Nepal's ambitious development agenda requires peace and stability

Friday, 5 December 2003: Emphasizing that development can occur only with an end to current political violence, Nepal has adopted a 15-year plan to spur economy, reduce poverty, put every child in school and improve healthcare.

The National Planning Commission recently launched the Sustainable Development Agenda on improving lives and livelihoods of a third of Nepalis living in severe poverty, noting some gains in recent decades. Only 43 per cent of adults are literate, for example, but that is up from 30 per cent in 1990, and nearly three out of four children are in primary school.

Only 5 per cent of rural people have access to electricity, yet the great rivers flowing from the Himalayas represent one of the world's greatest potential sources of hydropower, with only 1 per cent tapped so far. Investment here can literally light up lives and power export can earn foreign exchange.

Life expectancy is 62 years, compared to 43 years in the early 1970s, but fewer than four in 10 children under five are fully immunized against killers such as tetanus, measles and polio. Women's health is a major concern, with trained health staff attending to only 13 per cent of births. Three in four women suffer from iron anemia.

The commission prepared the agenda in cooperation with the Ministry of Population and Environment, UNDP, the World Wildlife Federation, the World Conservation Union, the Earth Council, the British Embassy and an independent team of experts.

It calls for expanding opportunities for all citizens while conserving the environment, pointing the way towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and fulfilling commitments made at last year's World Summit on Sustainable Development. The price tag through 2017 is US$50 billion.

Standing in the way, however, is the lack of political stability. Since the breakdown of peace talks in August, insurgents have escalated attacks, and the Government faces a political crisis, with parties called for the monarchy to reinstate Parliament, dissolved last year.

Dr. Shankar Sharma, the commission vice chairman, said: "The present conflict will have some negative effects on the agenda, but the country can still catch up and achieve those goals once the problems are solved. However, concerted efforts from all sectors, government, donor agencies, and other partners will be imperative to achieve the desired results."

He also noted that support from developed countries, called for by Goal 8 of the MDGs, is vital.

UNDP Resident Representative Matthew Kahane said the plan puts an equal emphasis on economic growth, expanding social services, conserving ecosystems and biodiversity, and developing infrastructure. "It also gives prominence to peace and security, which are essential for achieving the agenda," he noted.

UNDP Nepal's Capacity 21 programme helped lay the foundations for the agenda over the past seven years, alerting local governments and community organizations about the risks of environmental degradation and the benefits of conservation.

It has focused on the poorest of the poor in Humla, Dang, Kailali, Surkhet and Myagdi districts in the Midwest and far west, and on Okhaldhunga district in the east, working with communities to integrate environmental, social and economic dimensions of development.

Another UNDP initiative promotes rural-urban partnerships to help artisans and other local producers in poor areas start businesses and sell their products, working in 12 municipalities and 28 rural market centres.