EDITORIAL: Ending inequalities

Most of the countries in South Asia are way ahead of Nepal, making it more and more difficult to catch up with them

Nepal has improved its standing in the Human Development Index (HDI) 2019 by two spots compared to last year, but it is of little solace when juxtaposed with the other countries of South Asia. Nepal is now ranked at 147 out of 189 countries in the HDI, according to a report published by the United Nations Development Programme Tuesday. Nepal has been placed in the medium human development category, having acquired a HDI rating of 0.579 in 2018. In the region, only Pakistan and war-torn Afghanistan fall behind in the HDI. The review shows that Nepal has made progress in terms of every indicator. But this has not translated into better ranking for Nepal because other countries have performed much better. In South Asia, India, Bhutan and Bangladesh are way ahead – at 129, 134 and 135, making it more and more difficult for Nepal to catch up with them. As for Sri Lanka (71) and the Maldives (104), they have always fared very well in the HDI rankings.

The HDI assesses long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development—a long and healthy life, education and a decent standard of living. As per the report, between 1990 and 2018, Nepal’s HDI value increased from 0.380 to 0.579, an increase of 52.6 per cent. Although Nepal’s life expectancy and expected years of schooling are relatively higher than the average score for South Asia, the country tends to lag behind in the mean years of education among the adult population and per capita income. Nepal’s life expectancy at birth is 70.5 years (69.7 years for south Asia) while the mean years of schooling is 4.9 years against 6.5 years for South Asia. As for gross national income (GNI) per capita, as per purchasing power parity, it stands at $2,748, trailing far behind the South Asian average of $6,794.  In fact, in terms of per capita income, Nepal is just ahead of Afghanistan ($1,746). Nepal’s 2018 HDI value is below the average of 0.634 for countries grouped in the medium human

development category and also below the average of 0.642 for countries in South Asia. Nepal literally lies on the edge of the medium human development group, and a major natural disaster, like the big earthquake witnessed in 2015, could push Nepal’s ranking really down.

The 2019 HDI has also explored inequalities in human development, not limiting itself to disparities in income and wealth, but going beyond income, beyond averages and beyond today. If Nepal’s HDI value of 0.579 is discounted for inequality in the distribution of the HDI dimension indices, then the value would come down to 0.430, a loss of 25.8 per cent. What inequalities in human development do is they give rise to frustration in society, destroying social cohesion and people’s trust in the government.

As the UNDP report notes, they make it harder for political decisions to reflect the aspirations of

the whole society and to protect our planet. The HDI report should be an eye opener for the government to introduce policies that will end inequalities in human development in the country instead of shaping decisions that serve the interest of a few. There are plenty of lessons to learn from Nepal’s neighbours on this score.

Compensate fairly

The government has not been able to set a principle of compensation for the land to be acquired for development projects. This is the reason why the local people often resort to bandhs demanding fair compensation for their land. This problem has once again surfaced in the proposed 1,200-MW Budhigandaki Hydel Project, being built in Dhading and Gorkha districts, because of the government’s unscientific approach in dealing with the locals when it comes to providing compensation for the land the project needs.

As the earlier compensation plan worked out by the local administration did not work, the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation and the locals have now reached a four-point deal in which the government will review the earlier compensation arrangement and make a master plan to relocate the project-affected people to the nearest areas. A national pride project, which helps give a boost to the national economy, should not make the locals poorer than they were after their relocation. A development project rather should help uplift the people’s condition of living. It is meaningless to build a project that displaces a large number of people from their ancestral areas with an uncertain future.