Water in India and Nepal
With populations totaling over one billion people and high economic growth rates, the middle classes of India and Nepal are rising quickly as the 21st century progresses. However, with this rise in standard of living comes increased demand for resources. This includes one of the most precious resources on Earth – water, or “paani” in Hindi, a commonly spoken language in both India and Nepal. As Indians and Nepalis elevate themselves out of poverty, the demand for freshwater grows higher. Water in India and Nepal is used for activities ranging from cooking to leisurely use. The limited financial resources of the Indian and Nepali governments pose a significant challenge for ensuring adequate water for each nation’s urban middle classes and rural, largely subsistence farmers. Luckily, local initiatives and international partners are chipping in to solve this issue, with considerable success.

The Challenge

India is home to 1.3 billion people, and its population increases by over 10 million people per year. With an urbanization rate of 34.9% and rapidly growing, the strain on natural resources is significant. The quick expansion of India’s middle class and the problem of resource mismanagement lead to the popularization of the term “Day Zero” across India’s metropolises. “Day Zero” refers to a hypothetical future date in which Indian cities will run out of the groundwater supply required to quench the thirst of their urban populations. Unfortunately, for some Indian cities, that hypothetical scenario is already reality.

The city of Chennai, home to over 10 million people, experienced a “Day Zero” event last year. After losing access to groundwater resources, Chennai and cities like it are forced to tap into the resources of neighboring towns and villages, jeopardizing millions of farmers and their livelihoods. This also limits farmers’ chances at rising out of poverty. Some estimates suggest that by 2030 demand could outpace supply by a factor of two.

Similarly, the nation of Nepal faces rising challenges ensuring water for its people. While considerably smaller than its southern neighbor, Nepal’s population density is high, home to the same number of individuals (over 30 million) as the much larger Canada. With higher average glacial melt as a result of climate change and an increasingly thirsty economy, the Nepali government must contend with more flooding coupled with more consistent drought. Its financial issues mirror those of India, so it too must find innovative ways to conserve and replenish its water supplies. Addressing water in India and Nepal is essential for their success as emerging economies.

The Paani Foundation – India

Though many NGOs, IGOs, and state governments are currently attempting to address challenges with India’s water supply, one in particular stands out: The Paani Foundation. Founded by famous Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, The Paani Foundation assists villages in creating natural water tables and irrigation systems. It works to sculpt the land in order to limit topsoil runoff, maintain water levels during drought and improve local biodiversity. The foundation’s focus is primarily in the Indian state of Maharashtra, located west of the Arabian sea, home to 110 million people. The scale of The Paani Foundation’s work in Maharashtra is so immense that it is often recognized as the largest permaculture project in the world. The work of this NGO showcases how inexpensive and innovative solutions are working today to address the growing water challenges in India.

The Paani Programme – Nepal

Unlike the Paani Foundation, developed by a famous Bollywood actor, the Paani Programme is a cooperative between Nepali villagers, the non-profit AVKO and the United States Agency for International Development. Though the focus of this initiative centers on biodiversity conservation, this program, like India’s Paani Foundation, aims to develop irrigation and management systems that are sustainable in design and easy to maintain. The benefits of preserving biodiversity are two-fold, as resilient ecosystems that improve local wildlife numbers also contribute to the sustainable use of water supplies. With more reliable water access and more resilient ecosystems as a result of the investments of the Paani Programme, villagers across Nepal are more able to enjoy economic resilience and elevate themselves out of poverty.

With booming populations and increasingly thirsty economies, water in India and Nepal must rely on better systems to maintain its flow. Homegrown initiatives like The Paani Foundation are showcasing how local creativity can earn international praise. At the same time, programs like USAID’s Paani Programme provide an important example of the necessity of American federal interest in global poverty reduction and sustainable resource management. With “paani” being the most valuable natural resource on Earth, it’s time to give it the attention it truly deserves.

– Saarthak Madan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Suaahara II ProjectIn Nepal, 36% of children who are under the age of five remain underdeveloped in terms of growth and health despite progress in recent years. Through cooperation with USAID, the Nepalese Government and local private sector groups, Hellen Keller International (HKI) has provided impactful services that have helped rectify the systematic obstacles causing these health issues. Hellen Keller International is a non-profit organization that aims to reduce malnutrition. The Suaahara II project takes a pivotal role in these efforts.

What is the Suaahara II Project?

One of HKI’s most notable services is the Suaahara II project, which started in 2016 and was initially set to end in 2021. However, it will now extend to March 2023 due to COVID-19. Operating in 42 of Nepal’s districts with a $63 million budget, HKI partnered with these six organizations for the project:

  • Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Inc. (CARE)
  • Family Health International 360 (FHI 360)
  • Environmental and Public Health Organization (ENPHO)
  • Equal Access Nepal (EAN)
  • Nepali Technical Assistance Group (NTAG)
  • Vijaya Development Resource Center (VDRC)

Hellen Keller International’s primary role in the Suaahara II project deals with the technical assistance of child and maternal nutrition. This means that its tasks are oriented around building the skills and knowledge of health workers. This includes teaching health workers how to adequately measure and evaluate assessments; additionally, another technical facet relies on promoting governance that invests in nutrition.

A Multi-Sectoral Approach

Kenda Cunningham, a senior technical adviser for Suaahara II who works under HKI, told The Borgen Project that the Suaahara II consortium has taken a “multi-sectoral approach.” She believes in the importance of this as it pushes individuals to “learn and think beyond their sector.” The Suaahara II Project’s demonstrates its integrated strategy in the initiatives below:

  1. The WASH program focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene through WASHmarts, which are small shops dispersed across districts that sell sanitary products like soap and reusable sanitary pads. Kenda explained how this has helped “bridge a gap” so that poorer households can access hygiene enhancing products. This also allows assistance from private actors, who can expand their markets in rural areas.
  2. The Homestead Food Production program (HFP) encourages households to grow and produce micronutrient-rich foods through vegetable gardening and raising chickens, for example. As a result, 35 districts have institutionalized HFP groups.
  3. The Bhancchin Aama Radio Program is a phone-in radio program that runs twice every week. It hosts discussions among marginalized communities and demonstrations for cooking nutritious foods. It has encouraged the Nepalese to socially and behaviorally alter their health habits.

Advancements from Suaahara I

The Suaahara II project’s contribution to improved health and nutrition in Nepal is also illustrated in its progression from the Suaahara I project’s framework. In addition to understanding the changes made in household systems and at a policy level from Suaahara I, Cunningham told The Borgen Project that technological developments have elevated the Suaahara II Project’s impact in Nepal.

Specifically, smartphones expedite the data collection process when studying trends pertaining to the 2 million households across the districts. The development of new apps provided more households with access to smartphones and key information. This therefore allowed officers to transition from pursuing “a mother-child focus to a family focus” in terms of the Suaahara II project’s accommodations and services.

Challenges with Suaahara II

While the Suaahara II Project has led to institutional and social enhancements regarding health and nutrition, some districts had access to the project earlier. This created a dissonance in the rate of health improvements amongst the districts. Cunningham reported that “far western areas are much more remote and therefore disadvantaged and food insecure.”

This inconsistency was largely due to the “Federalism” that took place in Nepal in 2017, which was a decentralization process that created 42 municipalities for 42 districts. Since every municipality has a different political leader, some districts had the advantage of assistance from foreign NGOs while others did not because their leaders rejected involving foreign NGOs. In these cases, as Cunningham explained, it is like “you are creating your own NGOs from the ground up.”

Suaahara II Achievements

These obstacles, however, have not been pertinent enough to counter the consortium’s efforts in fulfilling the Suaahara II project’s objectives. For example, a primary objective for Suaahra II is to increase breastfeeding amongst babies under six months of age. Exclusive breastfeeding of children under six has increased from 62.9% in 2017 to 68.9% in 2019, according to data that Cunningham shared with The Borgen Project.

Expanding children’s access to diverse and nutritious foods is another objective that has been achieved under the Suaahara II project. The dietary diversity among women of reproductive age (WRA) has increased from 35.6% in 2017 to 45.3% in 2019, according to Cunningham. Given the efficient rate of improvement in women and children’s health, governance and equity in only the first two years of the Suaahara II project, it can be inferred that the consortium will continue to progress in achieving its targets among the Nepalese in the three years that remain.

Regarding how HKI has responded to challenges with the Suaahara II project, Cunningham said  “[We] don’t use a one size fits all approach.” The advancements in Nepal’s health and nutrition systems can be largely attributed to HKI’s multifaceted and integrated strategy, a model that could yield prosperity in the rest of the developing world.

Joy Arkeh
Photo: Flickr

ChhaupadiChhaupadi, a form of menstrual taboo, plagues the country of Nepal. Although it is a social taboo in Hindi tradition, the practice of chhaupadi is often practiced in the far-western region of Nepal and in Himalayan regions. This is because the event of menstruation, although a normal and healthy bodily function for females, is considered a form of sin and impurity. Although menstrual taboo exists in other regions of Nepal and in other South Asian countries, it is most prevalent in the Himalayan regions. Here, it is called chhaupadi, “Chhau” meaning menstruation and “padi” referring to women.

What is Chhaupadi?

Chhaupadi occurs during the female menstruation cycle. While women and girls are menstruating, they are considered impure, intouchable, and even perhaps, harbingers of bad fortune. During the menstruation cycle, any object a woman touches is deemed impure, including livestock, water resources and plants. It is believed that if touched, these objects need to be purified in some way. As a result, in regions where Chhaupadi is practiced, women are banished from their homes. During this exile, women and girls are often sent to a “chhau” shed, which is essentially a livestock shed, and the menstruating female will remain there for about four days. Girls who are experiencing menstruation for the first time may need to stay in the “chhau” for up to 14 days. Unfortunately, girls who may experience difficulties or health issues while menstruating must wait until their cycle ends before seeking medical care, which can worsen possible health problems and symptoms.

Even if women are not directly practicing menstrual exile, a 2018 study by sociologist Saruna Ghimire at Miami University found that 100% of girls are restricted by menstrual taboos during their cycles. These women are not allowed to touch food, touch the water tap or participate in normal family activities. The menstrual taboo restricts the resources available, limiting the autonomy of women and possibly damaging their self-image. Additionally, the Ghimire study found that 72% of females are subjected to menstrual exile due to Chhapuadi.

The Dangers of Menstrual Exile

Not only is the stigma associated with menstruation a problem within these communities but the actual practice of Chhaupadi poses many health risks for the women and girls involved. For instance, the temporary shelters used during Chhaupadi are unhygienic, which increases the risk of health complications such as urinary tract infections, diarrhea, dehydration and hypothermia. Additionally, women and girls living in these sheds are subject to the dangers of snake bites and other animal attacks.

Each year, at least one woman or girl dies during menstrual exile. These cases often go unnoticed by the media, leaving the beliefs of community members unchanged. Moreover, the isolation that comes with Chhaupadi poses dangerous consequences to the mental health of these females. Oftentimes, these women and girls will feel abandoned, insecure, guilty and embarrassed.

Law Prohibiting Chhapuadi

In 2017, the Nepali Government enacted a new law that prohibits Chhapuadi. Any family member that forces a female to practice Chhaupadi can be punished with a jail sentence of three months or fined 3,000 rupees, which translates to about $30. Although the Nepal Supreme Court previously banned Chhapuadi in 2005, the practice has been difficult to disintegrate as it is deeply rooted in traditional beliefs. Besides the legislative component, local police are given the task of destroying Chhapuadi shelters. At the same time, some activists argue that Chhapuadi, although rooted in the patriarchal aspects of Nepali culture, will be difficult to stop as many women choose to practice it. Yet, with the new law, women who choose to practice Chhapuadi are required to do so in a safer way, by isolating themselves from their families in a separate area or room and not a shed.

The Road Ahead

Although Chhaupadi stems from Hindu scripture, the practice is one that has existed for centuries. Thus, the actual practice of menstrual exile may not stop right away. Luckily, the Nepalese Government has made strides in reducing Chhaupadi through the law and police action, and if Chhaupadi is practiced by choice, it will be done in a much safer way.

– Caitlin Calfo
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Nepal
In Nepal, one in four people lives below the national poverty line, earning only $0.50 a day. This makes it nearly impossible for them to afford basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. In recent years, many organizations have provided aid to Nepal to improve living conditions and lower hunger levels. Outlined below are three organizations fighting hunger in Nepal.

World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP) is a humanitarian organization run by the United Nations with the goal of fighting global hunger. WFP distributes more than 15 billion rations to people affected by hunger in countries around the world. Two-thirds of the countries it serves are affected by conflict. Statistically, people in conflict-ridden countries are three times more likely to be malnourished than their counterparts living in peaceful environments.

One of the countries WFP has been working to address food security and hunger in is Nepal. Roughly 36% of Nepali children under five are stunted due to hunger, while an additional 27% are underweight, and 10% suffer from wasting due to acute malnutrition. As part of their work to address hunger in Nepal, WFP established the Zero Hunger strategy, which is a program with the goal to achieve zero hunger by 2030. This program has directly helped strengthen the government’s capacity to improve “food security, nutrition, as well as emergency preparedness and response.”

Action Against Hunger

Action Against Hunger was created to establish a stronger method for dealing with hunger. Over the past 40 years, it has provided life-saving services in more than 45 countries, one of which is Nepal. Since 2005, Action Against Hunger dedicated a team of 25 employees to address hunger in Nepal.

Nepal is very susceptible to natural disasters based on its proximity to the Himalayas. Its location causes more than 80% of the population to be at risk of storms, floods, landslides or earthquakes. A 2015 earthquake greatly affected Nepal’s Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts. In response, the team created and integrated water and sanitation reconstruction for the areas impacted.

In 2019, Action Against Hunger was able to provide treatments for severely malnourished children through two inpatient and 28 outpatient therapeutic care centers. The organization has carried out various livelihood programs that include helping Nepali citizens implement “home gardening, mushroom farming, poultry and integrated shed management” into their lives. In 2019 alone, the organization provided aid to 99,455 Nepali citizens. Among these citizens, 90,316 were reached by nutrition and health programs, 4,570 were reached by water, sanitation and hygiene programs and 4,569 were reached by food security and livelihood programs.

Feed the Future

Feed the Future was started with the intention of creating sustainable and long-term strategies that would put an end to chronic hunger and poverty across the globe. The organization now operates in twelve different countries affected by food insecurity to execute their goals.

In Nepal, almost 70% of the population works in agriculture; however, many farmers struggle to afford supplies to yield fruitful crops. Feed the Future works with the Nepali government and the agricultural private sector to “produce more diverse and nutritious foods, improve agricultural practices among farmers, and create more inclusive economic opportunities.” So far, the organization has increased nutrition access for 1.75 million children under the age of five. In 2018, it increased vegetable crop yields by 22% and raised farmers’ gross profit margins for vegetables by 17%. The organization also helped the farms it worked with generate $20 million in sales for their crops.

Eradicating Hunger

For years, Nepal has had high food insecurity and hunger due to economic hardships and natural disasters. However, organizations like the World Food Programme, Action Against Hunger and Feed the Future are making measurable and tangible differences in the lives of Nepali citizens. Through the work of these organizations and so many like them, eradicating hunger in Nepal is possible in the coming years.

Sara Holm
Photo: Flickr

Data Literacy
Since 2015, Nepal has been on the rise from a period of political turmoil. The country faced social unrest, economic instability and a shift to a three-tiered government. After a difficult transition, Nepal adopted a new constitution in 2015 and held elections for government members. These democratic changes brought Nepal some peace as well as hope for a better and more consistent future. One key element of a Nepali future hinges on data literacy.

Nepal’s new government aims to achieve the status of a middle-income country by 2030. To achieve this goal, it is imperative that all members of society are able to access and properly use data. Citizens need to have data literacy to inform decision-making, create developmental opportunities and much more.

What is the Power of Open Data?

Prioritizing the collection and making official statistics accessible to the population is essential in boosting policymaking and delivering public services. Professionals possessing data literacy can use data to change these systems in evidence-based ways that better serve the population. For example, education or sanitation fields can improve with a greater understanding of how they currently function within the country. If Nepal wants to transition to a middle-income country by 2030, data collection and analytics will be essential to making evidence-based fiscal decisions.

The public in Nepal has had access to government data since 2007. However, reports state a limited public understanding of how to request such information. There is also a widespread “culture of secrecy” in regard to public data. Another barrier to accessing open data is internet speed and access to an internet connection in private households.

What is Nepal Doing to Encourage Data Literacy?

Nepal launched the Open Data Awareness Program in 2017. It aims to bring awareness to Nepali youth about data literacy, as these youth are the future generation of leaders and policymakers for the country. The program strived to raise awareness through training sessions at colleges and youth organizations. The program then culminated in a hackathon event where youth from all over Nepal collaborated in data-oriented problem-solving.

In 2019, the World Bank worked with Nepal to create a 100-hour Data Literacy Program. The first phase of the program involved 40-hour in-person training on data literacy. During the second phase, program participants trained people in their community using the information learned in the first phase. The third phase was another in-person training, this time 60 hours, involving participants from various diverse Nepali organizations. This training also covered data literacy topics such as python, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Later that year, the World Bank, Asia Foundation and UKAID collaborated to organize a two-day Solve-a-thon at the Kathmandu University School of Management. This event provided a platform for professionals with backgrounds in programming, research, development and data science to collaborate on data projects to further development in Nepal. These participants worked in teams on different projects that tackled issues such as air pollution, gender equality and tourism. The program held open debates on complex issues and how to use data to find efficient and effective solutions. Youth and professionals were able to come up with interesting prototypes from the Solve-a-thon. Two creations were a chatbot that tracks Nepal’s air quality and a dashboard that monitors tourist flow.

Data Literacy During the Pandemic and Beyond

In most recent news, the Nepal Data Literacy Community on Facebook that emerged from the Data Literacy Programs in 2019, decided to tackle COVID-19, by providing the correct information using open data as its resource. The community came up with initiatives to inform the population as well as collect and spread COVID-19 crisis management information. Its initiatives aim to remove language barriers on information, investigate the relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality, make data on COVID-19 publicly available and analyze global media trends around divisive pandemic narratives.

Other initiatives have also come together to launch Open Nepal, a community knowledge hub. The group produces, shares and uses data to further development in Nepal. The site is a diverse platform for organizations and individuals to share their experiences and bridge the gap in data literacy. Open Nepal involves the public and private sectors to make sure no one is left behind in the fight for Nepali development.

Giulia Silver
Photo: Flickr

Inclusive Education in NepalNepal has made great strides to improve education on a broad scale and currently boasts a net enrollment of 97%. However, issues of inequity persist especially in terms of factors such as gender, economic status and location. A group that has been neglected more than the average is the large population of disabled children in Nepal. Of the approximately 200,000 disabled children in Nepal, a study found that around 30.6% of them did not attend any school at all. There are also limited lesson plans for disabled students, and those who do not attend school are provided with very few basic skills. For these reasons, the government and various organizations have focused on making inclusive education in Nepal a standard and not an outlier.

Implementation of Inclusive Education in Nepal

Since 2017, the Nepal government has publicly supported legislation that would combat the lack of education services for disabled students. In that year, both the Disability Rights Act and the Inclusive Education Policy for Persons with Disabilities were created. Both aim to put a focus on the issue and ensure that no student is discriminated against in school based on their disability. In addition, the Disability Rights Act seeks to have a curriculum set by 2030 and allow disabled students to get their education in community schools or independently.

However, weakness in the Act has resulted in limited success since 2017. Despite the intent of the Disability Rights Act, inclusive education in Nepal remains very sparse and tens of thousands of disabled children still have no prospect of receiving some form of formal education. Some of the clearest factors that are causing the slow change in inclusive education include:

  • Lack of funding: The Nepali government has made acquiring the funds necessary to implement change difficult for many schools. One specific rule indicates that there must be a minimum number of students with a given disability at a specific school before it can qualify for funding. This lack of funding means that there will be less money to improve the structure of the school, such as ramps and conditions that many disabled students will require.

  • Lack of educators: In-line with low funding, many schools are having problems training and retaining educators that will teach disabled students. Some schools utilize “resource classes” with advanced teaching curriculums and trained teachers to cater to specific disabilities. However, the prevalence of such classes has been limited, with only 380 of the roughly 30,000 schools in Nepal offering them to disabled students. Training of teachers has also been slow, and currently, there are issues even ensuring that there are enough educators for these students. Often, this will mean that students with similar disabilities will be taught in over-packed classrooms, or more likely will have no school able to teach them.

  • Lack of materials: Lastly, many schools are still having trouble acquiring enough materials for all disabled students. This includes specialized equipment, braille textbooks and audio programs. Without more focus on inclusive education in Nepal’s budget, there will be no effective way to ensure all students are being provided for.

Programs Making a Difference

  1. Nepal Youth Foundation: The Nepal Youth Foundation is a scholarship organization that assists families of physically disabled children with the cost of boarding school. They are aware of the hardships in finding affordable inclusive education in Nepal, especially for the poorest of the nation. They aim to alleviate some of the strain on Nepal families, providing financially for students with added dietary and living requirements.

  1. Inclusive Education Initiative: Launched by the World Bank in 2019, the Inclusive Education Initiative aims to broaden inclusive education in impoverished nations, including Nepal where it deploys training and other materials today. As part of the broader initiative, there is also a pilot program that has delivered an additional $2 million in funding for students with disabilities. In the coming year, they aim to create a working response to the COVID-19 outbreak that will still allow disabled students to receive some education.

  1. Autism Care Nepal Society: The Autism Care Nepal Society is responsible for the creation of daycare centers focused on children and young adults with autism. This includes daily attendance at the centers, education and development assistance and adult supervision. Even now, as the COVID-19 outbreak forces children out of the center, there is still some assistance available online. While not an exact substitute for classroom education, this Society ensure that more disabled young people have at least some options to pursue an education.

While relief to disabled students has been slow to begin, it is clear that the Nepal government and outside groups are determined to find a solution. Continued support for inclusive education in Nepal and added funding to structural improvements and accommodating materials in the country could allow for faster development across the country.

– Matthew McKee
Photo: Flickr

Casteism in Nepal
Casteism in Nepal is a centuries-old social class system. This system oppresses lower-caste communities and gives power to upper-caste, educated Nepalis. Historically, the caste system justified the subjugation of lower castes, allowing upper-caste Nepalis to use their status to gain security and power. Roughly 260 million people in South Asia are “Dalits,” or members of lower castes, and are therefore treated as ‘untouchable’ by their social superiors. Dalits in Nepal face social, economic, cultural and political marginalization and routinely fall victim to both institutional and structural discrimination. Despite legal provisions intended to eradicate caste discrimination in Nepal, hate crimes and acts of violence against the Dalit community are rampant. The discrimination and violence Dalits experience severely limit their access to equal education, employment and housing opportunities.

Inadequate Legal Protections

After the monarchy was overthrown, the Nepali constitution explicitly banned discrimination “on grounds of origin, religion, race, caste, tribe, sex, economic condition, language, region, ideology or on similar other grounds.” When the Civil Act 1963 emerged, its primary focus was to make caste-based discrimination a punishable offense. The Untouchability and Discrimination Act and the Constitution of Nepal both provide legal protections for Dalits. Yet, discrimination against marginalized communities in Nepal—particularly Dalit people—remains prevalent.

Despite the instituted legal provisions, cases of caste-based discrimination rarely make it to court, much less result in a conviction. In the rare case of a conviction, perpetrators often avoid jail and walk free after merely paying a small fine. “The discriminatory practice of excluding Dalits from all social practice is so deep-rooted that victims have not been able to speak up for their rights which has resulted in such a few numbers of cases in court,” says Durga Sob, President of the Feminist Dalit Organization.

Discrimination Exacerbated by COVID-19

Discrimination against Dalits is embedded in Nepal’s social fabric. COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown have only exacerbated incidents of violence and prejudice. A global crisis such as the pandemic not only exposes existing structural inequalities but also deepens their effects. The lockdown has not prevented violence against Dalits from taking place; there were at least 31 documented cases of physical violence against Dalits during the lockdown period. In particular, an incident on May 23rd in Soti Village, Rukum triggered a nationwide anti-caste movement against casteism in Nepal. The movement, called “Dalit Lives Matter,” is inspired by the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the United States. That day, Nabaraj BK, Tikaram Sunar and Ganesh Budha were murdered in Rukum–a hate crime committed out of caste-based prejudice.

Especially Vulnerable Groups

As previously established, state-imposed discriminatory practices are historically embedded in Nepal’s social fabric. As a result, marginalized communities including Dalits and Indigenous Nepalis bare much of the burden from the country’s political and economic turmoil. According to the Human Development Index, Dalits are the poorest community in Nepal. Over half of Dalits live below the poverty line and 45.5% struggle to make ends meet. Not only are Dalits much poorer than their upper-caste counterparts, but they also have life expectancies and literacy rates below the national average. Dalits routinely lack access to religious sites, face heavy resistance to inter-caste marriages, use separate water sources and suffer many additional forms of discrimination.

Among the Dalit community, women face more violence and marginalization than men. Females are deprived of control over resources such as land, housing, money or education. They are also extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

The centuries-long egregious treatment of the Dalit community in Nepal incited nationwide protests and the “Dalit Lives Matter” movement. To effectively put an end to the violence and oppression of casteism in Nepal, beneficiaries of that system–wealthy upper-caste Hindus in Nepal–must use their privilege to uplift and liberate the Dalit community.

– Shreeya Sharma
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in NepalNepal, a landlocked country in South Western Asia, is one of the few places in the world where rates of child marriage are not slowing. In certain areas, they are increasing. Although child marriage in Nepal has been illegal for over fifty years, 40% of Nepalese women between the ages of 20 and 24 were illegally married before their eighteenth birthday. Young boys are equally at risk. The number of child grooms is disproportionately high when compared to the rest of the world.

Contributions to Child Marriage in Nepal

Several factors contribute to child marriage in developing countries. Nepal has a patriarchal society that values girls significantly less than boys. Limited access to education and a negative outlook towards a sexual expression motivates adolescents to marry early. The most massive motivator, however, is poverty. Countries with a higher percentage of the population living on under $1.90 per day, including Nepal, frequently experience higher rates of child marriage. Poverty correlates to the high rates of child marriage in Nepal, including dowries and financial benefits, economic hardship of schooling and “love marriages” to escape poverty.

The Struggle with Poverty

Although rates have decreased over the past few years, Nepal continues to struggle with poverty. While poverty in Nepal has reduced from 15% to 8% in the last decade, the country remains one of the most impoverished in Asia and ranks 147th on the Human Development Index. Nepal is mostly made up of a landscape dominated by mountains. Being rural makes development difficult. The country also struggles with rapid population growth, political instability and a growing wealth gap between the very rich and the very poor. They all contribute to a high poverty rate.

Considering the Financial Reasons

Nepalese families often arrange marriages for their children for financial reasons. Girls who live under the poverty line are more likely to enter a child marriage in Nepal than girls who do not. This dilemma is due to the concept of a dowry. A bride’s family will provide the groom’s family with money or gifts to establish the marriage. Dowries increase the societal value of boys who receive them. They decrease the value of girls whose families must pay. Impoverished families rely on dowries as a source of income, incentivizing them to marry their sons, especially at young ages. In some areas in Southern Nepal, the dowry increases with the age of the bride. This motivates families to arrange marriages for their daughters quickly and early.

Additionally, many married girls stop attending school to care for their husband and start a family. Tuition and materials are costly, and keeping girls in school creates a financial strain on families. This strain is relieved when a match leads to an established marriage.

Escaping Poverty

Child marriage also functions as a means to escape poverty. ‘Love marriages,’ or those not sanctioned by parents, are also common in impoverished Nepal. Young girls and boys often establish ‘love marriages’ as a way to leave their families. This can be done for many reasons, yet a common one is poverty. Matches form quickly to escape impoverished homes and enter a more secure situation.

The Nepalese government has implemented some strategies to decrease the high rates of child marriage in Nepal. The country recently increased their minimum legal marrying age to 20. Families who kept their daughters in school instead of arranging a wedding for them received cash incentives and bicycles in January 2019. Nepal has promised to eradicate child marriage by the year 2030. Although it is a daunting task, it is incredibly crucial for the health and wellbeing of Nepalese girls.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Solar Technology Alleviating PovertyGivePower, founded in 2013 by Hayes Barnard, is a nonprofit organization whose aim is to use solar technology in alleviating poverty worldwide. The United Nations reports that, as of 2019, “over two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and about four billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.” These water-related stress levels are expected to rise with increased population growth and global economic development. Ultimately, yielding a rise in poverty.

Solar Technology: A Solution to Poverty

Solar technology presents a solution to this growing, global, water crisis. This is because solar technology holds the power to supply clean water and efficient energy systems to communities located in virtually any part of the world. Since 2013, GivePower has worked to help some of the world’s poorest countries gain access to a source of clean, renewable and resilient energy. This has in turn allowed for more readily available, clean drinking water, agricultural production and self-sustaining communities. For example, in 2018 alone, GivePower granted access to clean water, electricity and food to more than 30,000 people in five countries. Since its founding, GivePower has completed projects in the following six countries:

  1. Nicaragua: Though education through the primary stages is mandatory for Nicaraguans, school enrollment numbers are low. During its first-ever, solar microgrid installation in 2014, GivePower, recognized the importance of education. In this vein, GivePower shifted its resources toward powering a school in El Islote, Nicaragua. The school’s enrollment has improved tremendously, now offering classes and resources for both children and adults.
  2. Nepal: In Nepal, access to electricity has increased by nearly 10% for the entire Nepalese population, since GivePower began installing solar microgrids in 2015. Installation occurred throughout various parts of the country. Rural villages now have access to electricity — allowing schools, businesses, healthcare services, agricultural production and other forms of technology to prosper. Part of GivePower’s work in Nepal includes installing a 6kW microgrid on a medical clinic in a rural community, ensuring essential services.
  3. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): During 2016, the GivePower team reached the DRC, where civil war has ended in a struggle for both people and the country’s wildlife. The DRC is home to many of the world’s endangered species, making protection of the country’s wildlife essential. GivePower has successfully installed solar panels for ranger stations in one of Africa’s oldest national parks. In this way, wildlife thrives. This power provides a means for rangers to meet their basic needs and increases the likelihood that rangers can protect wildlife.
  4. Puerto Rico: In 2017, Hurricane Maria, a powerful category four hurricane, devastated Puerto Rico. The disaster left many without shelter, food, power or clean water for months. GivePower intervened, installing solar microgrids and reaching more than 23,000 people. The organization provided individual water purification systems to families without access to clean drinking water and installed solar microgrids. In this effort, the main goals were to restore and encourage more disaster relief, emergency and medical services. Furthermore, the refrigeration of food and medication and the continuation of educational services were paramount in these efforts.
  5. Kenya: Typically, only about 41% of Kenyans have access to clean water for fulfilling basic human needs. Notably, about 9.4 million Kenyans drink directly from contaminated surface water. During 2018, using solar technology in alleviating poverty, GivePower provided electricity to Kenyans living in Kiunga. Moreover, GivePower also increased access to clean water through a large-scale, microgrid water desalination farm. The water farm provides clean water for about 35,000 Kenyans, daily. The organization has also reached the Namunyak Wildlife Conservatory located in Samburu, Kenya. There, GivePower installed solar panels to ensure refrigeration and communications at the conservatory.
  6. Colombia: In 2019, GivePower installed solar microgrids in Colombia to preserve one of the country’s most famous cultural heritage sites. Moreover, the microgrids helped to support research conducted in the area. The grids installed have been able to sustain a 100-acre research field and cold storage units.

Solar Technology Alleviating Poverty: Today and Tomorrow

Renewable, clean and resilient energy has granted many populations the ability to innovate. In this way, other basic, yet vital human needs are met. Using solar technology alone in alleviating poverty has been enough to create water farms that provide clean water to thousands. With water and energy for innovation — agricultural production flourishes. This, in turn, addresses hunger issues while also working toward economic development. Having already touched the lives of more than 400,000 people, GivePower and solar technology present a promising solution in alleviating global poverty.

Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

Nepal’s rural communitiesNepal’s economy is heavily reliant on farming and livestock, with 65% of the population engaging in these industries. This sector accounts for around 35% of the country’s GDP. However, many of Nepal’s rural communities that comprise the backbone of this sector still face poverty and food insecurity. Around 27% of Nepalese children under the age of five are underweight. In normal years, Nepal’s rural communities already face many challenges. According to a large sample survey of rural Nepalis, around a quarter of respondents report having to restrict meal portions during the lean season. The lean season is the period between planting and harvesting. Rural incomes dry up during this period.

COVID-19 Related Challenges in Nepal’s Rural Communities

While quarantine and lockdown have been a vital part of curbing the spread of COVID-19, it created challenges for rural Nepalis. A joint research team of the Yale Research Initiative on Innovation and Scale (Y-RISE) and the Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility in Kathmandu tracked 2,600 households in rural Nepal before and after the COVID-19 lockdown. The main problem that this study identified is as lean seasons arrive and grain stocks from the last harvest are exhausted. In addition, extended lockdowns could lead to more hunger and push families below the poverty line. Krishna Rana, a rural citizen in Nepal shares, “Forget about nutritious food, it has been hard to manage daily food for us.”

In a normal year, during the lean season, workers are able to travel into the cities for temporary work. However, this isn’t possible during the lockdown. This study found that the total hours in income-generating work for men have decreased by 75% since January. These statistics indicate that the COVID-19 lockdown will have profound economic impacts. Additionally, it could exacerbate cycles of poverty. As Rana’s husband Rajendra Rana says, “There’s no work I can do. It’s been tough to feed nine members in the family and I am the sole breadwinner.”

Relief Measures to Face Nepal’s Agricultural Challenges

The country’s local governments take on the responsibility of supporting Nepal’s rural communities through the pandemic. Local governments have been allocating resources like food to its most vulnerable citizens. However, these local governments express the need for additional support. As Dhan Bahadur Thapa, Chairman of Beldandi Rural Municipality says, “We lack proper resources, and the support from the non-government agencies have been very essential; through the help of them we are trying our best to feed our people.”

NGOs That Help Assist The Governmental Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. The International Institute for Environment and Development: The International Institute for Environment and Development is a policy and action research organization. It has been leading an initiative called “Empowering Producers in Commercial Agriculture” in Nepal. This project began in 2018. In addition, it centered around finding ways to empower rural communities both economically and socio-legally. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the research framework of this project has been instrumental in helping local governments locate the rural communities most in need.
  2. DanChurchAid (DCA): DCA provides roughly 21 million Nepalese rupees worth of support for approximately 25000 individuals. This amount supports about 4,132 families. One of the specific aims of the DCA’s COVID-19 aid programs is to target pregnant and lactating mothers. Hunger and malnutrition can result in difficulty in producing milk and sustaining a child. Thus, these mothers are especially at risk to be affected by the pandemic lockdown. So far, around 105 of these mothers receive special aid packages with nutritious meals in addition to the regular food aid.
  3. Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS): The NRCS has assisted in the response to food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of August 18, the NRCS distributes a total of 17,933 meals.

With the support of NGOs, it is the hope that Nepal’s rural communities will be able to sustain themselves through the COVID-19 pandemic. Consistent food and resource support will ensure that these communities do not face food insecurity and further poverty. It is essential that these rural communities are aided so they can continue to sustain themselves through farming and livestock rearing in the future.

Antoinette Fang
Photo: Flickr