Nepal’s Surprising Development Progress

Despite a legacy of poor governance, Nepal has made remarkable progress in human development, according to a UN report. The report is the final interim review of progress towards the Millennium Development Goals for 2015.

In 2000 world leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration that committed their countries to faster progress on reducing poverty and increasing development. They created a series of targets grouped in eight categories and set a fifteen-year deadline.

Two years from that target, Nepal looks likely to meet substantial portions of five of the eight goals, but much more remains to be done. Here is a summary of where the country stands:

Goal 1 – Poverty and Hunger

Nepal has reduced the number of people below the national poverty line to less than 24 percent, close to the 21 percent target for 2015. The targets for calorie consumption and underweight children also appear to be in reach, but the target for reducing stunted growth in children under five years old to below 30 percent will probably not be achieved.

Goal 2 – Education

The country is likely to meet the target of 100 percent of students enrolled in primary school, but probably will fall short of keeping all of those students in school through grade five. Nepal will get close to the 100 percent literacy target for men age 15-24, but there remains a large gender gap: Female literacy is 17 percent lower than for males.

Goal 3 – Gender Parity of Opportunity

Nepalis Worshipping at Khumbeshwor temple on Janai Purnima
Nepalis Worshipping at Khumbeshwor temple on Janai Purnima

Nepal has already reached gender equality for primary school students and is very close at the secondary level. But a large gender gap remains in post-secondary education – only 6.3 women are enrolled for every 10 men. And as noted above, there is a large literacy gap too. Families that cannot afford to educate all their children or who need additional laborers at home still opt to remove girls from school far more often than they choose to remove boys.

Goal 4 – Health and Immunization

The country has done so well on infant mortality and under-five mortality that the targets were increased in 2010. Even so, Nepal may meet the new goals. And it seems very likely that the over-90 percent target for childhood immunizations will also be achieved by 2015.

Goal 5 – Maternal health

The country has made remarkable progress on reducing maternal mortality – the rate today is less than half of the 2000 figure, and if the progress can be maintained Nepal will meet the 2015 goal. The number of births attended by a doctor or midwife has tripled in the last ten years to 36 percent, but that is far short of the 60 percent target.

Goal 6 – Infectious Diseases

HIV prevalence has already reached the target for 2015, and the incidence of malaria will meet the goal or be very close by the target date. Tuberculosis incidence and the death rate associated with it are both close to target levels. The most serious concern in this area is that awareness of HIV and AIDS among young people declined slightly since the previous interim report.

Goal 7 – Environment and Sanitation

Nepal has met its targets for energy use per capita and for returning land to forest cover (40 percent) after serious deforestation in the 1960s and 1970s. And the country too has managed to provide improved drinking water to over 80 percent of the population, exceeding the target for 2015. But fewer than 50 percent of Nepalis have access to modern toilet facilities, and it seems unlikely that that target can be achieved within two years.

Goal 8 – Global Partnerships

The final MDG target is less clearly defined. Goal eight calls for international assistance to developing countries: Aid to Nepal has doubled since 2000, and has shifted from nearly all grants to a substantial portion of loans as the country’s capacity to repay has grown. But the aid is unevenly distributed geographically and across sectors of the economy. In response Nepal has developed an integrated online portal for donor countries to use to see where others are giving aid and what projects and regions are underfunded.

The country’s progress is all the more impressive considering the structural barriers in Nepal. More than half of the population lives a day’s walk or more from the nearest road, and the mountains make transportation difficult even where there are roads. The country ended a decade-long internal conflict in 2006, and has suffered from a chaotic and ineffective political process since then. Local elections have not been held since 1996, and the national assembly that was elected in 2008 has been defunct for more than a year. (New elections are scheduled for November 2013.)

Considering these impediments, Nepalis can be proud of the progress made so far, but they must also hold the next government accountable to continue and accelerate the process.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.