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Issues of the Day I Remember Nepal

I have felt a mix of deep sadness and distress while following the news coverage of the great tragedy that has been playing out in Nepal since a devastating earthquake and aftershocks struck that south Asian country on April 25th.  


            I worked in Nepal as part of an Israeli international cooperation project during the winter of 1986-87.  I was a member of a team of planners training post-graduate students from throughout Africa, Asia and the Caribbean in regional development. The experience was a most humbling and formative one for me.


Poverty in a Rich Land

           Although I had encountered poverty before, never had I seen a society so deprived and massively disabled. It was all the more graphic given the rich natural resources and splendorous vistas that country possesses. The rich cultural traditions of the one hundred ethnicities that inhabit that land are eclipsed by the weight of human misery that the people of Nepal suffer today.


            What I saw that winter stood in stark contrast to what most visitors to Nepal encounter on their organized treks, mountain climbing expeditions and tourist destination. Many  visitors probably come away from Nepal unaware that behind the English-speaking shopkeepers, courteous and knowledgeable guides and service providers, Nepal is caught in a between its past and modernity. Never fully under British control (as was India, its immense neighbor to the south), Nepal was saved the exploitation, but also the benefits, of that form of rule.


Stuck in History

        The country became sovereign in 1923 and was ruled by traditional elites, the ranas until it became a monarchy in 1955. In 2007-08, following decades of civil unrest, Nepal became a republic.  Since then its parliament, cabinet and government have been dissolved or otherwise rendered dysfunctional due to a Maoist insurgency, states of emergency, a regional insurrection in the south, and inter-party conflict. With that kind of political instability, focused efforts at development cannot be sustained.


Nepal's deep-seated socioeconomic problems include illiteracy, the absence of accessible healthcare, inadequate sanitation facilities, the scarcity of clean drinking water, regional disparities, sputtering industry, and unreliable infrastructure.

It is a poor society in a landlocked country rich in natural resources such as forests and biodiversity, although the low trade value of these resources (relative, for example, to petroleum and mineral resources) has left it uncompetitive in the arena of modern international trade. Nepalese workers labor elsewhere in Asia and the Middle East and provide a much-needed source of foreign earnings. This is a double-edged sword as it also significantly weakens the country's social fabric.


Globalization Leaves Nepal Vulnerable

 Nepal is especially vulnerable to globalization. Wedged between two Asian giants, China and India, Nepal's week manufacturing sector and its primary agrarian society makes it short of the cash needed to buy technology and consumer goods now considered staples in the global age.

The tourist industry is an important source of national income, although the social and environmental effects of this economic branch has left its mark on the country. These, and other environmental stresses on Nepal has caused concern regarding the country's inter-generational wellbeing.


If it wasn't for the irresistible centripetal forces of the global economy to which all countries are subject today and which particularly disadvantages Nepal, with its resource abundance and water resources Nepal could surely feed and pull itself out of poverty. More than seventy percent of its population lives in rural areas.


Agrarian reform coupled with appropriate technologies applied in a labor-intensive framework is likely to be the best track Nepal can take to fulfill the needs of its people. Only then will it have the ability to acquire the infrastructure, building, transportation and energy that could lead it to better survive the vagaries of natural disasters such as the devastating earthquake it suffered barely a week ago.

I Remember Nepal

I remember Nepal, the hundreds of women and children gathered in gullies and breaking stones against stones to make gravel. I remember Nepal with the incessant odor of wood burning for fuel, cooking and heating. I remember Nepal with barefoot peasants gathering scraps of timber wood and carrying it on their back for kilometers. I remember the throngs of homeless children shivering in tatters in the wintry cold begging for handouts at the entrance of Kathmandu guesthouses famous around the world.

I remember the ubiquitous symbol's of Nepal's proud traditions: The prayer wheels, Thanka paintings, shrines to Hindu deities, and stupas. I remember visiting Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha who bestowed upon humanity one if its most important heritages.


I remember Nepal, and as long as its people and those of other vulnerable countries like it that encompass hundreds of millions of people, lack the basic necessities for a decent and sustainable standard of living, the world as a whole will never be truly developed.  

© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved