Tackling Social Ills & Nepal

 

The recent release of an annual report that the Secretary-General of the United Nations traditionally submits to the upcoming sixty-sixth regular session of the UN General Assembly has also focused on the present status of the progress in achieving Millennium Development Goals. Every year as the highest official of the international organization, the UN Secretary-General reviews the work of the multilateral body for the immediate past year and presents his observations on the subject to the General Assembly, which is the most representative and deliberative body of the United Nations.

The purpose of this opinion piece is to make an appraisal of the internationally-agreed goals in general and their achievement in terms of Nepal in particular. In the year 2000, the first year of new millennium, the UN convened a Millennium Summit attended by a large retinue of world leaders both from the developed and the developing countries. As expected the Late Girija Prasad Koirala, the then Prime Minister of Nepal, led a mammoth delegation to that fifty-fifth session of the UN General Assembly and Nepal like all other member states has since then committed to fulfill the targets of social development. The targets are related to different aspects of social development viz poverty reduction, education, health and sustainable development emphasizing environmental protection, among others.

The summiteers then set the time table for achieving the goals like halving the world poverty by 2015. For every target whether health or education the period of fifteen years was thought to be normal to achieve the targeted goals. At the time of convening the Millennium Summit in New York the participants especially from the developing world had genuine concerns regarding the availability of adequate financial resources. This was understandable for the reason that the donors have not met their pledges of Official Development Aid (ODA) ever since such commitment of providing at least 0.7% of their Gross Domestic Income to the developing countries was made under the auspices of UN conference almost forty years back.

Worryingly, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has recently warned as mentioned in Ban ki-Moon’s latest report on the work of the organization as contained in UN document A/66/1, that bilateral aid will shrink in next five years as most of the developed economies have faced with global economic downturn. The economic slowdown has again gripped the world soon after the countries were slowly recovering from 2007-08 global economic recession. The above UN report mentions further that though in 2010 the Official Development Aid reached a record high totaling $128.7 billion, yet this remains well short of pledged ODA i.e. 0.7% of Gross Domestic Product of the donors.

A cursory look at the Secretary-General’s report presents a picture of mixed results meaning progress has been satisfactory in some fields whereas countries have lagged behind the targets in other areas of social development. In areas like reduction of global poverty an encouraging trend seems to be in the offing. The report says that in 2015 world-wide poverty is expected to fall below 15%, well below target level, which is 23%. Unfortunately, Nepal is an exception here as she is not producing any economic miracle to halve the nation’s poverty level in about three years time from now.

The UN report also contains good news about progress made globally in terms of access to improved sources of drinking water. From the standpoint of primary school enrollment, important strides have been made even in the poorest countries, the said report continues. Nearly 12000 fewer children are dying each year and happily deaths under five have declined from 12.4 million (1990) to 8.1 million (2009).

However, the medical problems particularly in countries like ours are still serious as revealed by the sudden inspection of the Health Minister Mr. Lokendra Bista, who was harshly rebuked by the interning nurse at Bir Hospital a few days ago only because he looked as any ordinary patient inquiring about her seniors. The point here is not confined to the rudeness of medical staff but the pathetic condition in which our government hospitals like Bir have been operating for years with none taking responsibility, let alone be accountable to the mess created in public medical institutions. We can admit that commendable progress has been acclaimed even internationally sometimes in reducing child mortality in Nepal but overall health sector remains to be improved a lot if Nepal is to meet health-related Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Poverty and absolute poverty, in particular, has been identified as a major social ill. The incidence of poverty in Nepal has been interpreted in various ways and resultantly confusion in public has arisen. A few months back it became a topic of intense debate among academicians and the economists particularly. The moment new statistics were made public by a foreign research team, which our indigenous authorities have not been able to disprove despite their justification of government position, controversy was demonstrable to the disappointment of many Nepali citizens.

Professor Madan Kumar Dahal’s enlightening opinion piece entitled “Nepalese Economy: A Critique” and carried by Nepalnews only last week clarifies the controversy on the level of Nepal’s poverty. In commenting brilliantly on the present status of Nepalese economy, Prof. Dahal talks about high incidence of poverty with 74% of the household possessing less than a hectare of land. He has countered the argument that tries to show the decline of poverty line from 30.9% (2007) to 25.4% (2010). His quote of the findings of a research team attached to Oxford University/UNDP reveal that Nepal’s population below absolute poverty line is as high as 65%.

This difference in the interpretation of the level of poverty in Nepal notwithstanding, the government is required to comply with the promises it has made by signing the Millennium Declaration in September 2000, when it took upon itself the responsibility of meeting the international goals of tackling social ills in a time bound fashion. To make its promises realize, it should focus on advancing economic agendas.

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