Finding ways to reach out to the millions of vulnerable children and their families is of outmost importance if Nepal's aspirations to become an advanced and progressive nation are to be fulfilled. Basic or guaranteed income provisions for the most vulnerable, starting from the children, should become a top priority
There is no doubt that in the last 10 years the living conditions of many vulnerable and historically deprived segments of the population improved. Up until the first COVID-19 outbreak, millions of citizens were lifted out of poverty as the country has been able to considerably reduce their level of economic vulnerability.
A recently published report confirms the trend of impressive gains that the country was able to make in reducing multidimensional poverty, which is measured based on deprivation across three major areas – health, education and living standards.
The positive results, as shown by the document entitled "Nepal: Multidimensional Poverty Index 2021", which was released by the National Planning Commission in partnership with the UNDP, UNICEF and the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative, proves that a combination of factors, including strong economic, targeted interventions by the state and increased remittances, can truly make the difference for millions of people.
The report highlights how till 2019 the country reduced multidimensional poverty from 30.1 to 17.4 percent over the timeframe of just five years. While gigantic steps were made, millions of citizens, however, still live in sheer poverty, deprived of their rights and lacking the same opportunities that the rest of the society is able to enjoy.
The report is crystal clear on this regard.
"By 2019, 22 percent of all children remained in poverty, which implies a strong and positive reduction of 14 percentage points. However, over one in five children is still poor, and children are still the poorest age group. In numbers, this means that 2.2 million children are poor – so roughly 44 percent of all poor people in Nepal are children, making this a vitally important group".
Estimating the effects of the pandemic on vulnerable children and other deprived segments of the population is still something that must be fully figured out, but it is granted that by now many more minors and adults alike face a dire future characterised by higher levels of precariousness and very challenging life circumstances.
Those 2.2 million children who were poor two years back have now much less chances at finding a pathway out of pervasive poverty, and, with them now, many others will have to endure hardships on a day-to-day basis. It is not difficult to imagine what all this implies: more child marriages, more girls being trafficking, and more kids working in restaurants and in the public transportation industry.
Is such a destiny for these kids inevitable?
The odds are not in their favour, considering also the grim news coming from UNICEF about the impact of climate change on children living in many developing nations now more inclined to climate disruptions, and Nepal is one of them. Yet it is worth asking, once again, if there is only one pre-arranged destiny for these children. Are there any ways to raise the odds for a different scenario, a scenario in which vulnerable kids will be supported to discover a more dignified future? What if the State at all the levels, from the federal to the local, could really come up with more effective social policies? What if the international community significantly stepped up innovative programmes that directly impact the lives of children at risk in Nepal and elsewhere? If you look at the Multidimensional Poverty Index, perhaps there are two areas in which the State truly played a responsible and effective role – education and child poverty, where we can confidently say that international aid, despite its numerous pitfalls, mistakes and possible waste of money, had an impact.
Just imagine if we could have an even more efficient government at the federal level, what if the local municipalities and the provincial executives and legislators could really leverage their presumed leadership, moral and technical, to do what is expected from them, bringing effective policies to enhance people's lives.
It is not just one programme that can make a difference but the whole government approach that could create the conditions for effective interventions.
We do not need the usual developmental plans, but we need a Poverty Reduction Master Plan, detailed policies with high social and economic impact.
For example, basic or guaranteed income provisions for the most vulnerable, starting from the children, should become a top priority. No doubt that it's something extremely complex and extremely costly to carry out. Yet the country has the statistics capability as proved by a paper, "Identification of poor households for targeting in Nepal" that was presented by Ram Hari Gaihre of the Central Bureau of Statistics for UN-ESCAP during the 2020 Asia–Pacific Statistics Week.
UNDP with its Accelerator Lab is coming up with interesting models to leverage digitalisation to identify vulnerable children, including those living with disabilities.
As per the resources, his is going to be an outstanding issue, but it is also outstanding the way money is wasted.
Certainly more "panoramic towers" will not help reduce the level of poverty in the short term, and I doubt it will do the job even in the long term. Billions of rupees have been spent in trying to identify poor households through special ID cards. There are numerous news reports about the dismal progress in rolling out such types of interventions that could have made a difference for millions of citizens during the lockdowns.
The fundamental consideration here to make is that finding ways to reach out to the millions of vulnerable children and their families is of outmost importance if Nepal's aspirations to become an advanced and progressive nation are to be fulfilled. The ID cards for poor households can still save millions of lives. Effective governance led by accountable leaders or, lacking them, direct donors' interventions with the help of notfor-profits have to advance. After all, first things first!
Galimberti is the co-founder of ENGAGE
A version of this article appears in the print on August 25 2021, of The Himalayan Times.