Nepal’s Economic Recovery
Nepal, a landlocked nation famous for the mountainous range of the Himalayas on its borders, has been working to restructure its economy, bring new opportunities to its citizens and decrease poverty rates. Historically, Nepal’s poverty rates have been incredibly high, currently leveling at about 25%, with a heavy reliance on agriculture, lacking education and infrastructure, and many more variables that have stunted and limited economic growth for decades. Many feared that Nepal’s economy was on its way to economic collapse and crisis. Instead, Nepal has recently had some of its most promising improvements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nepal’s Economic Burdens and Poverty Exacerbators

The factors increasing Nepal’s poverty rates are numerous. One of the greatest is Nepal’s reliance on agriculture. Agriculture serves as Nepal’s primary source of income and food. Such farming practices are known as “subsistence farming, and 68% of Nepal practices subsistence farming. Agriculture is responsible for one-third of Nepal’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It connects employees ranging from farmers to small-business merchants and large-scale international traders. Nepal is vulnerable to severe droughts and flooding, resulting in a vicious cycle that upsets the agriculture sector and limits production, income and the food available per family.

A wide class divide has also exacerbated Nepal’s poverty challenges, as the education system in Nepal has exemplified. Nepal’s education system has been slowly expanding to reach the rural regions, specifically the Kathmandu region, where the public and private sectors are integrating to be more inclusive for children of all ages. Net enrollment in schools is up to 97%, but more than 770,000 children are still unable to obtain a comprehensive education as many areas do not have schools or the ones that do exist are understaffed. Minimalized education perpetuates regional poverty, limiting upwards economic progression.

Nepal’s Economic Recovery

Economists have feared that Nepal is due for an economic crisis similar to the one that Sri Lanka experienced in 2022. Sri Lanka’s economy slid into a crisis due to extremely high external debt, a tremendous trade deficit and overwhelming inflation. The crisis is increasing poverty rates, about 25% in Sri Lanka, with the urban poverty rates tripling since 2021. The government is struggling to restructure the economy and take control of the rising poverty rates and joblessness, but Nepal’s economy is not on the same track.

Nepal’s external debts have much lower interest rates than Sri Lanka’s, and the government has implemented new transparent and efficient policies that concentrate efforts on local infrastructure changes. Despite the challenges regarding Nepal’s reliance on agriculture, agriculture became a savior for the nation after the economy lost income from tourism and external support systems. Nepal’s economic recovery would not be possible without the changes to its debt or agriculture system.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) predicts that Nepal’s economy will again experience a year of modest improvement for the fiscal year 2023, with further decreases in poverty, meaning Nepal’s economic recovery was not temporary. The government has tightened restrictions on imports and exports to ensure the economy remains stable. The new restrictions created new reliances on agriculture, forcing the government to invest extra efforts in the agriculture system’s impact locally before returning to expanding trade externally. The pauses allow the government to take stock of its depleted foreign currency reserves before deciding which allies to renew, strengthen or end.

Improvement to Education in Nepal

Nepal’s education system has improved as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the schools to reconfigure their newly developed teaching styles and practices. The pandemic’s pauses in everyday life presented Nepal with the opportunity to implement new teaching programs nationwide. The original interruption of the COVID-19 pandemic in daily life slowed the pace at which Nepal can reach the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The government aimed to hit benchmarks by 2022 to exemplify the progress in academia throughout Nepal, but the new plans restructured the older outline for the education goals. The alterations to the Nepalese education system can provide new academic opportunities for an education that can lift children out of poverty.

Despite Nepal’s economic strife in years past, the COVID-19 pandemic was a window of opportunity for the government to restructure the nation’s reliance on agriculture and deficient education system and reconfigure trade deals with international allies. Nepal’s economic recovery shows that the country is nowhere near an economic crisis, as the private sector may have feared, but it is on a stronger path to recovery than ever before.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health In Nepal
Nepal is a country in South Asia with a rich and diverse culture. Most Nepalese people have a perception of the self in which the mind and body are considered to be separate. As a result, they typically attribute mental illness to spiritual dysfunction. People who have mental health problems are also targets of stigma and discrimination. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1 million people are estimated to currently have mental health disorders in Nepal.

Mental health is a matter of paramount importance. Poor mental health can lead to serious physical and social problems, which impact a person’s quality of life. Mental health issues are often linked to poverty because they lead to problems with maintaining employment and important social relationships. It is common for people who suffer from untreated mental illness to live financially unstable and precarious lives. According to the 2019 UNICEF multiple indicator cluster surveys (MICS) in Nepal, more than 17% of Nepalese people were considered multidimensionally poor. In Nepal, there is a lack of resources and support for people with mental health issues, especially those who experience the struggles of living in poverty.

Nepalese Culture and Mental Health

Nepal spends 7.5% of its GDP on health care, which is far below the global average of 10% of a nation’s GDP. It is common for Nepalese people to visit traditional healers in order to address mental health. However, people in Nepal have limited availability and access to traditional healers, especially in rural areas. Traditional healers that Nepalese people typically rely upon do not have the formal training required to properly identify and treat mental illnesses.

As of 2022, there are 0.36 psychiatrists working in the mental health sector per 100,000 people in Nepal, with a majority of professionals concentrated in urban areas. Low economic prioritization of mental health issues within the country contributes to a lack of public awareness regarding mental health. Furthermore, cultural stigmas have contributed to fears of discrimination and rejection from friends, family and community members. As a result, people become hesitant to seek mental health treatments in Nepal.

A Growing Need

From 1996 till 2006, the people of Nepal endured a violent civil war that killed more than 13,000 people and displaced thousands. The country is still recovering from the violent conflict, which has likely contributed to a growing prevalence of PTSD, depression and anxiety disorders among the Nepalese population. Nepal’s deadly environmental disasters have also affected them. An earthquake in April 2015 killed more than 8,000 people and injured more than 20,000 people.

People that events of this nature affect typically require significant psychological first aid in order to alleviate trauma and other long-term mental health problems associated with emergencies. Survivors of these events usually rely upon international humanitarian NGOs for mental health care and services in large numbers. Nepal’s weak integration of mental health services into primary health care led many Nepalese people to become dependent upon NGOs and international organizations for help in the wake of their suffering and loss.

Advocating for Mental Health

Advocates for mental health in Nepal point to policy change, rehabilitation efforts, and more healthcare infrastructure as solutions for the problems Nepalese people are facing. Nepalese organizations such as KOSHISH are working to promote mental health awareness and psychosocial well-being throughout the country. Established in 2008, the organization is a nonprofit that operates as a national mental health self-help organization and advocacy group. KOSHISH advocates for mental health issues on the national policy level. It aims to promote mental health awareness as well as reduce the stigma and discrimination surrounding these issues. The organization provides psychosocial support programs, treatment, and residential care for women who are victims of gender-based abuse.

The momentum behind mental health advocacy is growing globally and spreading to countries like Nepal. In the past, the law in Nepal equated mental illness to madness and provided no legitimate legislation related to the treatment of mentally ill people. Over the past years, Nepal has significantly increased its political commitment to mental health and psychosocial issues. In 2019, the country expanded its national health policy to include a strategy that incorporates mental health services into its healthcare systems. Nepal now considers mental healthcare a basic health service. The growing progress of mental health literacy and awareness within the country will likely lead to more widespread mental health awareness and support for the people who need it.

– Dylan Priday
Photo: Flickr

Miracle Gel
Since 2022, USAID and partners have been working to prevent infant mortality in developing countries. Chlorhexidine, a chemical element that comes in gel and liquid form, could be a potential solution to infant mortality. Typically used to disinfect human skin and sterilize surgical instruments in hospitals, the substance can also help protect the umbilical stumps of newborns to prevent deadly infections. USAID’s Chlorhexidine “Navi” Care Program applies this technique in rural Nepal. Furthermore, the miracle gel has decreased newborn deaths by 24% and newborn infections by 68% in Nepal.

Susceptibility to Infant Mortality in Nepal

Rural and low-income communities in Nepal are susceptible to high rates of infant mortality and infections that arise from traditional home birthing practices. Mothers sometimes cut umbilical cords with unsanitized house tools and treat the stump with turmeric as an antiseptic. However, these methods can be harmful as evidenced by a neonatal mortality rate of 23 per 1,000 live births in 2020. Furthermore, about 70% of infant mortality cases in Nepal tend to occur within the first year of the infant’s life.

USAID’s “Navi” Care Program

The Navi Care Program began in October 2011. With a budget of $3.9 million, the program was able to expand from 49 operating districts to cover all 75 districts in Nepal by 2014, according to USAID. The Navi Care Program helps in training nurses and healthcare practitioners to use chlorhexidine gel. The program also works to spread awareness about the miracle gel and supports the Ministry of Health and Population in Nepal to integrate it into the newborn and maternal healthcare systems.

Raising Awareness Through SBCC

As remarkable as the miracle gel is in terms of reducing infant mortality, not enough people in Nepal know about the solution and how they can access it. A social behavior change campaign (SBCC) started in 2015 works to ensure that locals learn about chlorhexidine. The campaign spreads information about the usefulness and affordability of the miracle gel through local and national radio and broadcast television.

Monitoring and Evaluating

In 2017, the Navi Care Program prevented nearly 9,600 newborn deaths in Nepal. With the help of the JSI Research & Training Institute, the USAID Navi Care Program has set up mechanisms to document and monitor the impact of the program. Chlorhexidine reports have been integrated into the pre-existing government health management information system (HMIS) and logistics management information system (LMIS). In addition, JSI wanted to monitor the process of program implementation. It uses a comprehensive mechanical system to gather external research and surveys from local women. JSI conducted telephone calls and in-person visits to meet healthcare professionals, pregnant women in their last leg of pregnancy and women with infants under the age of six months. Through this, they have been able to gather feedback and identify gaps in the implementation of the Navi Care Program in Nepal.

The Navi Care Program and miracle gel have become increasingly successful in Nepal and can save millions of lives in other countries too. The discovery and implementation of medical solutions can have a revolutionary impact on all communities, especially those that are susceptible to illnesses and infant mortality.

– Samyudha Rajesh
Photo: Flickr

Social Exclusion
Despite the overwhelming loss due to earthquakes in 2015 and a near total economic seizure due to the halt in its cross-border trade with India in January 2016, Nepal reported one of the fastest poverty decline rates in the world particularly between 2003-2004 and 2010-2011. Between 1995–1996 and 2010–11, there was a 2.2 percentage point average yearly drop in the absolute poverty rate, bringing it to its present level of 25.2%. The significant increase in remittances sent by hundreds of thousands of Nepalis who have been working abroad since the late 1990s is the primary cause of the improvements in living conditions and the elimination of poverty and social exclusion. Both the quantity and the number of households in Nepal that receive remittances increased concurrently. From 1.3% of GDP in 1995 to 23% in 2010, remittances have grown in magnitude, and as of now, they account for 29% of GDP. The typical household income is now 16% remitted, up from 6% in 1995–1996.

The Complex Relationship Between Social Exclusion and Poverty

However, as evidenced by the low level of human development indices, inequality due to social exclusion demonstrates that poverty in Nepal also has inextricable links to a lack of access to the very resources required for overcoming it. A Hindu-dominated society, it has excluded four groups of people — Dalits, Madheshi or Terai people, ethnic/indigenous people and women —- from the contemporary development process be it political, economic or socio-cultural exclusion. Here are four ways that social exclusion and poverty interconnect in Nepal.

4 Facts About How Social Exclusion and Poverty Interconnect in Nepal

  1. Disparities in the prevalence of poverty in Nepal and measures of human development are one way that caste-based social exclusion takes shape. The highest caste group, the Brahmins, has a significantly lower poverty rate than the lower caste groups, who lack opportunities in all spheres of life (cultural, social, political and economic). For instance, the literacy rate for the lowest caste is barely half of that for the upper caste groups with the life expectancy of the latter being six years more than the lowest caste at 51 years. Consequently, the rate of absolute poverty is 15 times higher in the lowest-caste groups than the national average.

  2. The most glaring example of social exclusion based on ethnicity is poverty, which affects ethnic minorities like the Limbus, Tamangs, Magars, Tharus, Musahars and indigenous groups much like Chepangs and Raute more frequently than the general population as a whole. However, the Newars, who mainly inhabit the Kathmandu valley and other urban areas, have the lowest rate of poverty.

  3. The Madhesi people have continuously experienced marginalization and exclusion from political, administrative, governance, policy development and decision-making processes. This has resulted in continual issues with citizenship, identity, language and their own home territory. The Madhesi people experience extreme discrimination and have almost forgotten what it is to “belong to this nation.” Paradoxically, though, the Madhesi and Terai (referred to as the main economic hub of Nepal by Gaige (1976) community’s exile from the national mainstream has been detrimental to the nation’s steady economic growth.

  4. The situation is even more alarming for women from the lowest castes, where the literacy rate is only 7% and other social indices also show low scores. Due to their low position within their own group, Dalit women are even more disadvantaged. For instance, estimates have indicated that almost all Dalit women are living below the official poverty threshold. Discrimination, indifference and violence have links to exclusion.

 Actions to Promote Social Inclusion

The Muluki Ain Civil Code of 1854 made the extremely rigid and hierarchical caste structure legal and gave the Adivasi Janajatis (non-Hindu indigenous ethnicities) a middle-rank position within the system. In 1963, Nepal legally outlawed caste-based discrimination. The government has taken action to increase Dalit involvement in local and national governance mechanisms through legislation and initiatives. Additionally, following the political shift in 2007, the inclusion of women continued to rise.

Even though the Panchayat rule put little effort into the integration of women, women’s representation in politics increased significantly. With the rise of modern under-grounded parties, the sixth amendment to the law code in 2033 B.S. granted some rights to women. By prohibiting child marriage and polygamy, Nepal made changes to the law governing women’s property, Anshabanda (the division of property among/among those legally entitled to it), women’s trafficking, prostitution and rape, among other things. A provision of 5% women candidates for parliamentary and 20% women representatives from each ward level became obligatory alongside the provision of at least 33% of women participation in legislative parliament.

The Constitution attempted to end all forms of discrimination based on national origin, race, caste, tribe, sex, economic circumstance, language, religion, ideology or any other basis, and it guaranteed equality before the law to all Nepalese citizens. Discrimination is illegal, and those who are the victims of it may seek restitution. By gathering better-disaggregated statistics and information on the effects of various forms of discrimination on the rights of different groups, Nepal devoted itself to combating inequality and discrimination. As a result, it developed suitable laws, policies and programs.

Conclusion

With regard to the domestication of the Convention and its successful application, Nepal had made a number of remarkable advancements, most notably through the adoption of a federal, democratic and republican Constitution in September 2015 and the establishment of local governments. Indicators of poverty and human development have been improving nationally, although there are still some disparities based on caste, ethnicity, location and gender. Although the government is succeeding in its mission to end poverty by addressing and reversing social exclusion, more is necessary to remove prejudice towards these communities on a societal level.

– Karisma Maran
Photo: Flickr

hunger in NepalNepal is landlocked, making it difficult to transport food and resources. For these reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country hard. The pandemic forced people into multiple lockdowns, set transportation restrictions and ultimately sunk citizens back into poverty. It also heightened food insecurity and malnutrition.

However, almost 90% of Nepal’s population became fully vaccinated in July 2022, partially thanks to the World Bank Group COVID-19 response programs that are helping more than 100 countries improve the health and well-being of their citizens.

Still, more support is needed to address hunger in many countries including Nepal. According to a World Food Programme country brief from July 2022, 25% of Nepal’s 28.5 million population lived on less than fifty cents a day and 36% of children under the age of 5 were malnourished.

USAID Package to Help Nepal

The country’s food crisis has also been exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine war and a widespread fertilizer shortage. The war is driving up inflation, especially for commodities such as gas, agricultural goods, metal and minerals.

On August 22, USAID announced a $15 million aid package to address the hunger crisis in Nepal. This assistance helps ensure people in Nepal have enough nutritious food to sustain themselves. USAID will be working with the government of Nepal to make sure that the country’s specific needs and goals are met, despite rising prices and food shortages. Ensuring access to nutritious food is the main goal of this funding and it will be accomplished in two main ways.

Support to Local Farms

Approximately 68% of workers in Nepal work in agriculture. Even so, food supply often runs short because farmers have little access to newer methods of farming that often produce higher yields. This funding is set aside to help Nepal produce more food, which will not only boost food security but also increase incomes.

Nutrient-Enhanced Food for Kids under 5 and pregnant women

Approximately 36% of Nepali children under 5 are chronically malnourished, which means that their development becomes significantly impaired, or “stunted”. Additionally, about 20% of Nepali women are anemic and one in 10 experience stunted growth. The cycle of malnutrition continues when pregnant women are unable to provide enough nutrients to sustain their children. For the following reasons, USAID will be prioritizing extra quality nutrition for women and children.

Outlook

This funding will be incredibly impactful for women, children, people with low literacy levels, rural households, disabled people and minorities who already have limited access to services. Overall, the Global Hunger Index suggests that hunger in Nepal could be addressed by eliminating child marriage, empowering women and marginalized groups and improving health care and education.

Ava Ronning
Photo: Wikimedia

Child mortality in Nepal
According to a 2018 USAID article, annually, 2.6 million infants “die within their first month of life.” In addition, about 15% of these deaths come about through complications stemming from “severe infections.” Many of these infections-induced deaths are easily preventable through one simple solution: chlorhexidine. In Nepal, the government of Nepal and USAID piloted a chlorhexidine initiative in 2009. In 2011, Nepal introduced the antiseptic into “routine care nationwide.” The introduction of the antiseptic has safeguarded the lives of more than 1.3 million newborns in Nepal, decreasing levels of child mortality in Nepal. Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have also introduced the solution to reduce child mortality rates.

Facts About Child Mortality

  • Under 5 Mortality. Child mortality, which people also know as the under-five mortality rate, is the likelihood of a child dying before reaching 5 years of age and is usually calculated per 1,000 live births.
  • Child Mortality in Numbers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 5 million children under the age of 5 died in 2020. Newborns accounted for around half of those deaths — about 2.4 million neonatal deaths. Compared to data from 1990, the global child mortality rate has decreased by about 60%. UNICEF estimates that compared to 93 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990, in 2020, the world noted 37 deaths per 1,000 live births.
  • Highest Burdens. Child mortality is most severe in the regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, where more than 80% of the 5 million deaths of children occurred in 2020.
  • Leading Causes. According to WHO, the leading causes of child mortality are infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria as well as complications arising from premature birth. The majority of infections are avoidable with simple and affordable health and sanitation solutions.

Child Mortality in Nepal

Nepal stands out in particular within the region of South Asia when it comes to child mortality rates. According to World Bank data, in 1960, Nepal recorded 325 under-5 deaths per 1,000 live births, whereas, in 2020, this number significantly reduced to 28 deaths per 1,000 live births. This is a significant improvement, especially in comparison to other countries. For instance, Pakistan reports 65 deaths per 1,000 live births and Afghanistan reports 58 deaths per 1,000 live births as of 2020.

The reasons for child mortality rates continuing to persist in Nepal are multifold. Lack of preventative measures against infectious diseases like malaria and pneumonia plays a major role in many babies not surviving. Many times, complications at birth occur, which are easily preventable with adequate medical care. Lastly, unhygienic medical conditions result in infections that claim the lives of babies. The adoption of simple and cost-effective solutions, one of which is chlorhexidine, can easily prevent unhygienic conditions and infections.

How Chlorhexidine Helps

Chlorhexidine, an antiseptic that hospitals widely use to disinfect skin and sterilize surgical equipment, comes in both liquid and gel form and is generally affordable. A study in Nepal showed that the use of chlorhexidine significantly reduced the risk of infection by 68% and minimized child deaths by 23%, USAID reported. The study led to the start of the 2009 USAID-led chlorhexidine program, supported by the Government of Nepal. Following the successful results visible in the program, chlorhexidine became a part of the entire nation’s medical care in 2011. In regions where people prefer home birth and use risky methods of birthing, chlorhexidine has helped save the lives of numerous children.

The application of this solution has decreased child mortality in Nepal and could impact the entire region’s child mortality rate. Chlorhexidine could also benefit regions like sub-Saharan Africa where infant deaths remain a concern.

– Umaima Munir
Photo: Flickr

Trafficked Victims in Nepal
The organization Shakti Samuha believes that trafficked victims in Nepal are valuable members of society. It asserts that these victims deserve rights like everyone else. Moreover, it believes that victims should lead the fight against trafficking. Founded by 15 girls that the Indian government released in 1996, Shakti Samuha focuses on prevention, security and empowerment for survivors.

Shakti Samuha: Victims as Advocates

Shakti Samuha promotes enhancing advocacy efforts to improve and influence anti-trafficking legislation. Further, it strives to empower victims to seek cases against traffickers. Simultaneously, Shakti Samuha works to reintegrate victims into the economy. The organization runs an income-generation support program. It also provides psychosocial and legal counseling. Finally, Shakti Samuha helps provide survivors with housing. The organization has five shelters and provides education support to 1,514 children. In total, since 2009 Shakti Samuha has repatriated 145 human trafficked women and children from India.

Since 2005, about 18,261 people have actively participated in the awareness-raising, interaction and advocacy activities in Kathamndu valley and five trafficking-prone districts. Shakti Samuha won the 2013 Ramon Magsaysay Award, which is considered Asia’s Nobel prize.

Sunita Danuwar: Leading the Way

In 2018, the United States Department of State awarded its Trafficking In Person (TIP) Award to Sunita Danuwar. Danuwar is the co-founder and executive director of the Shakti Samuha. A survivor of trafficking herself, Danuwar personally travels to poor Nepali villages to raise awareness. From 2009 to 2011 she ran the Alliance Against Trafficking of Women and Children in Nepal, which is a group of non-government organizations working collectively to support trafficked victims in Nepal.

Nepalese Trafficking and Child Labor

“The main forms of trafficking are sexual exploitation, forced labor and removal of organs,” says Binija Dhital Goperma,  the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Programme Coordinator in Nepal. She adds that cases of human trafficking occur in the entertainment and hospitality sectors. She also mentions garment industries and agricultural, domestic and brick kiln workplaces. However, striving to combat trafficking, Nepal ratified the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons in 2018. The Protocol legally binds countries to criminalize trafficking by introducing national anti-trafficking laws. Unfortunately, due to the COVID pandemic, the government needed to reduce access to resources for trafficking survivors.

A weak economy with high unemployment sets the stage for a high rate of trafficking. In 2019, Nepal had an 11.4 % unemployment rate. It then follows that trafficked Nepalese are a key source of forced labor.  Laborers in Nepal may be working back-breaking construction jobs in the desert in scorching heat for 12 hours a day. Factories force some to work grueling hours seven days a week. Domestic workers become  “virtual slaves” in private homes.

Trafficking in Asia and the Pacific

Human trafficking is the second-largest criminal activity in the world, raising $32 billion. The International Labor Office (2017) reports that a majority (approximately 62%) of persons trafficked are victimized in Asia and the Pacific. The 2020 International Labor Organization (ILO) data shows that in 2020 Asia and the Pacific child labor included 48.7 million children. Moreover, of those children, 22.2 million worked in hazardous jobs.

Other Ways Human Trafficking Victims are Receiving Help in Nepal

Many coalitions throughout the world are striving to eliminate child labor and trafficking in Nepal, Asia, the Pacific and throughout the world. Organizations including the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations focus on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 to end child labor and all its forms by 2025. They work with nations, including Nepal, to create laws and policies to accomplish this. They also create programs to work directly with trafficked victims.

A Bridge to Global Action on Forced Labor (Bridge Project) is an initiative launched by the International Labor Organization and funded by the U.S. Department of Labor that assists the migrant worker communities of Bajura and Kanchanpur by providing livelihood support. Specifically, the Bridge Project develops programming to help trafficked victims gain the skills necessary to avoid exploitative environments. For example, people in the program learn how to nurse diseased goats back to health and then how to become goat farmers.

Programs like Shakti Samuha and the Bridge Project remain focused on empowering trafficked victims in Nepal to sustain themselves. With that focus, they should eventually prevent poverty from being a mitigating factor in trafficking in the first place.

– Joy Maina
Photo: Flickr

Literacy Rates
Literacy is fundamental when investing in the future and working toward greater health, economic prosperity and gender equality and is a fair indicator of a nation’s relationship with education. Former UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova summarized this perfectly when she said “the future starts with the alphabet.” As a proven pathway out of poverty, education leads to higher literacy rates, which can ease economic burdens in developing nations.

Global Literacy Rates

According to the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), in 2016, the global literacy rate stood at 86% for individuals 15 and older in comparison to 91% for youth aged 15-24. These high percentages are indicative of increased access to basic education. Across the past 65 years, “the global literacy rate increased by 4% every five years from 42% in 1960 to 86% in 2015.”

However, there is a large disparity among developing countries, specifically those in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, in 2019, Niger’s youth illiteracy rate for ages 15-24 stood at 60.3%, which is a constraint for economic and social development in the nation.

From an economic perspective, any effort toward increased literacy marks a returned investment in the nation’s growth. High illiteracy rates place a financial burden on nations. The World Literacy Foundation found in 2018 that the economic cost of illiteracy in the U.S. alone is more than $300 billion, and in terms of the global economy, illiteracy costs the world $1.2 trillion.

Literacy for Poverty Reduction

Established research highlights the correlation between high literacy rates and a high GDP. Friedrich Huebler, the head of the Education Standards and Methodology Section of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, conducted a study in 2005 where he plotted the school net enrollment ratios (NER) against GDP per capita of 120 different countries. His findings showed that “the higher the income levels of a country, the higher the levels of school enrollment.”

When it comes to cost per student in regard to literacy rates, there is a stark global trend: “In high-income countries, for instance, households shoulder a larger share of education expenditures at higher education levels than at lower levels – but in low-income countries, this is not the case.” The amount a household spends on education directly correlates to higher education rates. Because of this, low-income countries are falling behind in education levels because of the low private spending on education in comparison to their higher-income counterparts.

Books For Africa Works to Increase Literacy Rates

Books For Africa is working to “end the book famine in Africa” by collecting and distributing books, tablets and computers across the African continent. Tom Warth founded BfA in 1988 when he visited a Ugandan library with an extreme scarcity of books. He went back to the U.S. and spoke with “publishers, booksellers and librarians” at the Minnesota Book Publishers’ Roundtable, prompting the start of the organization.

Through a simple idea, Books For Africa has made a profound impact on the access to knowledge in Africa. According to its website, “last year alone, Books For Africa shipped 3.1 million books, and 224 computers and e-readers containing more than 885,000 digital books to 28 African countries.”

The organization’s methodology has been proven to increase education and literacy rates. According to USAID’s research, “children and youth who learn to read are healthier, more self-sufficient, can earn a better living and have more opportunities to become productive members of their societies.” Not only does the increased access to books promote literacy but it also contributes to the development of children and communities at large.

Room to Read

Room to Read is an international nonprofit that is fighting specifically for increased access to girls’ education alongside children’s literacy. This mission is important as more than two-thirds of the 796 million illiterate people in the world are women.

John Wood founded the nonprofit in 1998 when he visited a school in Nepal with 450 students and very few resources. Wood began with 3,000 book donations from family and friends. Wood soon left his job at Microsoft as director of business development to pursue his passion for education with co-founders Erin Ganju and Dinesh Shrestha.

Since its founding, the nonprofit has reached more than 32 million children across 15 developing nations. About 20 million children have enrolled in Room to Read’s literacy initiative and the organization has provided training to more than “200,000 teachers and librarians.” Specifically, in the arena of girls’ education, 2.8 million girls have enrolled in the organization’s girls’ education program.

Room to Read prioritizes working directly with “local governments, schools, communities and families” to highlight the importance of education “and how [these groups] can play a role in enabling students to achieve their full potential.” Additionally, 87% of the organization’s staff work in their countries of origin, ensuring that the efforts are more grassroots and built from the community.

High literacy rates are paramount for economic development, and with a continued commitment to further this at the grassroots level and beyond, global poverty rates can reduce.

– Imaan Chaudhry
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Maiti Nepal
Nepal, landlocked between the global superpowers of China and India, is one of the most impoverished countries in South Asia, due in part to poor infrastructure, corruption and natural disasters. Staggering poverty rates and unemployment have created a crisis at the India-Nepal border, a hotspot for human trafficking. Women and girls are especially at risk of sex trafficking, especially girls in rural communities far from the capital city of Kathmandu. Maiti Nepal aims to address the growing issue of human trafficking in Nepal.

Women and Girls at Risk

Women and girls make up about “71% of modern slavery victims” worldwide. Illiteracy, poverty, unemployment and geography all contribute to the human trafficking crisis. Faced with few prospects, many girls are lured into the hands of traffickers with the promise of work and prosperity abroad.

Traffickers transport these girls to urban centers, either to Kathmandu or various cities in India. These girls must work in brothels, massage parlors, dance clubs, circuses and private homes. If the girls are lucky enough to make it back home, they then face additional discrimination and struggle to reintegrate into society.

COVID-19 Worsens the Trafficking Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the risks of human trafficking for girls. As unemployment rises, desperate families are more likely to believe traffickers can provide a better life for their children. In a society that views girls’ education as less important than boys’, extended school closures leave girls at heightened risk of falling victim to trafficking. It is imperative that global actors and the government of Nepal take immediate action to protect girls and women during the pandemic.

Neither India nor Nepal requires documentation for citizens to cross their shared border, allowing traffickers to move people across without detection. Dealing with the COVID-19 crisis has further depleted the resources and ability of anti-trafficking officials to adequately monitor border crossings. Estimates indicate that traffickers move 54 women and girls into India every day.

Maiti Nepal Spearheads Anti-Trafficking Efforts

Anuradha Koirala founded Maiti Nepal in 1993 with the goal of addressing the trafficking of women and children. Named a CNN Hero in 2010, Koirala has devoted the majority of her life to rehabilitating survivors of trafficking and implementing prevention efforts. Maiti Nepal recognizes that without improving conditions in Nepal, trafficking will continue to persist.

Though the Nepali government attempts to monitor the border, women and girls continue to slip through the cracks. Maiti Nepal supplements the government’s efforts to guard the busy border between India and Nepal. Volunteers directly intercept traffickers at the border and safely return the victims to their homes or a transit center. To date, Maiti Nepal has intercepted more than 42,000 girls at the border and convicted 1,620 human traffickers.

Maiti Nepal began as one rehabilitation home to house survivors. Now, its programs include prosecution and legal counseling, transit homes, education sponsorships, job training, advocacy efforts, rehabilitation and HIV/AIDS treatment programs, among others. Maiti has provided rehabilitation services to about 25,000 women and children. The nonprofit spearheads multiple efforts to provide direct aid as well as prevention and advocacy efforts throughout the country.

Looking Ahead

The continued efforts of Maiti Nepal and the Nepali government safeguard impoverished girls and women from the lures of human trafficking. Understanding the links between poverty and human trafficking, a broader focus on poverty reduction can accelerate efforts to combat human trafficking in Nepal.

– Elizabeth Long
Photo: Unsplash

Aiding Nepalese Women
Landlocked between India and China and considered the modern-day birthplace of Gautama Buddha, Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. One in four families lives in poverty in a country where food shortages, natural disasters and severe weather are extremely common. Women’s rights in Nepal are also limited due to lack of education, high rates of violence against women and historical patriarchal practices within their government. Here is more information about the situation in Nepal and how some are aiding Nepalese women.

The Situation

The United Nations recognizes Nepalese women’s need for aid. As a result, it has implemented volunteer programs centered around solving food insecurity and improving health education and much more to provide assistance and sustainable, long-term solutions to Nepalese communities.

Because of COVID-19 and the lockdown, approximately 41% of women in Nepal lost their jobs and main sources of income. Women who were once financially independent now faced a reality that meant relying on others to provide for their families. Seeing this widespread problem, the women of Nepal united during this trying time and established women-managed community kitchens centered around aiding Nepalese women in poverty and eliminating the food insecurity crisis the country has been facing.

UN Women

U.N. Women and the Government of Finland are working with local women to develop these community kitchens and provide a sustainable source of food. Only 20% of land in Nepal is capable of being cultivated. These community kitchens are not only providing food for the people of Nepal, but they are also empowering these women to combat local food insecurity due to their weather conditions.

The meals include “rice, daal (lentil soup), spinach, vegetable, pickle, fruits, ladoo (sweets), and a bottle of water.” Daily, these community kitchens cook up to 250 meals, but sometimes they have even produced more than 500 requested meals in a day. Women for Human Rights, Maiti Nepal, Nagarik Aawaz and Nari Bikas Sangh have all created women-run community kitchens in Nepal serving 95,000 meals and providing baby food to 30,000 people since June 2020.

In total, more than 100 women work for and run the Nepal community kitchens and are making a real impact in their communities through their work. By building trust and uniting a community, vulnerable groups of women like migrants, dwellers, ill or sick women, pregnant women or women with disabilities have been able to find leadership roles in their communities. Nepal’s women-run community kitchens show the impact women can have against poverty in their own country.

The Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHV)

The Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs) program began in 1988 in Nepal. The all-female volunteers are also advocates and educators on maternal health, newborn caretaking, childhood health and nutrition. The implementation of programs like the “National Immunization Program, Birth Preparedness Package, Community-Based Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illness (CB-IMNCI), Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition, Infant and Young Child Feeding, and Family Planning program” are all possible because of the U.N.’s FCHV program. The program also provides frontline workers during polio vaccine campaigns and other communicable disease advocacy efforts.

Clean cooking is also a problem in Nepal, so besides community kitchens, Nepal has rerouted the FCHV program to help combat this issue. FCHVs go from home to home to educate local women on the harms of certain fuels used when cooking. Alternating from wood and kerosene with an open flame to biogas, petroleum gas and electric stoves lowers blood pressure and decreases the risk of pneumonia. The long-term health effects are detrimental, and these volunteers are working hard to keep their communities safe and healthy through their FCHV programs.

Maiti Nepal

Besides providing food for the community and a living wage for the women running the kitchens, groups like Maiti Nepal have used these community kitchens as an opportunity to educate locals on the dangers of COVID-19. Providing masks and sanitizer along with the meals has also promoted better public health for the country which the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard. Women in the FCHV program aid in any area of the community that needs help, so they became frontline workers and educators during the pandemic.

Looking Ahead

The U.N. is constantly working to improve women’s leadership and empowerment in countries facing low rates of women’s involvement in politics and places of power. By 2022, Nepal is aiming to graduate from the least developed country status, and the work these women are doing is directly contributing to the completion of this goal.

The United Nations is aiding Nepalese women in more ways than one and is constantly developing programs like the community kitchens and the FCHV program to fit the needs of each specific community. The women volunteering in these programs are working towards a better tomorrow for their local people and nation as a whole.

– Annaclaire Acosta
Photo: Flickr