TOPICS: Poverty alleviation should be the main agenda

Current writings and conversations on Nepal focus on political issues. At this time of political uncertainty and fluidity, this is no surprise. Meanwhile, United Nations 2006 Human Development Index ranks Nepal 138 among 177 countries, just ahead of a number of sub-Saharan countries. Indices like this give an overall picture. What real poverty means is better manifested at a more human level.

Sixty per cent of rural households cannot produce enough food to meet their basic needs, a striking figure given that over 85% of Nepali population live in rural areas. Furthermore, 39 of the 75 districts are food deficient.

Our health indicators are dismal as well. Half of Nepali children under the age of 5 are stunted, and 10% are acutely malnourished. For every 100,000 live births, 740 women die at child birth or within 42 days of giving birth.

Only 27% of rural households have access to a latrine. While industrialised countries are now having to deal with a fast-aging population, an average Nepali can expect to live only for 62 years. Only 48.6% of Nepali adults can read and write.

To add to the above woes, the country is witnessing a massive outflow of human capital. To sum up, a majority of Nepalis go hungry every day, have no access to adequate health services and are illiterate. Nepal also cannot provide gainful employment to all its people. So what does the April 2006 revolution offer to improve this dismal scenario? The last year and a half has seen political horse trading, violence and deaths and a government which leaves much to be desired on the law and order front.

Are any of our politicians thinking about a typical Nepali? The one who lives in a village tilling his small patch of land, barely growing enough to feed himself. The one who has to walk 10 miles to the nearest health centre, and has perhaps lost his first wife during delivery. The one who can only read Nepali alphabet and write his name with great difficulty. The one whose two elder sons have gone south of the border to serve in the Gurkha regiments. The one who has been threatened and intimidated by political militia. Political shenanigans in Kathmandu do not interest him one bit. He wants enough to eat, basic health services, a proper school for his young son and daughter. Political parties must be evaluated on what, if anything, they are doing to decrease poverty. Political rhetoric aside, is any party thinking seriously about poverty and including concrete steps to ameliorate it?

Far from the glitz and glamour of Kathmandu, the majority of Nepalis continue to grind under the yoke of poverty and deprivation. It is the collective responsibility of all of “us” not to let this state of affairs continue any longer. The “us” here is not just our political leaders and party cadres, or the elites of society, but also ordinary informed citizens. Ask not for whom the bell tolls — it tolls for thee!