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Naming and shaming


KUNDA DIXIT in MANILA


When Nepal's prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala attended a summit of world leaders in New York in September 2000 he signed the UN Millennium Declaration pledging to meet timebound and measurable targets to reduce deprivation in Nepal by 2015.

Called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) world leaders agreed in each of their countries to reduce poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote equality between men and women, reduce by two-thirds child deaths, bring down the number of women dying at childbirth by three-fourths, halt and reverse the spread of AIDS, TB and malaria, and raise living standards without destroying the ecology.

All this was to be achieved within 15 years. World leaders are reconvening in New York this week to review progress in the past five years towards meeting those goals. But Koirala is not in New York. Neither is King Gyanendra, which is just as well because Nepal is at the bottom of the heap.

To be sure, we have made progress in meeting at least four of the goals and will probably achieve those targets by 2015. If the statistics are to be trusted,the surprising thing for many is that despite the conflict Nepal's performance isn't worse than it is. But there is a real danger of reversal of the gains of the 1990s if the conflict drags on. Nepal's modest achievements were directly related to better service delivery after 1990, and delays in restoration of grassroots democracy could hinder target fulfilment.

Last week in Manila, the UN's Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) issued a regional report card to name and shame countries that are not going to meet targets. They divided the region into three categories: those that have already achieved targets, those that are off track but making very slow progress, and countries that are going backward.

The good news is that Nepal is not regressing. The bad news is that in many of the indicators we are the worst-performer in South Asia, as bad as war-ravaged Afghanistan. On the most basic indicator of extreme poverty and hunger, Nepal scores last with 48.3 percent of underweight children-even lower than Afghanistan which is at 48 percent.

The questions is will these failing grades goad Nepal to do better? In Manila last week, ESCAP Secretary General Kim Hak-Su (pictured) praised Nepal for "taking the millennium development goals very seriously" but added that it needed to really catch up.

On universal primary education by 2015 and for female literacy Nepal is on track to meet the millennium goals. Progress in child and infant mortality is slow but with extra effort we could still reduce the deaths by two-thirds in ten year's time. Nepal's maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in Asia, but the numbers of women dying at child birth has been going down and the UN estimates we can meet the goal of reducing it by three-fourths by 2015.

Where Nepal is actually regressing in its anti-AIDS effort and in providing safe drinking water. The ESCAP-ADB report clusters countries by performance in meeting millennium targets. Of the 55 countries in the region, half are off track for more than half their indicators. Five Asia-Pacific countries are in danger of not meeting even one of the high-priority targets (Afghanistan, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Uzbekistan and Mongolia). Nepal is not one of them, but only by the skin of its teeth.

The Nepal MDG Progress Report 2005 released last week by the National Planning Commission (NPC) assesses the most recent data from the world Bank's National Living Standards Survey which were not fully included in the ESCAP-ADB report. It concludes that the country is likely to meet the targets on poverty, child mortality, tuberculosis and access to safe drinking water, and potentially meet the goals set for hunger reduction, gender equality, maternal health and malaria. (See p 5) But even by the NPC's own estimates, at the rate we are going Nepal is unlikely to achieve universal primary education and arrest the spread of AIDS.

Another UN report released this week, Human Development Report 2005, ranks countries by the Human Development Index and Nepal scores above Bangladesh and below Pakistan by climbing four points from 140 to 136 out of 177 countries. The reason seems to be better performance on poverty, but since HDI also uses freedom and democracy parameters, Nepal may again drop in the list next year.

Indeed, what is surprising is that despite the conflict, political instability, economic stagnati and growing inequality, the number of Nepalis categorised as absolutely poor dropped from 42 percent in 1996 to 31 percent by 2004. The reasons: remittances from Nepalis working abroad, income from labour, increase in economically active population in the non-farm sector with the spread of roads and rapid urbanisation.


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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