Lately, Nepal has been receiving international plaudit for its achievements in social development in a rather quick succession. The latest such honourable mention has been in regard to her achievement in Human Development Index (HDI) in which Nepal has been ranked as the third “fastest mover” after China and Oman of 135 countries studied for the UNDP’s 2010 Human Development Report. According to the report, between 1980 and 2010 Nepal’s HDI value rose from 0.210 to 0.428, a 104 percent jump. Life expectancy grew by 19 years between 1980 and 2010, mean years of schooling by almost three years, and expected years of schooling by close to five years. A child born today can expect to live 25 years longer than one born in 1970. Four in every five children attend school. The HDR 2010 attributed “Nepal’s impressive advancement in HDI” to the “remarkable progress in health and education”. The report, however, reminded too, “Nepal still has a long distance to cover.” It is still ranked at 138 with the HDI value of 0.428 which remains well below the South Asian average of 0.516. Besides, the 2010 HDR has also reported that based on the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) which is a composite of ten different indicators (instead of only the income and consumption data used by he National Planning Commission) Nepal’s poverty incidence stands at a whopping 65 percent. In November 2009, Nepal was conferred the prestigious Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation (GAVI) award in an international meeting in Vietnam that ranked her to be “only one of the seven developing countries on track to achieve MDG 4 (relating to child survival) and the only country that is ahead of schedule for meeting its target before 2015”. More recently, about three months ago, Nepal was given similar award in Washington for its achievements in reducing maternal mortality rate, recognising the country as one of the few countries in the world projected to meet the MDG in that field.
NPC’s reaction, cause for concern
The National Planning Commission, otherwise the national think tank and policy maker for national development, itself has reacted opportunistically in regard to the above reporting. The MPI reporting of 65 percent had first come to light in July 2010 when the NPC hastily told a press conference that Nepal’s poverty ratio is indeed only around 25 percent, rejecting, at least by implication, the UNDP/Oxford revelation at the time. However, when the 2010 HDR highlighted Nepal’s 104 percent jump in the HDI value between 1980 and 2010, the NPC vice chairman used the occasion not for a dispassionate scrutiny of such asymmetrical achievements i.e. remarkable performance in health and education, and very poor showing in poverty index. He instead used the event more to give vent to his political dogmatism as a Nepali Congress loyalist, claiming that restoration of democracy in 1990 and entry of multiple actors were key to this progress (“Nepal way ahead in HDI,” Nov. 5, Page 1).
While education has tended to spread steadily with every passing year due to a rise in awareness of parents and spread of modernist value system, improvements in health require effective access to preventive and remedial services. It is widely recognised that it has been the 48,000-plus strong legion of Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHV)—appointed by and accountable to their respective Mothers’ Groups (MG) in the communities—that have been at the core of this remarkable achievement in child survival and maternal mortality. And both the institutions of MG and FCHV were introduced in 1988 during the Panchayat days—and not after the restoration of democracy as the NPC vice chairman had erroneously suggested. Our poor showing in MPI remains more an evidence of the blatant failure of the political parties that have ruled the country for two full decades after 1990.
While the political parties have been rather indiscriminate and mundanely motivated in doling out favours to their loyalists and benefactors while in power, they have generally been more circumspect in the selection of NPC members. Therefore, most such members are generally the holders of PhD degree, which means that lack of skill in collection, collation and dispassionate analysis of relevant data on development problems has not been one of their shortcomings. The incumbent vice chairman in particular is endowed with an impeccable academic credential in this regard. Therefore, despite their politically motivated appointments, it is only to be expected that the NPC members would honestly use their professional capabilities to advance the cause of nation building and that each one of them would leave behind a legacy of reforms befitting their professional competencies. However, the unacceptably high level of MPI, which after all represents the composite of failures in many development fronts, clearly tells the nation that the NPC among others has after all let the nation down.
Replicating success stories
For accelerated across-the-board improvement in our HDI, the
priority need is to speedily and effectively replicate the lessons of our
successes to other sectors of national development. The MG and FCHV-led breakthroughs in child survival and maternal mortality rate, coupled with the forest user group-led achievements in community forestry (which
too derives from the Decentralisation Act of 1982 of the Panchayat days) have shown in unequivocal terms that when authority is devolved to the stakeholders themselves in the communities, developmental miracles happen. One such sector which could immensely benefit from NPC intervention is the microfinance sector that indeed has greatly benefited from the restoration of democracy in 1990.
Today, microfinance institutions, mainly the saving and credit groups and cooperatives, have demonstrated their potential for poverty reduction and have over the years proliferated all across the country. But the sector remains chaotic and its returns sub-optimal for the people. Therefore, NPC must stop being ceremonial in its behaviour and actively go after empowering people for their own development with the state backstopping them with policy, resources and technology supports.
(The author is an anthropologist and has served in the National Planning Commission)
bihari krishna shrestha
Posted on: 2010-11-18 07:36