An Expat’s Life in Kathmandu

And now, the end is near, and so I face my final curtain…

For the first five-months of 2017, I was living and working in Nepal. Patan to be exact. One of the three historical cities in Kathmandu valley that now make up what many people simply refer to as Kathmandu.

Life here is different. And for any of you fellow expats (Western-immigrants), I am sure you can relate to the loves and laughs, and the trials and tribulations of this wonderful place.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

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Nepal’s Natural Beauty

Perhaps it is something in the Himalayan air; Perhaps the peaceful, nature-loving culture of the country has provided the fertile environment that is needed; Perhaps the stunning natural landscapes have been absorbed into the people’s genes and manifested themselves as incredible aesthetic beauty in their own right. Whatever it may be, the visual delights of Nepal are not confined to the sunrises and mountain ranges alone, for the country is home to some of the most beautiful women on the planet.

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The Situation in Nepal and How You Can Help

On the morning of Saturday April 25th, at approximately midday local time, Nepal was rocked by the largest earthquake the country has seen in over 80 years.

The effects of the earthquake could be felt in neighbouring China, India, and Bangladesh, and aftershocks and tremors have been felt ever since. Many Nepalese have spent the last few nights sleeping in tents too afraid to return to what little of their homes remain.

Though aid is beginning to find its way into the country, the death toll continues to rise, and tragically it is unlikely to cease any time soon. At the time of writing it has surpassed the 5,000 figure, and due to the terrain and infrastructure, a full four days after the initial event many of the most rural communities have still not been contacted. The full extent of the damage is unlikely to be seen for many days as government agencies and international organisations struggle to reach the most remote of communities.

The UN estimate that 1.4 million residents are in need of food parcels, and Nepalese government officials state that some half a million tents are needed for those whose homes have been reduced to rubble.

Even before the earthquake struck, Nepal was a country struggling to provide for its people. It ranked as one of the Least Economically Developed countries in the world, had major health issues, and poor education and public services. Many of its people lacked access to clean water, electricity, and even toilets. A colleague of mine recently told me of the pride a villager displayed when she said that the village was free from open defecation. Basic facilities were luxury items for many, and now even these have been destroyed.

The earthquake is a tragedy in both the short and the long term future for Nepal and its people. A tent city has sprung up in Kathmandu, residents are having to burn the bodies of the dead, and supplies of food and water are running low. These are the immediate concerns for the international community, but even beyond that, there is little light at the end of the tunnel.

The progress that the country has made in recent years has suffered a terrible set back. When there was barely enough money to sustain what you had, how can you possibly rebuild it once it has gone? Annually, Nepal received roughly $1 billion in international aid, but it will take significantly more than that to restore what was lost.

The rescue efforts will continue for many more days, and as the hours pass, the chances of finding survivors get slimmer and slimmer. In Kathmandu, the capital, the search and rescue operations press on, despite limited resources and fatigued personnel. Outside of the city, little can be done without the capacity needed to act. Many rural villages closer to the epicentre have yet to receive aid of any kind. Guardian journalist Jason Burke reported that all 71 households in Swarathok have been reduced to rubble. Speaking with a Nepalese colleague of mine earlier today, a similar story was heard. All 55 homes in one of the remote villages in which we work have been destroyed, the community has lost its cattle and its water source, and only received contact from the outside world four days after the earthquake struck.

What is being reported in the news is the situation that we know about. What is of greatest concern is the situation that we do not know about. If buildings collapsed and roads cracked in Kathmandu, roughly 100km from the epicentre, what will be left of those villages and communities who felt the full force of the earthquake?

Dotted along the steep ridges of the Nepalese hills, with huts and shelter made from organic material, perched perilously, overlooking a valley or ravine, what became of the family as the ground began to shake? What has become of them now that their food and water supplies have run out? What will become of them when the monsoon rains bring landslides and flooding?

All international aid organisations have launched emergency appeals to help those who are at risk or are already suffering. The very least we can do, indeed the very least we must do, is to support those organisations as they conduct vital rescue work. You can do so in the following ways:

Donate to World Food Programme as they deliver vital food supplies throughout the country.
Donate to Oxfam’s emergency appeal in response to the disaster.
Donate to UNICEF to provide relief for the millions of children at risk.
Donate to the International Red Cross supporting their efforts to save lives.
Or alternatively, donate to Renewable World, the charity I work for, as we seek to restore vital services to the rural communities of Nepal.


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This article was originally published on Cultured Vultures on 01/05/15

Why Does Nepal Continue To Be Ranked As One Of The World’s Least Developed Countries?

EDIT 18/06/17

What is said below contains incorrect assumptions and is mostly a shallow diagnosis of the problems facing Nepal and its people. Essentially, the argument is that with a ranked system of Most Developed to Least Developed, someone has to lose out, and that remittance is a good tactic to improve Nepal’s GDP.

By all accounts Nepal seems to be a country making little-to-no progress. Thomas Bell recently labelled the phenomenon “Nepal’s failed development” in an article posted on Al Jazeera. He cites a number of reasons as to why this is and questions the logic behind continually, and often naively, pumping money into a system which seems immune to its effects.

In a very similar vein to Dambisa Moyo, who I have spoken about previously here, Bell highlights the failings of international donations, and the system that it seemingly perpetuates.

Nepal as an LDC

Bell states that: “Nepal has been receiving foreign aid for over 60 years; generally running at fairly stable levels, currently worth over $1bn a year, contributing about a quarter of the government budget.” Despite this enormous sum of money however, Nepal’s achievements have “fallen far short of what’s been promised.”

In 1991 USAID predicted that Nepal would graduate from the ranks of the UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDC) by the year 2001. 14 years on and Nepal still finds itself in the list. The new target year for graduation is 2022, and Bell states that “on current form, it’s likely to miss that target” too.

This should concern us, but the fact that Nepal looks set to remain a LDC should be seen in context.

In the year 2000, the UN had 48 nations on its LDC list. In 2005 this list had grown to 50. By 2010, it was down to 49, and by 2014, the list had returned to 48 once again. At its most basic reading, this tells us that not a lot of progress has been made, but should we be looking at this a little more critically?

As is the case with any ranking system, there exists lower ranked countries, teams or organisations due to the fact that there must exist higher ones. It is only by having one, that you can have the other. The LDCs exist, quite obviously, because the Most Developed Countries (MDCs) exist. The two are contrasted and compared against one another, and a ranking system is formulated.

In the English domestic football system there are four main tiers. The 20 highest ranked teams, and the best teams, play in the Premier League. These are then followed by the next best 24 teams who play in the Football League Championship. Next are a further 24 in Football League One, and following that there are another 24 teams in Football League Two.

Now any football fan will tell you that they would love to see their team rise through the tiers and progress year after year, moving from the bottom of Football League Two right up to the lofty heights of the top of the Premier League. Even football fans though are aware that such a rise would come at the expense of other teams around them. In order to win games and gain points, other teams will have to lose and not gain any. In order to get promoted from the ranks of Football League Two, a team from Football League One will have to get relegated. This is similar to how I see the ranking system for the LDCs.

In order for a country to graduate from the ranks of the LDCs it would have to go over a certain threshold. The chances are, if it did manage to get over this threshold, another country would fall under it. One country’s advance would be another country’s retreat. This, however, may not be the case. Perhaps the countries will continue to progress, and each year more and more of them will surpass the threshold that has been put in place. In football terms this would mean that more and more teams would get promoted from Football League Two without any teams from Football League One being relegated.

Eventually though, if this were to happen, Football League One would become bloated. With teams being promoted, and nobody being relegated, the league would grow in size and would soon be at odds with the rest of the ranking system. 20 teams in the Premier League, 24 teams in the Football League Championship, 40 teams in the Football League One, and only eight teams in the Football League Two.

As humans are a species of order, taking a liking to formulations, labels and groups, having only eight countries labelled as LDCs would prove a problem. On paper it would seem quite an achievement, but in reality we would know that there were far more than eight countries considered to be the “least developed.” With all the countries ranked in order of development, these bottom eight countries would be given the title of “least developed”, but what about the country that finds itself one place ahead of these eight? The country that is ninth least developed on the list? Would this country not be welcome in the LDCs list?

Here then is a problem. The ninth least developed country in the world could technically not be considered a LDC as it had passed the necessary threshold. The rankings would become bloated with an unequal distribution of countries and so a solution would have to be found, that solution would be to change the threshold. Increasing it so that more countries find themselves in the list of LDCs.

This is precisely what happens. In order to maintain a healthy LDC list, the threshold for graduating is increased year upon year. Meaning that even if the countries were to progress and develop, it may still not be enough to allow them to graduate.

One of the three criteria that is evaluated when deciding which nations belong on the LDC list is that of income. Specifically that of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. In 2000 “for the low-income criterion, the threshold on which inclusion in the current list is based has been a GDP per capita of $800, and threshold for graduation has been a GDP per capita of $900.” In 2005, the low-income criterion was “based on a three-year average estimate of the gross national income per capita (under $750 for cases of addition to the list, above $900 for cases of graduation).”

In 2010, the low-income “criterion, based on a three-year average estimate of the gross national income (GNI) per capita, with a threshold of $905 for possible cases of addition to the list, and a threshold of $1,086 for graduation from LDC status.” And now in 2015, “the threshold for inclusion is based on a three-year average of the level of GNI per capita, which the World Bank uses for identifying low-income countries. The threshold for inclusion in the LDC category will be $1,035 in the 2015 review. The threshold for graduation is set at 20 per cent above the inclusion threshold. It will be $1,242 in the 2015 review.”

Here we see the difficulty in graduating from the LDC list. Even if a nation were to raise its GDP per capita from $800 a person in 2000, to $1,200 now – an increase of 50% in 15 years – it would still find itself on the LDC list. To put that in to perspective, the UK’s GDP per capita in 2000 was $26,296.45, and at the end of 2013 it stood at $41,787.47. This represented an increase of 59% in 15 years.

This would mean that in order to graduate from the list of LDCs, by the UN’s own definitions, one of the least developed countries in the world would have to secure an increase in GDP per capita at roughly the same rate as that of the UK, one of the most developed countries in the world. A seemingly impossible task.

Furthermore, due to the fact that LDCs only exist because of MDCs, simply matching the growth and progress of the GDP per capita of MDCs is not enough as this will only maintain the status quo. LDCs need to close the gap on the MDCs and this would mean that their progress in terms of GDP per capita would have to be better than that of the MDCs. A seemingly impossible task becoming that much more difficult.

Corruption and the failure of international aid

From the reading that I have done on the topic of international aid, and from the limited experience that I have of it also, it’s clear that the biggest obstacle to a truly successful aid system is tackling the corruption that is within it.

In echoes of what Moyo speaks of in her book Dead Aid, Bell also highlights the rampant corruption within the system, and that despite this corruption “the donors continue to pour money in.” Bell notes that the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom have all recently announced major increases in aid to Nepal. This is in spite of the fact that Nepal has “plummeted down the Transparency International corruption table”, finding itself ranked joint 126th out of 175, below China, Sierra Leone, and Vietnam.

In no other arena of human activity would rampant corruption and meagre successes bring about an increase in funding, yet in international aid, this is exactly what happens. Corruption, poor results, and a lack of accountability are rewarded by ever greater sums of money being transferred to the country year after year. It is this problem which Moyo attempts to rectify with her suggestions in Dead Aid, though I believe that her suggestions are in fact just as dangerous.

An key tactic in the battle against poverty, which is often overlooked, is the issue of remittance. Moyo comments on it briefly but does not take her argument to its logical conclusion, instead deciding to highlight its benefits, before moving on to something more complimentary to her own poverty alleviation strategy.

In Bell’s article we also hear of the positive effect that remittance has in Nepal. Bell states:

“The main reason for recent progress in poverty alleviation is clearly remittances from migrant labourers, which have risen rapidly to be worth around 25 per cent of GDP. Nepali workers go abroad because the domestic economy is ruined, and the money they send home is spent on private health and education, because the donor-supported public sector is useless.”

It is this remittance effect that I believe is the greatest tactic to poverty alleviation. It is something I spoke highly of in a previous article, where I suggested that aid should take a more remittance-like approach in its methods of work. Charities like Give Directly are showing just how beneficial peer-to-peer direct giving can be. The opportunity for corruption is removed, the most needy receive money directly allowing them to decide what would be the best investment, and the overheads are kept to a minimum as very little staff or organisational costs are needed to be covered.

Until I see evidence to suggest otherwise, I believe that remittance-style direct giving is the greatest tactic that can be used in the fight against poverty. A poverty that will never be defeated entirely, because as I made clear earlier, there will always be LDCs and MDCs, but a poverty that is at least a lot fairer than what we have now.

Those at the front of the pack, the ones leading the charge, are the nations who are most developed, and largely free from poverty. Instead of continuing to run off into the distance, perhaps we should slow down and help some of our fellow runners, in particular the stragglers at the back. They do not need targets to be set and milestones to be reached, they need a helping hand. And if we weren’t so caught up in the race to be the best, perhaps we could supply that to them.



As always, if you have liked what you have read please ShareLikeComment and/or Reblog.
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This article was originally published on CulturedVultures on 08/04/15