Statement delivered by UNDP Resident Representative Mr. Robert Piper during the launch of the Nepal Human Development Report 2009

17 Aug 2009

Statement delivered by UNDP Resident Representative Mr. Robert Piper during the launch of the Nepal Human Development Report 2009
August 17, 2009

Robert Piper, UNDP Resident Representative

Good morning.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement is an extraordinary document. When I read the CPA I read a Nepali analysis about the underlying causes of the conflict. It is so much more than a transitional framework through which hostilities might be ended. The CPA is a fundamental statement about equity, about inclusion, about rights, about good governance, about justice. A Nepali vision of the kind of Nepal that can deliver peace and prosperity on a sustained basis.

Successive National Human Development Reports have echoed the CPA's causal analysis and as such should be useful in helping measure tangible progress towards this vision, amongst the intangibility of the political negotiations around transition. National Reports allow us to get behind national numbers to assess whether development is delivering results and delivering them equitably. On results we can point to important achievements over the last 15 years since national reports began, not least a significant drop at the national level in poverty rates and improvements across a raft of indicators such as life expectancy, literacy and mother and child mortality. We need to worry about the fragility of these gains given the weak contribution of economic growth in this equation but the numbers going into this decade are impressive. On equity, the picture is much much less positive. As with each of our previous NHDRs the picture of Nepal's development is one of profound unevenness and inequity. National gains in poverty reduction have to various degrees favoured urban rather than rural communities, particular communities and castes over others, men over women, East and Centre over Far West and so on. The patterns are unmistakable and irrefutable. And while all 'boats' have been lifted to some degree over the last two decades, the gap itself is actually widening. National progress on poverty reduction in the decade to the mid 2000's, for example, translated into an almost 50% decrease in the incidence of poverty in the Brahmin and Chhetri community but only a meager 6% decrease amongst the Muslim community.

To promote Human Development is not to promote a utopian and potentially dangerous vision of society where all members of society must be 'equalized'. Rather, a Human Development approach insists that everyone has the right to an equal opportunity - to participate, to be heard, to benefit from gains development can offer, to pursue their talents and aspirations. Some will do better than others with the choices development offers. But the point is to offer everyone an equal chance at the get-go. In Nepal the so-called 'playing field' is hardly a flat one when being born into the Dalit community in this country condemns you in all probability to 12 years less of life as compared to the national average. In the past at least, basic indicators of life expectancy, literacy and income prospects for individual families have been depressingly easy to predict.

This message is hardly a new one. It has been recounted by previous National HDRs, by some excellent reports by other organizations, local and foreign. It can be found, not incidentally, in successive Government plans and budgets. And, as I began with, it is embedded in the terms of the Peace Agreement. But it is worth repeating and it is important to do so unambiguously: If Nepal's transition is about changing these profound patterns of exclusion and inequity, then the transition has barely started.

Surely this is the 'logical conclusion' of the peace process that everyone keeps talking about' Not army integration, not power sharing arrangements, not high level committees nor 24 point agreements. Not even a new Constitution. Critical though all these elements may be, the logical conclusion of the peace process must be that a Dalit born today, has every opportunity of living the same length of time as anyone else in Nepal. That the development potential of a child born in Nepal is not overwhelmingly a fluke of birth ' of caste, of gender, of ethnicity, of region. This is the road to irreversible peace.

No one doubts that the path of transition ahead is extraordinarily complex. Reversing Nepal's patterns of inequity and marginalization built over centuries is arguably the most ambitious transformation agenda in front of any society in the world today. Nepal has been at the threshold of profound social and political change before. This reminds us that a human development outcome to today's transition is far from a foregone conclusion. Indeed, the road ahead is littered with choices.

This year's particular theme therefore ' state transformation and human development ' has deliberately focused on some of the key choices ahead. Choices about justice. Choices about confronting the past and how history will be written. Choices about different electoral systems, about political party regulation. Choices about service delivery and accountability systems. Choices about checks and balances on power and the use of force. Fundamental choices about the way in which the constitution is negotiated. The report argues that these kinds of choices on the road to peace will have everything to do with whether the final destination delivers a human development outcome to the peace. It does not ' cannot ' offer any easy answers, but if does flag some of the key considerations that will have long-term consequences for inclusion, representation and equity.

A significant proportion of the report is dedicated to a treatment of federalism and exploring the potential of such a state re-structuring to deliver a more inclusive political system. It is largely positive in its analysis but also sober in recognizing its limitations and the inherent dangers in a federalism built around the 'disaggregation' of a previously unitary state. And one founded on ethnic rather than territorial definition. The report reminds us that 'the roots of the political and social problems that have caused such suffering ' lie not so much in ethnic differences as in pervasive injustice, massive discrimination and exclusion and the failure of the state to develop constructively the notion and institutions of a common political community'.

A long line of people have participated in this process since its inception in 2007. Far too many for me to name here. But I will be forgiven by these many contributors, I hope, if I acknowledge, in particular, Bishwa Tiwari, the lead author, who has carried this process from the beginning to the end. And if I recognize the core team of writers, in particular Yash Ghai, Lok Raj Baral and Sarah Levit-Shore who came through with the final product, building on a succession of superb contributions from a team of Nepali experts. Finally, our thanks go to successive NPC Vice-Chairs and Commissioners, not least the current Vice-Chair who was a UNDP peer reviewer for the report in a previous incarnation as an expert at UNDP's regional centre in Colombo.

Thank you for your presence today.