Urban poverty

Nepal is a country of villages as more than 90 per cent of the population live there. It has some 4,000 village development committees covering many more hamlets as against the 58 municipalities, some of which look more like relatively developed villages. Many of the villages are remote and most of them lack some of the most basic services like health and education. The government’s poverty reduction strategy is therefore focused on the rural areas. Naturally

when we talk of development of the country, we first mean pulling up the absolute poor, officially accounting for about two-fifths of the population, from below the poverty line. But another reality, though on a much smaller scale, is becoming increasingly evident in the form of poverty in the urban areas, including the Kathmandu Valley. Conflict alone may not have played an important part in this.

This is not surprising. Since long before the Maoist ‘people’s war,’ rural people have been migrating to urban areas, most conspicuously to the Kathmandu Valley, in search of employment, better opportunities, and of late, security. No doubt, the conflict has made the situation worse. The rapid rise in the urban population has resulted in heavy pressures on the urban resources and services. Things are not easy in the towns, too, as competition for the limited resources has greatly increased. An indication of the burgeoning population in the valley is provided by the ever-increasing land prices, despite the fact that its economic activity has slowed down considerably— for example, its once vibrant garment, carpet and tourist industries have lost much of their vigour. According to the data of the Central Bureau of Statistics, over the past decade (1991-2001) the country’s urban population has grown from 1.1 million to 3.3 million, a three-fold increase.

But there has been no programme of action to fight urban poverty. From the sociological point of view, urban poverty becomes more threatening than rural poverty in terms of crime rate and other tensions. Politically, too, it is likely to be far more explosive. Things might be tougher in the towns in the days ahead as a result of the country’s acceptance of liberalisation and globalisation. Though the problem of urban poverty is less striking than that of general poverty, it needs proper attention. The continued shift of the population from rural to urban areas has been due to decades of neglect of the need for balanced development by successive governments. Balanced development and decentralisation have been concepts to be preached rather than practised by those in power. If the people had improved facilities in their villages too, things would not have assumed such alarming proportions.