Posting will probably be intermittent for a while as I am visiting the Asian Institute of Technology and Management in Katmandu Nepal. Its a fascinating visit that I am thoroughly enjoying.
Nepal is a very poor country with GDP per head around $1000US. It has massive and obvious infrastructure problems: poor roads, inadequate sanitation particularly with respect to its water supplies, poor national heath, an unreliable and inadequate electricity supply (despite enormous hydroelectric potential) and what seems to be almost a complete lack of any urban planning in the face of rising car ownership with accompanying severe congestion and pollution issues. It is also in the aftermath of a violent Maoist insurgency with a coalition of communist groups opposed to the democratic national elections (due the 19th November). These elections are designed to end a long-standing political deadlock. There is widespread community cynicism about the likely value of democratic political processes.
The economic problems of Nepal are manifestly obvious but the economy has shown a reasonable rate of growth in recent years, the worst grinding poverty has been reduced and levels of literacy – particularly among women – have substantially improved. That said for most Nepal’s citizens life is tough. Very low incomes, poor health standards and limited prospects for economic advancement.
In non-economic terms there is a substantial non-material wealth. The physical surrounds of the Himalayas are magnificent and the society is intensely spiritual – religion and social custom dominate the lives of most. The people are among the friendliest I have encountered. The Duchenne smiles and general happiness are infectious – I feel pretty good myself being here.
That said it would be incorrect to understate the scale of the economic challenges. While good growth is occurring it does seem to be strongly linked to environmental destruction and damage. While inequality is being reduced a large proportion of the population live in rural settings under conditions of grinding poverty. The political failure to direct and control the growth that is occurring is obvious. Polluted water supplies, severe air pollution in centres such as Katmandu and urban development that sprawls into the countryside without much apparent thought for road traffic planning, water supply needs or public transportation. Policy design is not a problem but implementation seems extraordinarily difficult given the failure to reach a national political consensus and the low levels of surplus available for much-needed investment in infrastructure.