That’s not enoughVisiting rural communities in different parts of Nepal, I saw deplorable living indicators: poor housing, food insecurity, malnutrition, watery meal intake, poor health, unemployment and lack of socio-economic and legal awareness.
Visiting rural communities in different parts of Nepal, I saw deplorable living indicators: poor housing, food insecurity, malnutrition, watery meal intake, poor health, unemployment and lack of socio-economic and legal awareness. Such poverty is widespread in rural communities across the country, where 80 percent of the population of 28.5 million live. However, disguised poverty in urban and semi-urban locations including metropolises is no less serious.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 has envisaged ‘eliminating poverty in all its forms everywhere’ by 2030. Its predecessor, Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1, which aimed to ‘reduce poverty and hunger’, ended in 2015 and claimed substantial progress. China, which is home to 18 percent of the global population, had lifted 800 million people out of poverty as of 2014 by achieving a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 10 percent and a 49-fold jump in per capita GDP.
The poor are hardly concerned about MDGs, SDGs, targets and statistics presented in glossy reports and documents. They are concerned about real outcomes directly impacting their lives at a rapid pace which demands economic empowerment, primarily to enable them to pay for basic services and goods, including food security—guaranteeing three meals a day for each member of the family.
Sociologists and economists are sceptical about achieving SDG 1 by 2030 given its magnitude and the many challenges that need to be overcome. Poverty statistics are often vague or skewed, and even generalised. Official data, which is not actually based on nationwide household surveys, claims that 25 percent of Nepal’s total population lives below the poverty line. The per capita GDP of $761.5 is equivalent to only 5 percent of the world’s average. Nepal ranks 146th in the Human Development Index (HDI). Extreme poverty has been equated to earning below the new global poverty line of $1.90 per person per day, as per the World Bank.
The country’s HDI ranking, a simplified and admittedly limited evaluation of human development, has improved; this is misleading. There are alarming inequalities and disparities subsisting between geographical regions or districts, and families and social groups. Usually, the data of international development agencies such as the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are often approximations. They sometimes underestimate or overestimate conditions depending on the importance for making policy decisions.
Measures of wellbeing need to replace the per capita GDP as it has been misused in the name of the extremely poor. Critics argue that these average statistics are like ‘top-down satellite images’ and not location and target group/family-specific in planning and fighting against extreme poverty. Considering the diversity and intensity of deprivation, identifying families in absolute poverty is necessary to create a realistic database for focused planning. The National Planning Commission (NPC) says that data gaps on nutrition, hunger, poverty, education, health, consumption and income distribution have yet to be filled.
Integrated development key
Nepal has been struggling to juggle extreme poverty and development in a ‘beating the bush to kill a bird’ approach. Its overdependence on bilateral and multilateral donor agencies including over 200 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) has been growing. Human development has been uneven, and human deprivations and the ‘poverty trap’ unbridled, despite investing vast human capital and scarce economic resources totalling billions of dollars over the years.
Eliminating extreme poverty sustainably depends largely on achieving rapid economic growth, bringing back an estimated 40 percent of the total arable land lying fallow under intensive cultivation, achieving import substitution and cutting import bills and the trade deficit which has swelled almost fivefold in 10 years to Rs900 billion per year, curbing the exodus of socially and economically active migrant workers (more than 3.5 million individuals) to the Gulf and other countries, and creating mass employment opportunities for them in Nepal in labour intensive agriculture, horticulture, livestock, infrastructure, industry and tourism.
At least 500,000 youths enter the job market each year, and at least 1,000 leave the country daily as migrant workers. In 2015-16, around 6,000 persons were trafficked, only 60 percent of whom were women, according to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Post-earthquake reconstruction of infrastructure including homes for 617,675 homeless poor families is in its third year and is crawling forward with dismal output. Less than 50 percent of the capital budget is being spent annually which has led to shrinking job opportunities.
In addition, poor governance, ingrained and rampant corruption, cartels, poor and inequitable service delivery, unmonitored and unbridled high-cost INGO and NGO programmes, lethargic and mediocre officialdom having a nexus with political parties, frequent changes in government and lack of statesmanship qualities and dedication in political leaders are other major ills that need to be set right if the country is serious about ending poverty in all its forms by 2030.
Dixit is an expert in integrated development issues