Nepal Is Not on “The Brink of Collapse”

This morning my mom sent me an article that I’ve also seen circling around facebook called “Nepal, on the Brink of Collapse.” I read it and was immediately put off by its suggestion of impending crisis and doom. The title says it all.

Although the authors describe the political situation in detail and I agree with their calls for less bribery and corruption, I take issue with some of their claims and suggestions…

When describing Nepal, people often mention its poverty, as did this article. The article notes, “with a per-capita gross domestic product of $490, Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world; unemployment is at 45 percent.” What do they mean when they say that unemployment is at 45 percent? That part needs to be clarified. Are they including subsistence farmers who don’t necessarily earn a monetary income? This mention of poverty isn’t central to the article, but I think it’s important to quickly note the problem with its suggestion that less commercial activity, spending and buying means a loss. I wrote about this a bit in this article about poverty and wealth in Nepal.

Yes, Nepal is poor by world standards and there are many people who don’t have adaquate shelter, food, or clothing. But a standard of poverty set by the West is not necessarily the right one because Western countries often measures levels of poverty based on income and gross domestic product. This what I wrote in another post about poverty in Nepal:

According to The World Bank, Nepal is the poorest country in South Asia… between 30 and 40 percent of people in Nepal live below the international poverty line, which means they live on less than $1.25 a day. The problem with this definition of poverty is that…it ignores the fact that quality of life does not necessarily go down with decreased income. A lot of the people that would fall under the poverty line in Nepal are subsistence farmers who grow what they eat and don’t need much money to survive on or even live well. For about a month two years ago, I stayed with a Sherpa farming family a rural area of Nepal that practiced subsistence farming…they had a very small income. I’m not sure if they would fall under the international poverty line, but they were quite poor by Western standards…But were these people really poor? When I think of poverty, I think of destitution and squalid conditions, but this family was definitely not living in that type of situation. They had a comfortable house, they owned land and always had enough to eat.

More money doesn’t necessarily mean higher quality of life. And less income doesn’t necessarily mean deprivation or loss.

Besides being turned off by this article’s claim about money and poverty, I was confused by their suggestion that foreign aid should be withheld in order to “emphasize the need for compromise.”

Towards the end of the article, the authors suggest:

The global community can show its concern by threatening to withhold aid, which makes up 3.4 percent of Nepal’s economy. Donors should insist that the new constitution be completed, emphasizing the need for compromise, particularly in the debates around ethnic representation and federalism.

I fear that this would have awful results. Yes, there is corruption that surrounds foreign aid; not all of it gets to people who really need it, but what about the organizations that do put it to good use? What about all of the people that this aid is helping? Besides, wouldn’t cutting out a large section of the economy only bring more disruption to Nepal?

My last concern with the article is the way that it ignores all of the change that’s happening beyond the confines of the politicians and government. What we noticed while living there was that there are a lot of amazing things going on despite corruption, political fighting, and little governmental support. People are side-stepping red tape and rules in order to both get on with their lives and enact change. It’s not always easy to do this, and I don’t think it’s a long term solution, but it is happening and it can be effective. For one, the economy felt alive and growing. I would often hear about new restaurants and businesses opening while we were there. Some INGO’s and NGO’s, run by Nepalis and foreigners, are also continuing to do incredible work. I’ve head of some who are able to work with government and others who learn to work around it. Schools are also continuing to be effective and innovative, including the school I worked at. They have done amazing things over the years, educated hundreds of kids, and brought new ideas about education to Kathmandu and rural areas, even during the decade-long conflict.

People are strong and innovative. Even in the face of a bleak political situation, they continue to live their lives and make change happen. I think that the article aptly highlights some of the problems with the government in Nepal, but it’s too inflamatory and doesn’t give the whole side of the story.

I’d love to hear what other people have to say about it. What do you think?

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20 thoughts on “Nepal Is Not on “The Brink of Collapse”

  1. When a country collapses, it will not literally crumble into physical pieces. So if that’s what you are trying to refute, you are correct, but if you say that Nepal is not on the brink of failure as a country, then I disagree with you.

    We had monarchy for a long time, which meant only the people favored by the king had licence to corruption, then people protested and we got democracy, so now everyone favored by leaders of various political parties got this corruption licence. Now a group of “communists” did not like this, so they started killing thousands of people, so that their people would get this licence as well, which they have now. Now there is an emerging group (or groups), which call themselves minority groups, but in reality are bunch of extreme racists, that are protesting. So in few years, it will be their turn to get their share of corruption. I don’t know who will replace them, but pretty sure it will follow the same trend. And I heard today in the news that a group of “businessmen” are protesting and calling “bandhs” because one of them got raided in the suspicion of not paying taxes. i am sure in few days time, all of them will get a tax break.

    If you ask me, almost all of the lines in that article are accurate and Nepal has been on a downhill since past 20 years and has no signs of coming back. I think there will be a deeper crisis, and as some people predict, there will be tougher times in the future.

    • I don’t disagree with you. There is so much corruption and some awful stuff that is going on. But what the article is failing to recognize is that there are many different things happening at once in Nepal. While the government and politicians may be in a time of crisis, there are others who are doing okay and prospering and not just prospering on an individual level. There are those who are creating jobs and opportunities for themselves and others. I know that a government in turmoil affects everyone and makes life more difficult. But the article makes it seem like the county is on its last legs, about to fall apart. I just don’t think this is true.

      • I think the NYT article was dead right. For long people in Nepal havent see the debacle coming. They continue to believe the thugs in power. The article asks them to take their heads out of the sand and see what is happening around them. The terror spreading communists are milking this country taking it down the path of complete destruction. The Maoists are cresting an environment where NKorea style autocratic communist rule can take root. There is no peace process in sight and we will nevet get any nee constitution in out life time thanks to blood hungry Maoists. This complete chaos and destrucrion is great for the communist so they can easily create what PKD recntly called ‘equally poor’ society. We need to wake uo before its too late.

      • When I was reading that piece in NYT, I was trying to catch a distortion or misinterpretation of the facts, coz that’s what usually happens when some international media reports about Nepal. But there wasn’t a single line, which i could disagree with, which is why I said it is accurate. I didn’t find a bias or inclination toward a particular group as well.

        Regarding Nepal’s failure or not, even when a country fails, there will be businesses running, people working, living everyday life etc. (may not be in an ideal way, but doesn’t have to be a total shutdown of everything). I don’t know what exactly they mean by collapse in that article but if they are trying to point out to the everyday bandhs and strikes, upto 16 or 18 hours of loadshedding, minimal access to drinking water, rise of ethnic extremists, failure of the political powers on constant basis, rampant crimes, and hopelessness, then they are dead right. I know it won’t be like African and Afghanistan crisis, but it isn’t that better.

    • It’s true it doesn’t disintegrate. That’s true. But then what does a “failed country/state” mean then? To me, it would mean a place where life doesn’t go on. With 18 hrs of electricity, endless bands, even back when bombs were going off every few days in the capital, life still goes on.

      We just need some idiots sitting around as figurehead leaders not causing too much trouble. That’s all we need.

  2. thank you for writing this, thank you for the vote of support, international media often take things out of context. i will be sharing this

  3. I’d love to be optimistic and agree with you that Nepal is NOT on the “brink of collapse” here, but unfortunately, my optimism won’t make sense, given the current political tumult we are going through, given the lack of effective leader, and honestly, the lack of people, who are no different than sheep blindly following their leader.

    Anyway, it was a nice read. I agree with you in most respects, especially about your thought on how ‘poverty by world standards’ do not apply to Nepal.

    Good to see you posting about Nepal. 🙂

  4. While the world bank (and other INGOs) stats may be over-stating the ‘poverty’ encountered in Nepal, the country is still very poor and under-developed – Nepal’s own government states that 25% of people live under the ‘national’ poverty line.

    ‘Failure’
    The use of the word ‘failure’ in the article may be inflammatory – I guess what the article is trying to say is that given all the international help (and the duration of their presence in the country) – Nepal should have made greater progress.

    The advances that you mention in terms of education (and in my field: health) – are real – and i agree with you – much credit must go to individuals and communities. However, an individual can only do so much without the support of the government.
    i.e. education: If the government was not a signatory of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (allowing INGOs and NGOs to pull funds together to provide free primary school education) – the advances in education that you mention – could not be possible (both in the private and public sector).

    As nepalidawg mentioned – people have learned to continue with their lives without relying on the government. BUT – they rely on foreign employment and remittances (accounting for 22% of Nepal’s GDP – a world bank reference!). The impact of both foreign employment and remittances at the individual/household level is great and allows ONLY these individuals/households to progress. Perhaps these are the individuals opening the new restaurants and businesses you mention?

    Even if you don’t agree, the reality is that issues affecting the government (national level) are often (and eventually) reflected at the community level.
    In Nepal, the continued disagreements over the structure of the federal state and its form of government, have delayed the constitution-making process – 4 times! Until that is decided, decisions on future trading (affecting national economic growth and employment), health care provision, education, construction/infrastructure (all key indicators of ‘development’) etc cant be made! These decisions will affect the country at an individual level.

    • You’re right, some of the people I knew who were opening new businesses and restaurants had connections abroad. When money comes into Nepal, it may be coming in through specific individuals/households, and they if they don’t spend or invest it in Nepal, then it won’t help anyone else. But if they use that money to open a business or restaurant, then they’re creating new jobs, which help others. If it’s a kind of business or restaurant that tourists or foreigners buy things from or eat at, then there’s even more money coming into the country from abroad.

      I think there are some major issues going on in Nepal right now and I don’t know how they’re going to be fixed. I also agree that policy decisions at the governmental level affect the individual. But my major issue with that article was that it only told one side of the story. If the authors had considered the change and growth going on in the country and all of the positive things that are happening, I would have respected their conclusion more, even I didn’t agree with it. But they didn’t.

  5. Pingback: Nepal: Not on the brink of collapse | Blogs

  6. At least this is a healthy debate, unlike on many other forums!
    On our own blog I also wrote a small article a few weeks ago about Nepal being on the brink of collapse and I think that the whole issue is about defining and widening the term “collapse”. For example how about a collapse of government, a collapse of law and order, a collapse of tolerance and movement into ethnic violence, business collapse, tourism collapse and so on. Many of these things would indicate collapse of some sort surely, and for those of us working in Nepal to help develop the quality of education in the primary sector all of these things affect us in our daily work.
    Surely, there are many of us with organisations with nil corruption (because we dont give money to anybody!), but this makes us very unpopular with the authorities (government and ministries), but very popular with our customers (schools and teachers), but the constant feeling of collapse is wearing us all down as well as all the ordinary citizens who are prevented from going about their daily lives by violent bandhs.
    Equally, the lack of nation development is a contributing factor and I would dispute that primary education has developed at all. Merely measuring statistics against the MDG target of universal primary education (increasing) is actually masking the fact that the quality of education is DECREASING.
    So, I’m afraid my personal view is that Nepal has actually already collapsed!

  7. Hi Nepali Jiwan
    I agree and disagree with your post. I agree with you that the country is not on the brink of collapse entirely. I also agree a lot of positive change is happening because of the people there. and i also agree that withdrawing foreign aid is ludicrous and even the idea of this is very irresponsible.

    However I do believe that the country is at a very critical stage and without government leadership, the country could fall into chaos. The NY times article stated “The parties are using criminal groups to recruit stick-wielding youths to protest. Induced by a fistful of rupees, a rare treat of a meat meal and an illusion of empowerment, these youth have roughed up drivers and set fire to vehicles that attempt to pass the barriers. Some groups have attacked journalists.” This is a very real situation in Nepal and I fear this could get worse.

    Your line “People are strong and innovative. Even in the face of a bleak political situation, they continue to live their lives and make change happen. ” When I think of Rabindra’s family, I agree with this. They put up with it because it’s the only thing they’ve known. However I don’t think this applies to all Nepalis and my fear is that the country could be headed for more lawlessness and chaos. Many young Nepalis are fed-up with the government. Who knows what is going to happen

  8. The problem with this definition of poverty is that…it ignores the fact that quality of life does not necessarily go down with decreased income. A lot of the people that would fall under the poverty line in Nepal are subsistence farmers who grow what they eat and don’t need much money to survive on or even live well. —– I very much agree with this. Just the line I was looking for to explain few people abt the kinda poverty we have. Just this other day I had this discussion with this Indian guy whom I was trying to explain the same thing. I was telling him ” In Nepal, people might have died of minor diseases like diarrhea or dysentery or parasites due to poor infrastructure but never because of hunger.” and he wasn’t convinced. I hope what u wrote might just convince him. That’s exactly the point I was trying to put forward. Btw I loved your blogs. I read it in the midst of all the frustrating news abt Nepal and must say I felt very very happy while reading this.

  9. hi
    your analysis is good and the analysis of the previous writer is also a bit reality of the ongoing situation, and regarding the foreign aid what i personally think that until and unless we are dependent on ourselves we cannot do anything on our own decision.
    My recent visit to different district of nepal from east to west , especially foreign aided locality , it seems they are investing on making people parasitic than self dependent. So inviting or accepting for foreign aid should be think twice. Our people needs motivation, peace and security rather than the foreign aid.
    What other thinks and how they look at us is their perspective, we have to analyse that to make improvement. So thank to westerns for their views, And if there wont be poor in this world where these people would found to show themselves as benevolent. This is the principal of ruling the high profile job sectors, isn’t it?

    Any way we also have too many problems within ourselves and our system. But still we dont have to fear for the situation. We only need someone to protect our interest and represent our genuine issues.

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