Be realistic

Nepal has more or less maintained its position on the development index of any kind. It has always stayed close to the bottom of the heap, whether it is in per capita income or the recently developed Human Development Index or some other measures developed in the past, such as the Physical Quality of Life Index.This is despite half a century of planned development efforts and billions of dollars in aid poured into the country. In 2004, Nepal ranked 140th among 177 countries on the HDI, lower than any other South Asian country, even than Bhutan, which was way behind Nepal just a few years ago. A dangerous tendency has, however, developed of blaming everything on the Maoist insurgency, even the failure of the officials and politicians to perform their basic duties. The same holds true for development and economic growth. No doubt, the insurgency has had its impact, growing in spread and intensity only in the latter years. Even before that, the picture had been far from encouraging.

The government has to rethink its priorities about how to raise the standard of living of the Nepali people. Attention should be focused, no doubt, on its traditional sectors like industry and agriculture. It should also try to broaden its export base. But at the same time, it should explore new opportunities that are opening up in the world. Because of its landlockedness and other factors, it is highly difficult for Nepal to produce high-quality products at competitive prices in most areas. Nepal could tap new areas such as supplying labour abroad, which has already benefited it by giving a sizable proportion of its youth jobs as well as by helping to keep afloat the domestic economy through huge remittances. But this needs to be done in a more systematic and bigger way to reap the full benefits.

There are many countries which have excelled in certain fields of development, though overall they cannot be called developed countries. Some have greatly improved the health and education of their people while others have done better at some other things. But when it comes to Nepal, we cannot point out any singular achievement. We are apt to embrace any fad or fashion prevalent elsewhere. We also easily adopt any goals or targets developed by donors, irrespective of how realistic they are for us, such as education and health by a certain year in the past and the current Millennium Development Goals. Or sometimes we devise our own stunts such as meeting the basic needs of all the Nepali people by the turn of the century now past. But at the end, we find ourselves where we began. The Nepali planners and policy makers would be able to do something for the people only if they became realistic, sincere and serious.