NEPAL IN A CAPSULE
Nepal is a small Kingdom in the Himalayas wedged between
two major Asian powers - India and China. The country has become a favorite destination
for mountaineers and mountain trekkers, and justly so - among the ten world's highest
mountains, eight are located within the boundaries of Nepal including Mt. Everest. Nepal
also offers spectacular mountain scenery.
However, virtually all visitors to Nepal see only the small
part of the country that derives considerable economic benefits from tourism. One only
needs to step behind the backdrop of the beautiful mountain scenery into the remote
regions of Nepal that the casual visitors never see, to learn that the majority of Nepal's
population lives in abject poverty. In spite of substantial external development
assistance, Nepal remains one of the ten least developed countries.
Nepal's backwardness can be attributed to many factors.
Prior to the Chinese takeover of Tibet, Nepal was completely isolated from all external
influences by the then rulers of the country. Other factors are the country's topography -
85% of Nepal's territory are mountains, the absence of roads (Nepal has only 1,565
miles/2,900km of poorly paved roads), travel throughout most of the country is possible
only on foot and transportation by manpower, and a very large population (20 million) in a
relatively small country (comparable in size to the state of Florida). The population
density is 365 people per square mile.
Administratively, Nepal is divided into seventy five
districts and each district into approximately ninety Village Development Committees
(VDCs). The dark spot in the centre of the map is Kabhre Palanchok district, NSP's target
region for development assistance. More than 90% of Nepal's population lives in rural
areas and is engaged in agriculture, although only 17% of Nepal's territory is under
cultivation. The majority of rural population are subsistence or below subsistence
farmers. About one half of the population lives below the poverty level, which in Nepalese
terms is defined as an expenditure for a minimum daily calorie requirement.
Any official statistics on the status of progress in Nepal
must be taken with caution. In 1970, the life expectancy was only 29 years, in 1993 it was
quoted as 51. The main contributing factor to the high mortality rate is the lack of
emergency medical facilities particularly in rural regions of the country. The lack of
medical facilities must also be blamed for the very high infant mortality - 112 per 1,000
Although the official literacy ratio is being quoted as
26%, any observer visiting remote regions of Nepal will find that the majority of adult
and teenage population is illiterate. This can again be attributed to the lack of schools
in rural areas and the distances involved to reach those that existed. Twenty years ago,
primary level education was only up to grade 3, but has since been upgraded to grade 5.
However, the quality of education in remote regions is quite poor. It is doubtful that any
child in a remote rural region of Nepal now passing grade five will be able to read a book
or newspaper or be able to write a letter.
What impresses the majority of visitors to Nepal most are
the Nepalese people. It would be impossible to meet friendlier and more charming people in
any other country. Nepal is a country where a visitor can feel completely safe. This also
reflected in the virtual absence of crime. The crime rate in Nepal is less than one
percent per 100,000 population, which is probably the lowest anywhere in the world.
Following the overthrow of the Rana regime in 1951,
parliamentary democracy was established in Nepal, but ten years later, the present King's
father abolished the parliamentary democracy, established a partyless Panchayat system of
government and became an absolute monarch. Throughout the subsequent twenty nine years,
the political forces within the country continued to be active. The resistance to absolute
monarchy culminated in 1990 with the movement for the restoration of democracy. In April
of that year, the King relented and allowed the restoration of a democratic system of
government under constitutional monarchy.
Although since the restoration of democracy the political climate in Nepal has been anything but calm, some credit must be given to the governments that were in power since 1990 for their efforts to improve the quality of life within the rural regions of the country. We have observed more positive actions taken during the nine years since the restoration of democracy to benefit the rural population than at any time during the preceding fifteen years of our presence in Nepal. Many more new schools were established in rural areas, and progress is also being made in the health sector with the government's objective to establish one sub-health post in all VDCs throughout the country. However, in spite of all the government's efforts, due to Nepal's still primitive economic status taken as a whole, the country shall continue to be dependent on external development assistance.
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