The remittances that migrant labourers send back to their countries contribute massively to those economies, but the impact on poverty reduction is much more complex, as a new book by Ramesh Sunam details
As you might expect, the remittance village is punctuated by smooth, concrete houses rising among their weary-looking brick, mud and bamboo neighbours, a settlement where shiny motorcycles whine back and forth.
But in the remittance village you will also find residents who cannot even afford the price of a flight ticket to join the growing queue of fellow villagers trooping overseas to earn. It is also a place where going to work abroad actually drives some households into poverty instead of lifting them out of it.
Experiences from other Asian countries show that people who have gone abroad to work can be reintegrated into the economies of their home countries but it’s a complex process that requires government leadership.
Researching this article for The New Humanitarian it became clearer than ever that the status of maternal health in Nepal is cloudy at the best of times since accurate data is unavailable. In the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s really a guess: everyone assumes it’s getting worse but no one is sure. The local office of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) was supposed to start an assessment with the Government of Nepal late in June but it has yet to begin. Read on:
As home births rise in Nepal, so do fears for maternal health
Home births are rising in Nepal as fewer pregnant women visit hospitals, fuelling fears that the coronavirus pandemic could reverse years of progress on maternal health in the South Asian nation.
The government says less than half of pregnancies are now taking place in health facilities, compared with about 70 percent before coronavirus lockdowns began in March. A separate survey of health facilities across Nepal, conducted by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in April, found that visits by pregnant women had dropped as much as 50 percent.
In June, Nirmala Joshi, 24, walked two hours to her nearest hospital in Baitadi, a mountainous district in Nepal’s remote far west, for her first prenatal check-up.
My new podcast, Nepal Now, is up and running. Please take a listen (above), on the website or in your podcast player.
So far (after a dozen episodes) we’ve featured Mithila painting with a gender perspective, the key role that local communities play in responding to Nepal’s emergencies, an interview with director Deepak Rauniyar (White Sun, Highway), women in the age of Covid-19 an Indigenous perspective on tackling climate change, and more.
A shorter version of this article was published in the Nepali Times, but this one includes the role of the media, a point I had to cut from the published version because it was too long. Please let me know if you agree.
COVID-19 is laying waste to international cooperation as well as health systems. Countries have retreated into themselves, barring makers of medical equipment from exporting goods and in some cases hijacking shipments en route to other countries. The Trump administration has exited the World Health Organization (WHO) and is leading an attack on the organisation’s credibility. Internationalism is on its deathbed.
Or is it?
It’s a conclusion you can easily draw from media reports, which thrive on drama and conflict. “During this global pandemic there’s been precious little sign of intergovernmental collaboration and collective leadership. Instead the worldwide response has been characterized by national self-interest, mutual suspicion and recrimination,” intoned Stephen Sackur, host of BBC’s HardTalk, while interviewing former UK Foreign Minister David Miliband recently.
When will a Nepali leader apologise for the 1,200-plus women who die giving birth yearly?
The headline of this story refers to Nepal Prime Minister KP Oli, who a couple of weeks ago admitted in Parliament that his government had failed to prevent COVID-19 deaths. (As I write this Nepal has four COVID deaths). When the article was published on the Nepali Times website the headline was changed, removing that point. Regardless, too many women, and other Nepalis, continue dying because of the broken health system.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Nepal’s first COVID-19 death was that of a new mother. It was startling to learn that Prime Minister Oli admitted in Parliament on Tuesday that Nepal’s two coronavirus deaths to date represent a failure of his government. This raises the question: when will a leader apologise for the more than 1,200 women who die every year giving birth? Continue reading →
In this article I tried to stress how complex it is for Nepal to tackle malnutrition because its causes are tightly linked to other factors such as education status and poverty. Despite great progress in the past couple of decades it looks unlikely that the government will meet the global malnutrition targets for 2025.
‘Young children suffering from undernutrition have poorer school achievement, diminished cognitive and language ability, and more behavioural problems… Adults who were malnourished in childhood have less economic productivity and increased incidence of health problems.’
Malnutrition has long been identified as a major barrier to development in Nepal, and other low-income countries. The solution seems obvious: ensure that children eat enough of a balanced diet so they get the needed proteins, vitamins and minerals.
Two recent projects set out to do just that. The first provided animal source foods (meat, fish, eggs and dairy), vegetables and a diverse diet to children in low-income farming households in Nepal’s Banke district, the second helped women in Bajura to grow vegetables in kitchen gardens. Both succeeded, but would have done even better if the target families didn’t face so many other obstacles to success. Continue reading →
If the current trend doesn’t change it will take the poorest Nepali families 50 years longer than the wealthiest ones to reach the target for the number of newborn deaths per capita. As the Covid-19 pandemic is leading to discussion about what kind of societies we want to live in, Nepal’s growing inequality should also be on the table. Read my latest article for Nepali Times.
The overall trend in neo-natal deaths is positive, but the poorest families will lag behind further as inequality grows
According to a recent journal article, it will be 2067 before newborn deaths among the poorest Nepalis have fallen enough to reach the global target set for 2030. That target, of 12 or fewer deaths per 1,000 live births, was attained by the wealthiest in Nepal four years ago, but the impact of COVID-19 may increase inequality and make it even more difficult for the country to reduce infant mortality.
If the pandemic shutdown is an opportunity to reimagine our societies, what should Nepal make of the widening gap in newborn deaths? Yes, overall trends are improving — both maternal and newborn health have made major gains in recent decades — but the poorest families are still lagging behind.
Police use a water cannon to push back protesters on the streets of Kathmandu. Photo: Nepali Times
The jury is still out on federalism in Nepal, which was put in place in 2017, after elections to three levels of government – local, provincial and federal. But there is no doubting that local people are getting more vocal about their frustrations at the slow pace of road building and other infrastructure works. I wrote the following in this week’s Nepali Times:
Think locally, act locally
In May, residents and traders burned tyres to block the Chabahil-Jorpati road, signalling their frustration at long-delayed construction on the dusty, crater-filled stretch. They succeeded in sparking action, but after upgrading work stalled, protests erupted again last week in a bid to force the contractor to finish the job.
The road blocking trend morphed into poster protests, where the faces of delinquent road contractors were plastered to poles and vehicles. This included Nagarkot, where contractor Sharada Prasad Adhikari, also the landlord of Nepal Communist Party Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, was targeted. The tactic spread further, with Mayor Bhim Parajuli of Biratnagar being publicly shamed last week.
Residents attempting to stop road-building in Baitadi in October were turned on by an excavator operator, whose shocking attack with the machine injured eight people. Attempted murder charges are pending.
In Udaypur last week, locals clashed with police after seizing more than a dozen dump trucks and an excavator that were being used to gouge sand and rocks out of a local river.
Residents of Charikot of Dolakha District took to the streets last week to protest the lack of progress in repairing the Jiri Highway. They blocked the main intersection to vehicular traffic for hours.
Bhutanese politician Tshering Togbay holds up a copy of the ICIMOD assessment that predicts 2/3 of glaciers in the Hindu-Kush mountains will melt by 2100 if current global warming continues.
This short TED talk is a short, clear description of why everyone in the world should care that Mt Everest and its neighbours are melting.
Hint: the Hindu-Kush mountains are also known as the 3rd Pole, and the water that flows from them nourishes the lives of more than 2 billion people in Asia.
Tshering Togbay, a politician from Bhutan, presents a scary scenario here but as he makes clear, inaction is not an option.
His suggestion is to create a new body of all the governments in the Hindu-Kush, with particularly active involvement from giants – and major greenhouse gas producers – China and India. It’s easy to dismiss yet another government ‘talk shop’ but if the leaders of countries at risk won’t take action, who will?