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.
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.
The workload for women like Nanimaya Dhungana in Kavre district in Nepal (above) has likely increased because of the climate crisis. PHOTO: Kumar Acharya/ Nepali Times
This article was published in Nepali Times on Friday. I found the arguments difficult to follow, but I think the main point is that even when support appears to be available to assist women to adapt to challenges, like the impacts of climate change, they still lose some of their power as they are forced to adapt.
Given that programmes are being developed to assist those hardest-hit by climate change — mostly in low-income countries — that finding is important. Please read on!
Women in Asia and Africa hardest hit by climate change have a tough time adapting to the climate emergency, even with support from family or the state, finds a new study. The results raise questions for global agreements designed to help people adapt to the climate emergency, it adds.
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.
A child eating at a Mother’s Group meeting devoted to nutritious feeding, in Nepal’s Achham district in 2018. Photo: Marty Logan
A study finding that infants in Kathmandu are getting 25% of their calories from junk foods was a major talking point in Nepal last week.
Looking at the article in The Journal of Nutrition, it is also surprising that among the 700 or so kids studied, the group who ate the most junk food were shorter than the average, not fatter as might be expected.
Shorter than average is a description of stunting, a major marker of childhood malnutrition. Decades ago Nepal had extremely high rates of stunting, which is also an indicator of a country’s development, but managed to reduce it greatly. Still, the country is not on track to meet the 2030 target of the Sustainable Development Goals: 15% of children under 5 stunted.
Below is my article published today in Nepali Times, online.
As the ‘custodian’ of Mt Everest, the Nepal Government must make changes to how it manages the precious global resource. But far below, leaders are struggling to overcome other obstacles that block the country’s graduation from least-developing country status.
Earlier this month a National Geographic team set up the world’s highest weather station, very close to the peak of Mt Everest. Its purpose is to monitor the Central Asian Jet Stream, to see how winds and moisture move above 29,000 feet and affect the warming climate. In effect the multinational team has also opened a window to the land where glaciers are born.
With great potential for gleaning information about this much celebrated, increasingly exploited, but little known environment, the weather stations are a exciting advance. Yet you get the feeling that the die is already cast: like its neighbours in the Himalaya Hindu-Kush (HKH) range, Everest is melting.
2/3 of glaciers could melt by 2100
The worst-case scenario in a recent assessment predicts that two-thirds of glaciers in the HKH, which spans from Afghanistan to China, will melt by 2100. Earlier last week another team of scientists announced they found the internal temperatures of the Khumbu glacier on Everest to be higher than expected, just -3.3C. They predicted accelerated melting in the short term, followed by flooding, droughts and unstable, dangerous conditions for climbers.
This climate peril illustrates the double-barrel challenge facing countries like Nepal: they must provide the basics expected from an increasingly wealthy, globally-savvy population — such as infrastructure, health and education — and at the same time confront global threats like the climate crisis and deadly non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that bedevil rich and poor countries alike. Continue reading →
Officials from Arun Rural Municipality in Nepal’s Bhojpur district give a rooster to a new mother on 29 March 2019. The programme to support new mothers started in January. Photo: The Himalayan Times
Time for me to walk my talk.
Following up on my last post about not dwelling on the negative in Nepal, I’m highlighting a very small but positive development. Municipal officials in Bhojpur district in the country’s east started a programme in January to visit new mothers.
Bayalpata Hospital Community Health Worker Bhajan Kunwar checks the blood pressure of Namsara Tamrakar at her home in Chandika village, Achham district, Nepal, Feb. 2018.
Below is the article I wrote for Nepali Times after visiting Bayalpata Hospital in Nepal’s Achham district. Achham is often described as “remote” but we drove there easily in 9 hours from a main city, paved roads all the way, and jolted by fewer potholes than you’ll suffer driving in Kathmandu.