Can a developing country ‘build back better’?

Researcher Sijal Pokhrel.

Globally there are signs that some countries are taking policy decisions that will advance sustainable development post-Covid-19, including the United States under the new Biden administration, but as a non-expert I feel pretty confident to say the evidence is inconclusive that the world will be on a greener path.

So given how hard it seems to be for rich countries to turn that corner, it seems unlikely that a ‘developing’ country like Nepal could make it happen. Although it was progressing before the pandemic, the challenges were enormous and included climate change (evidenced by melting glaciers) high unemployment that was sending more and more young people abroad to find work, and stalled progress in terms of mother and child health after decades of impressive results.

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Kids ‘as strong as Mount Everest’ and the private sector

A child eats a healthy meal preparing at a meeting of a Mothers Group in Achham District, Nepal, 2018. © Marty Logan

Just over a year ago President Bidya Bhandari of Nepal launched a new group, Baliyo (strong or mighty) Nepal, created to tackle the persistent malnutrition in the country that stubbornly refuses to be beaten.

Almost immediately a backlash hit. Local media reported that the group was a creation of the Chaudhary Group, one of whose companies makes Wai Wai instant noodles, a type of junk food that can be found in virtually every village of the country. One paper quoted a Chaudhary official saying that Baliyo Nepal would ‘improve’ Wai Wai to feed it to malnourished kids.

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Dalit lives matter — but to who?

A screenshot of a clip from the Nepal Now podcast episode about Dalit rights in Nepal.

Anyone who lives in Nepal knows about caste and untouchability — the social rules that slot people into rigid groups from which they can rarely escape. At the bottom of the caste hierarchy are the Dalits, previously known as untouchables.

Anyone living in Nepal would also be aware of the deadly, violent crimes committed against Dalits, almost always with no legal consequences. But as you will hear in the introduction to this episode of Nepal Now, the incident reports from the Nepal Monitor provide a sense of the daily indignities and violence that Dalit people face in this country.

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