitely that we will not be able to meet the current goal of reducing poverty to five percent by 2030 if we do not revise the current mechanism of implementing developmental initiatives. Currently, there is crowding of developmental organisations, government agencies, financial institutions and cooperatives in accessible areas, and very few of them are working in remote areas. Even in remote communities, aware and empowered people are getting services from different agencies while disadvantaged groups are left out.
The government lacks district and national level mechanisms to effectively mobilise resources in needy communities and households and avoid duplication. Governmental and non-governmental organisations cannot provide information about the number of poor people they have served. If we do not know who the poor in a community are and how many of them receive support, it is not right to claim that we are working for them.
The experience we have gained so far has taught us that Nepal needs a decentralised approach to development to address the unique needs of communities. Establishing government service centres in different geographical clusters and serving people through them has long been proved to be ineffective and unsustainable. If government officials are found to be absent in most district level offices, we cannot expect civil servants and technical professionals to serve local communities from far-flung service centres.
Questions arise in inquisitive minds about what kind of development approach may be right for Nepal. The successful contribution of many community-based cooperatives and Small Farmer Cooperatives Ltd across a wide spectrum of the development field has showed that it is possible to improve people’s well-being and alleviate poverty by working in partnership with vibrant and sustainable community-based cooperatives. Therefore, for sustainable development of local communities, focus must be put on upgrading the capacity of locals and their organisations, and the government and other developmental organisations must work in partnership with the existing people’s organisations instead of forming new structures.
If the communities for whom a programme is being implemented are not provided opportunities to express their ideas and needs, and are not considered to be active partners in the development effort, their participation will be weak and development interventions will fail to achieve the intended results. Experience has shown that sustainable development is possible only if it is backed by strong grassroots-level people’s organisations. If development interventions do not address the root causes of poverty, the dream of alleviating it will never be realised.
Outsiders could not understand the dynamism of poverty and devise appropriate interventions. Only community-based cooperatives will have detailed information about who are poor and why they might be poor. Therefore, the government should invite expressions of interest from community-based organisations to work as partners. Hopeful partner cooperatives should produce detailed information about the poor families in their communities and a plan of action to help them get out of poverty. The government must provide technical and financial support to selected partner cooperatives through district line agencies. There should also be a strong coordination mechanism at the central level.
Since poverty is not a single-dimensional phenomenon, a multi-dimensional approach has to be applied to address it. Providing short-term services on a piecemeal basis may be helpful in improving livelihoods in the short term, but it will not guarantee the eradication of poverty in the long term. There should be partnerships among development organisations, policymakers and governmental and people’s organisations to address poverty in a sustainable manner. Components like financial and non-financial services and social mobilisation must match the context and nature of poverty.
People living in extreme poverty need a whole range of interventions such as livelihood and business development support, grants to purchase productive assets, financial education, empowerment, financial services, health services and social mobilisation to address the malpractices responsible for increasing poverty. If people are not intrinsically motivated and committed to improving their wellbeing, only external support cannot help to eradicate poverty. Therefore, the government must provide technical support to selected partner cooperatives to develop activists to advise poor families, enhance their efficacy, empower them, end social malpractices, upgrade skills and provide other support to improve their well-being.
The government should also award certificates of appreciation to cooperatives and activists who contribute to eradicating poverty to motivate kind-hearted people to join this noble effort.
Simkhada is pursuing a PhD in Leadership Styles and Performance of Financial Cooperative at Kathmandu University