Plight of a Re­gion

De­spite abun­dant nat­u­ral re­sources, Kar­nali in Nepal of­fers no sign of de­vel­op­ment. With the va­garies of cli­mate change, the re­gion is suf­fer­ing from a mul­ti­tude of prob­lems.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Hafiz Inam

As noted by Slok Gyawali, a colum­nist in the Earth Is­land Jour­nal, Tashi Lama, a 52 year old farmer from Kar­nali re­gion in Nepal, does not know much about jalavau­pari­var­tan (cli­mate change), but he is wary of the mis­for­tunes the acute drought has brought to Nepal. In the farmer’s words: “I don’t know about jalavau­pari­var­tan, but one should have come a few months ear­lier to see the worst ef­fects of the drought.” He was re­fer­ring to the drought Nepal, es­pe­cially the Kar­nali re­gion, is fac­ing in 30 years. There has been no rain in Kar­nali since July 2015. Food in­se­cu­rity cou­pled with no in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment and un­em­ploy­ment is wors­en­ing the in­hab­i­tants’ lives. And, un­for­tu­nately, it is not the end of a tear-jerk­ing tale of the re­gion which is ex­posed to a mul­ti­tude

of tri­als and tribu­la­tions.

Be­ing one of the four­teen zones in Nepal, Kar­nali is a far-flung area ly­ing in the mid-west de­vel­op­ment re­gion of the coun­try, bor­der­ing Ti­bet. It is the largest and the poor­est zone of Nepal which oc­cu­pies 15% of the coun­try’s to­tal area and a pop­u­la­tion of around 400,000. Hav­ing a beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral land­scape with snow-cov­ered moun­tains from the Hi­malayan range, Kar­nali is the site of two beau­ti­ful lakes, Rara and Phok­sundo, which at­tract tourists in large num­bers. The Phok­sundo Lake, the largest lake in Nepal, is the jewel in the crown of Shay Phok­sundo Na­tional Park which is the largest na­tional park in Nepal and is fa­mous for snow leop­ards.

The re­gion is blessed with abun­dant and di­verse flora and fauna. The snow leop­ard, the one-horned rhi­noc­eros, deer, ele­phants, the Royal Bengal Tiger and over 230 other species of mam­mals can be found in the Kar­nali re­gion, mostly in the Humla and Dolpa districts. Dif­fer­ent species of In­dian and Burmese pythons, king co­bra, al­li­ga­tors, mash mug­ger croc­o­diles and 370 species of birds have also been recorded there. The Kar­nali River, orig­i­nat­ing from Ti­bet, is the long­est river in Nepal, pro­vid­ing a habi­tat to the Hi­malayan trout, fresh­wa­ter dol­phin, gi­ant cat­fish and Golden Mah­seer fish. The Kar­nali re­gion pro­duces valu­able medic­i­nal herbs such as Cordy­ceps Si­ne­sis, Gucci mush­rooms, Dacty­lorhiza Hata­girea, etc. which are used in mak­ing herbal medicines.

De­spite abun­dant nat­u­ral re­sources, Kar­nali of­fers no sign of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Agri­cul­ture, an­i­mal hus­bandry and the cot­tage in­dus­try make up vir­tu­ally all of Kar­nali’s econ­omy. The na­tional sur­vey of 2004 shows that the Kar­nali zone is suf­fer­ing from se­vere poverty in com­par­i­son to other zones of the coun­try. The Cen­tral Bu­reau of Statis­tics re­vealed in 2011 that un­em­ploy­ment in the re­gion is the vi­tal cause of un­der­de­vel­op­ment and is re­spon­si­ble for re­duc­ing the an­nual growth rate by 1.3%. Te zone’s econ­omy is mov­ing to­wards ru­ina­tion as the ma­jor­ity of its res­i­dents live in des­ti­tute con­di­tions. Po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, tra­di­tional tech­nol­ogy, ob­so­lete means of pro­duc­tion, an ex­pand­ing pop­u­la­tion and the in­creas­ing rate of ex­o­dus of mi­grants to India through a por­ous bor­der to seek em­ploy­ment are de­te­ri­o­rat­ing the re­gion’s eco­nomic land­scape.

The over­all hu­man de­vel­op­ment in Nepal is grave as it was ranked at 145 on the Hu­man De­vel­op­ment In­dex (HDI) in 2014. Its HDI score was 0.458 which was the least among the SAARC coun­tries, apart from Afghanistan. Keep­ing Nepal’s per­for­mance on HDI in mind, one can size up the poor hu­man de­vel­op­ment level in the re­motest re­gions of the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram’s re­port in 2011, Kar­nali is the least hu­man de­vel­oped re­gion in Nepal due to low life ex­pectancy, il­lit­er­acy and a dearth of med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties. One of its districts, Mugu, has a life ex­pectancy of 37 years, one of the low­est in the world, whereas it is 46 years in Kar­nali, in gen­eral. The fe­male lit­er­acy rate in Kar­nali is a mere 10% against 34% at the na­tional level. Its two districts, Humla and Mugu, have the low­est lit­er­acy rate of 28%. Health care is very poor with most med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties lack­ing medicines and doc­tors. Acute mal­nu­tri­tion is 8% to 14% while se­vere mal­nu­tri­tion is 2.5% to 9%. Ane­mia in 5 year old chil­dren ranges from 36% to 53% whereas it is at up to 33% in women of 15-20 years of age.

Cli­mate ab­nor­mal­ity has had se­ri­ous reper­cus­sions for the dwellers of Kar­nali who are in a con­stant state of star­va­tion. The re­gion whose agri­cul­ture is solely de­pen­dent on ponds, which are filled by rain wa­ter, has been ex­pect­ing rain since July 2015 – re­sult­ing in the worst drought in 40 years. The 2015 earth­quake, the In­dian em­bargo and now the drought have re­duced the re­gion’s agri­cul­tural yield by 50%. In Dolpa alone, 90% of the cul­tivable land is left bar­ren and 80% of the win­ter crops have not been grown yet. Lo­tai Lama, a farmer in Humla district, says, “We do not even know if we will have two meals a day and whether we will live or die.” Food in­se­cu­rity has posed a se­ri­ous threat to the peo­ple’s chances of liv­ing as they are forced to even sell their kitchen uten­sils to buy food. About two thirds of the pop­u­la­tion is ei­ther se­verely or mod­er­ately food in­se­cure.

It is a sad fact that the Kar­nali peo­ple do not have ac­cess to the po­lit­i­cal mech­a­nism in the coun­try. They are de­prived of their right to elect rep­re­sen­ta­tives who would raise their voice in the con­stituent as­sem­bly. This ex­clu­sion has im­paired the al­ready spoiled re­la­tions be­tween Kathmandu and the Kar­nali re­gion. The lat­ter be­lieves its nat­u­ral re­sources are be­ing ex­ploited by the for­mer. A pol­icy of keep­ing the Kar­nali peo­ple at bay has ig­nited the flare of sep­a­ratism in the re­gion. It is de­picted in the sup­port the Kar­nali peo­ple get from the Maoists who de­mand a sep­a­rate home­land in the au­ton­o­mous re­gions in the west of the coun­try.

The plight of the Kar­nali re­gion and its peo­ple is a tale of catas­tro­phe, ab­sence of pro-ac­tivism, neg­li­gence of su­pe­rior au­thor­i­ties and lack of po­lit­i­cal wis­dom. The re­gion is blessed with im­mense beauty but its re­sources are at the verge of de­ple­tion. The ad­min­is­tra­tion in Kathmandu needs to re­al­ize the grav­ity of the sit­u­a­tion re­gard­ing the Kar­nali re­gion. The agri­cul­ture min­is­ter of Nepal has said: “We know that the Kar­nali re­gion suf­fers from the vi­cious cir­cle of poverty and we will not let any­body starve.” Un­for­tu­nately, thus is not true as the gov­ern­ment’s pur­port­edly noble in­ten­tions are not be­ing trans­lated into ac­tion. The gov­ern­ment needs to adopt a multi-pronged ap­proach in cop­ing with the chal­lenges. It must em­power the peo­ple of Kar­nali through large-scale em­ploy­ment gen­er­a­tion which will help cur­tail the des­per­ate poverty con­di­tions. A bet­ter level of gov­er­nance must em­anate from the cen­tre so that through ju­di­cious po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, the peo­ple’s long-stand­ing griev­ances can be at­tended to more ef­fec­tively.

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