Child Poverty in NepalChild poverty in Nepal is an issue that the country continues to struggle with. While the child poverty rate has decreased over the past few decades, it is still detrimental to the overall progress of the country. In combating this issue, it is important to understand the consequences that stem from living in poverty. Two of these consequences are high levels of malnutrition and child marriage.

Overview of Child Poverty in Nepal

While Nepal has seen improvements over the past few decades, the overall poverty rate remains high. The decline of the child poverty rate in the country has not matched the decline of the overall poverty rate. Between 1995 and 2006, there was an 11% decline in the overall poverty rate, yet the decline in child poverty in that time period was only 8%.

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified this issue by weakening Nepal’s economy and forcing children to stay home. The lack of income for parents and the lack of schooling due to the pandemic has pushed millions of households into a precarious situation. It is estimated that nearly 10 million children in Nepal live in impoverished circumstances. The presence of COVID-19 exacerbates the already damaging effects of child poverty, including malnutrition and child marriage.

Malnutrition Among Nepali Children

Maintaining high nutritional standards for children is vital for a country. It ensures children will grow up to be healthy and productive adults, fully able to break cycles of poverty. Child poverty in Nepal is detrimental, in part, because it leads to high rates of malnutrition. Malnutrition may cause developmental issues and results in chronic health problems later in life. While Nepal has made progress in lowering malnutrition rates among children, it is still a cause for concern. In 2019, 43% of children under 5 years old were malnourished. Moreover, 36% of these children suffer from stunting and 10% of these children suffer from wasting.

The country’s high poverty rate exacerbates this issue because low-income families are unable to afford a nutritious diet for their children. As a result, malnutrition rates in Nepal are directly linked to poverty. According to USAID, “17% of children in the highest wealth quintile are stunted as compared to 49% of children in the lowest wealth quintile.” These statistics demonstrate how poverty impacts child mortality. Malnutrition causes the deaths of almost half of all children who perish before reaching the age of 5 years old.

Due to the impacts of child poverty and malnutrition, the government has set up initiatives to improve nutritional standards in the country. Since the 1990s, programs such as the Vitamin A campaign have launched in order to increase the consumption of certain nutrients. In 2004, Nepal implemented the National Nutrition Policy and Strategy, which focuses on the nutrition of women and children.

Child Marriage and its Relation to Poverty

Child poverty in Nepal also directly impacts the rates of child marriage in the country. Despite the fact that marriage before the age of 20 is illegal, 37% of girls are married before the age of 18. Girls who marry at a young age are at a higher risk of facing domestic violence. Human Rights Watch states, “A study across seven countries found that girls who married before the age of 15 were more likely to experience spousal abuse than women who married after 25.”

Additionally, early marriages are associated with lower levels of education. Strict gender roles in Nepal dictate that married girls are expected to be homemakers so girls who get married while still in school often do not finish their education. Early childbearing also has health consequences for these young women. Poverty is a primary reason child marriages persist in Nepal, despite efforts made by the government to stop the practice. Young girls in impoverished families are married off to ease the economic burden on the family. One less child to feed is sufficient justification for a family to allow a child marriage. Some of these girls even welcome child marriage because it means they will have food to eat.

Looking Ahead

At a 2014 “Girl Summit” in London, Nepal pledged to end child marriage by 2030 in accordance with the U.N. Sustainable Goal to end child marriage by 2030. The government of Nepal partnered to develop the National Strategy to End Child Marriage in order to meet this objective.

Child poverty in Nepal continues as a challenge for the country and impacts a wide range of topics. Malnutrition and child marriage are pertinent issues associated with child poverty. With a government commitment and help from organizations, child poverty in Nepal can be combated.

Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

COPE NepalCOPE Nepal is a youth-led organization that collects and analyzes information about COVID-19 in Nepal to help coordinate efforts to send resources to Nepalese communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

COVID-19 in Nepal

There is no country that has not felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nepal included. The first case of COVID-19 in Nepal was detected on January 23, 2020, and the first case of COVID-19 that was locally transmitted was detected nearly two months later on April 4, 2020. On March 9, 2021, the country’s total COVID-19 case count reached 274,869 and total deaths reached 3,012.

Due to an inadequate healthcare system, COVID-19 is particularly concerning in a developing country such as Nepal. After the detection of the first local transmission, Nepal took significant steps to limit COVID-19 transmission. However, difficulties arose due to cases with unknown origins and overwhelmed quarantine centers. Self-isolation became the only option, which is harder for the Nepalese government to regulate.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a negative effect on Nepal’s economy. In the last fiscal year, Nepal’s economy contracted for the first time in 40 years. Tourists were not allowed to climb the country’s famous peaks due to COVID-19 restrictions, hurting an economy that is highly dependent on tourism. Furthermore, as a result of school closures and other factors, child marriage is on the rise in Nepal, threatening to reverse progress made toward keeping girls in school.

COPE Nepal

As Nepalese colleges and universities transitioned to remote learning and many young adults found themselves in a state of uncertainty, they embraced creativity and innovation. COPE Nepal is an organization that formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of university students from data analytics, branding and communications backgrounds created COPE Nepal with the goal of collecting, presenting and disseminating data about COVID-19 in visual formats. According to the co-founder of COPE Nepal, Anup Satyal, the COVID-19 lockdown opened up more opportunities to make a meaningful impact in Nepal.

COPE Nepal’s Strategy

COPE Nepal’s strategy consists of four parts which are outlined in the acronym COPE:

  • Coordinate efforts and responses with local government and NGOs
  • Operationalize and allocate resources
  • Personalize the COVID-19 response to each location
  • Evaluate strategies and results on a daily basis

COPE Nepal has published a total of four reports showing the progression of COVID-19 in Nepal in a way that is easily understood by policymakers and average people. These reports are also easily accessible on the humanitarian information portal ReliefWeb.

On Instagram, COPE Nepal posted calls for individuals to share their accounts of the conditions in government quarantine facilities. Its Instagram also includes graphics and data from the four published reports and information about COVID-19 safety such as how to properly dispose of personal protective equipment (PPE).

A group of talented Nepalese university students started COPE Nepal out of a desire to help their country better respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Nepal transitions out of lockdown, COPE Nepal’s data collection and dissemination is important to ensure vulnerable populations are sufficiently protected from COVID-19.

Sydney Thiroux
Photo: Flickr

Nepal’s Refugee Resettlement Program
Much of the world struggles to assist refugees and other forcibly displaced people. However, Nepal stands out as a rare success story. The nation accepted more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees since the 1990s. Nepal’s refugee resettlement program has proven to be effective. The program has relocated about 113,500 refugees to third countries. Additionally, many of the camps that emerged have shut down because they were no longer necessary. However, it is still challenging to provide refugees with their basic needs.

Origins of the Bhutanese Refugee Crisis

Ethnic Nepalis people whose origins lie in Bhutan primarily partake in Nepal’s refugee resettlement program. The Lhotshampas are Nepali people who reside in the southern portion of Bhutan and maintain a distinct culture.

The Bhutanese government initiated the One Nation, One People policy to promote the dominant Bhutanese culture. Many perceived this policy as an attempt to suppress Nepali culture in Bhutan. Additionally, this policy replaced the Nepali language with Dzongkha as the primary mode of instruction in schools. Furthermore, it forbade Nepalis from wearing their traditional clothing, forcing them to dress like the Bhutanese majority.

Bhutanese officials became wary of the substantial Lhotshampa population in the south after the 1988 census. Additionally, accusations emerged of them being illegal aliens along with instances of violence and discrimination. As a result, large numbers of ethnic Nepalis left Bhutan for refugee camps in Nepal.

Nepal’s Refugee Resettlement Program

The population of Lhotshampa refugees in Nepal has increased to more than 100,000 people. Unfortunately, talks with Bhutan failed to produce any solution. Thus, the government of Nepal developed a plan to resettle the refugees in other countries.

Nepal’s refugee resettlement program started in 2007. In addition, Nepal and eight other countries collaborated with each other. These countries are the United States, New Zealand, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia and the United Kingdom. These nations agreed to accept Lhotshampa refugees, allowing them to lead new lives outside of refugee camps.

Organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the government of Nepal have aided in the program’s success. UNHCR and the Nepalese government underwent efforts to provide documentation for each refugee. Photos and listings of details of each person provided an accurate number of refugees. This made monitoring the program much easier. In addition, IOM oversaw the practical side of the program. This included arranging flights and teaching refugees how to navigate through an airport.

Challenges That Those in the Camps Face

As a result of Nepal’s refugee resettlement program, the number of Lhotshampas in the country has decreased to about 6,000. Furthermore, out of the seven camps that began in the 1990s, only two remain in the Jhapa and Morang districts of eastern Nepal. While this constitutes a success, the Lhotshampas who remain in the camps still face challenges.

Many people feel isolated because they are unable to join their families abroad. Additionally, they suffer a lack of emotional support and income. As a result, many suffer from depression, substance abuse and suicide in these camps. Furthermore, the camp’s dwindling population has led to a shortage of teachers. UNHCR established a suicide prevention program and youth centers to combat these issues.

Nepal’s refugee resettlement program is effective in relocating most of the Lhotshampas refugees since the 1990s. UNHCR, IOM and the government of Nepal have allowed refugees to have the opportunity to lead new lives in other countries. Many challenges remain for those in the camps. However, the government has made significant efforts to address them.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Craft AssociationThe incidence of poverty in Nepal had been dropping before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic could increase Nepal’s poverty rate to the levels of more than a decade ago due to a loss of jobs and income. A UNICEF-sponsored survey indicates that, in October 2020, a shocking 42% of families in Nepal had no income at all. Furthermore, in the same month, 45% of people reported job losses. In addition, one in five households surveyed reported being unable to secure adequate food to feed their families. Even people who still have jobs are earning less than before the pandemic. The tourism sector has also been severely hurt by the pandemic and more than half of all households are at risk of returning to poverty. The Association for Craft Producers (ACP) is helping combat poverty in Nepal.

The Association for Craft Producers

Helping to counter the effects of poverty in Nepal is the Association for Craft Producers. The organization founded in 1984 is a not-for-profit, fair trade organization that helps low-income Nepalese craft producers with design, marketing and management services for their craft products. Due to its success, it has grown to roughly 1,000 artisans, 90% of whom are women. The artisans produce beautiful crafts such as ceramic teapots, woven rugs and wooden tables. Nepali Craft Trading Ltd. exports the artisans’ products to 18 different countries. Since 2003, ACP has been certified as a Fair Trade organization. The group abides by the principles of fair trade as outlined by the World Fair Trade Organization to ensure artisans are provided with adequate compensation and benefits for their work.

Benefits for Nepali Artisans

The ACP artisans have access to a number of benefits to help lift them out of poverty and progress. For instance, artisans are provided a clothing stipend, 90 days of paid maternity leave and an allowance for emergencies. The ACP also provides information to the artisans on matters such as health, education and other important development topics. Since many of the women have never earned enough to be able to save money for the future, producers are encouraged to deposit 10% of their pay into an interest-producing account.

To encourage the education and empowerment of girls, ACP provides a monthly allowance for up to three years to producers who ensure their daughters are enrolled and participating in school for a minimum of four consecutive years. Furthermore, the ACP rewards the three best students with support for an additional year. In addition, the ACP provides the producers with funds for retirement. In these ways, ACP encourages financial security while providing outlets for the artisans to sell products.

Environmental Awareness

The ACP also takes specific actions to preserve its local environment at the foot of the Himalayan mountains. The practices include using recycled paper, installing a rainwater treatment plant and a wastewater treatment plant and discouraging the use of plastic bags. The artisans use an environmentally friendly acid for dyeing and water-based pigments for printing instead of oil-based paints. Finally, the artisans have switched to electric firing methods for ceramic products rather than kerosene-based firing. The women artisans remain environmentally conscious while helping to support families and reduce the devastating effects of poverty in Nepal.

Overall, the ACP craft association is supporting artisans in Nepal in several ways in order to ensure that they are able to rise out of poverty and secure better futures.

Sarah Betuel
Photo: Flickr

10 Years of Helping Babies Breathe
The first few minutes of a baby’s life have a significant impact on their chances of survival and their life quality. Statistically speaking, risks for newborn deaths are at their highest at that time. A main reason for the increased risk is asphyxia, a dangerous lack of oxygen right after birth. Every year, approximately 10 million newborns are unable to breathe on their own and require immediate help. In 2010, as a response to the medical issue, Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) was born. Recently, Helping Babies Breathe celebrated its anniversary for 10 years of work. Here is some information about the successes during the 10 years of Helping Babies Breathe.

USAID: An Important Partner

A partnership of many different agencies and organizations like Save the Children, Laerdal Global Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the program Helping Babies Breathe. Another very important partner in the creation of HBB was the United States government’s agency USAID. After receiving Congress-approved funds from the federal government, USAID was able to be a key figure in establishing the program. The agency contributed significantly to HBB’s success by mobilizing more than $120 million to save newborns over the last decade.

Educating People

When HBB launched, its approach to fighting newborn mortality was based on creating a global movement. The goal was to raise awareness for the complications of asphyxia and to educate and train medics around the world. Thus, HBB focused on making educational materials and necessary equipment accessible for everyone. Furthermore, it supported training people in the resuscitation of newborns. When the program began, all the partners involved agreed on one ultimate goal. The plan was to assure that every infant started life with access to at least one person with the training to resuscitate babies after birth.

When HBB taught medics all around the globe how to reduce the risks of newborn mortality, it addressed several different approaches. One of HBB’s top priorities was to increase general hygiene and, thus, prevent potential infections. Helping Babies Breathe further gave clear instructions for the evaluation of a newborn. These included understanding crying as an indicator for whether or not a baby was receiving enough oxygen and examining the baby’s breathing more thoroughly. The program also taught providers how to react in the case of a newborn not being able to breathe. In order to do so, HBB focused specifically on the method of drying the baby to facilitate breathing. It also encouraged using ventilation and chest compression if drying was not enough.

Decreasing the Number of Newborn Deaths

In the last 10 years of Helping Babies Breathe, the program has successfully increased the chances for newborn survival. HBB has trained approximately 1 million people in more than 80 countries in resuscitating babies right after birth. A study in several different countries like Tanzania and Nepal has shown the huge impact of the program on the lives of infants. The number of stillborn babies has gone down by 34% and the number of newborns that die on their first day has reduced by 30% in places that have been working with HBB.

Governmental Independence

After initially investing in equipment and training birth attendants to help babies breathe, many places no longer need HBB. Seeing how successfully the program increased newborn survival, many of the countries that HBB was working with started to include the resuscitation techniques and new standards for medical providers into their governmental budgets. Since many countries now have the knowledge and determination to fight newborn deaths on their own, HBB partner and important sponsor USAID is able to slowly stop the financial support that the agency has been giving to the program for the last 10 years.

Bianca Adelman
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

3 Inventions Saving Babies in Developing Countries
A baby’s first, sole focus should be on growing. Babies with low birth weight and pre-term babies in developing countries face a higher risk of developmental disorders and neonatal death due to lack of access to healthcare. Devices such as the Pumani bCPAP, the NIFTY cup and the Embrace Warmer are inventions saving babies throughout developing countries.

The Pumani bCPAP

The primary cause of death in preterm babies is Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS). As such, the lungs are one of the last organs to develop in utero. Jocelyn Brown, a bioengineering student studying in Malawi created an affordable solution: the Pumani Bubble Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Device (Pumani bCPAP). The English word “breath” translates to “pumani” in the language of Chichewa.

A traditional bCPAP device is among these inventions saving babies because it is readily available in developed countries. However, it costs $6,000 and is not affordable to people in Malawi. Brown collaborated with physicians at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre, Malawi. The hospital had access to bottled oxygen, which administers low-flow oxygen through a tube connected to nasal prongs. Unfortunately, when treating neonatal RDS, it only had a success rate of 25%. On the other hand, the Pumani bCPAP almost triples the survival rate for preterm babies and costs less than $400 to manufacture.

The device uses a type of air pump that makes this innovation affordable. The Pumani bCPAP replaces the traditional high-tech commercial flow generator with a simple aquarium pump. Aquarium pumps are easy to repair and low-cost. Furthermore, it provides the exact airflow pressure necessary for the bCPAP device.

The Saving Lives at Birth Transition grant aided in distributing the Pumani bCPAP to hospitals throughout Malawi in 2012. Additionally, funding from the global healthcare company GSK and Save the Children helped roll out the device in Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa.

The NIFTY Cup

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends using a small cup to feed newborns who are unable to breastfeed. However, no such cup existed until Seattle Children’s hospital, PATH and Laerdal Global Health and the University of Washington worked together to develop The NIFTY Cup.

The NIFTY cup is a handheld, flexible cup made from silicone rubber. It has a design specifically for babies lacking the ability to breastfeed due to prematurity or craniofacial birth defects like a cleft palate or lip.

Mothers who do not have a NIFTY cup make do with whatever they have. Instead, mothers commonly use spoons, gravy boats, shot glasses or coffee cups. However, they can waste a lot of milk due to spillage and it is often challenging to monitor the amount the baby is drinking. Moreover, too much or too little milk can be dangerous for a newborn.

A mother is able to easily fill the NIFTY cup directly from the breast. There are volume markings on the side to monitor the amount the baby consumes. Furthermore, the cup’s design allows babies to suckle from the spout at a controlled pace. In addition, the cup is easy to clean, reusable and only costs $1.

The developers share a mission to save the lives of newborns in developing countries all around the world. PATH’s Trish Coffey said, “We know there are potentially millions of babies who need it. So we just kept at it.”

The Embrace Warmer

The Embrace Warmer is one of many inventions saving babies in developing nations as well. Four Stanford graduate students had the task of inventing a cost-effective device to treat premature and underweight babies who are unable to regulate their body temperature. The invention looks like a baby-sized sleeping bag but functions similarly to a traditional medical incubator. Additionally, it costs less than 1% of what an incubator costs. This is extremely important for developing communities in rural villages.

The inventors gathered research in a rural, poverty-stricken area of Nepal. They saw firsthand the importance of adapting the invention to make it accessible to communities that needed it the most. The team relocated and launched the first model in rural India. It is common practice in these rural areas for parents to not name their baby until it is a month. This is so parents do not get too attached to newborns in case they do not survive.

Additionally, the team developed a washable, affordable model that is seamless on the inside to avoid bacteria. Placing the wax insert into boiling water for a few minutes heats it up. The wax’s melting point is the human body temperature. Furthermore, it maintains its temperature of 98 degrees Fahrenheit for four to six hours. Fortunately, it does not require electricity. It is reusable and mothers can hold their babies while they are inside an Embrace Warmer.

The founders of Embrace debuted the invention in rural India in 2011. Then, Embrace joined forces with Thrive Health in 2015. Thrive Health is an international nonprofit with an accomplished newborn health program. Embrace Warm has aided more than 200,000 babies.

These inventions save babies’ lives in vulnerable, developing nations and aid in the reduction of population growth. Parents are more likely to have fewer children if they are confident in their survival. According to Bill Gates, “As children survive, parents feel like they’ll have enough kids to support them in their old age. And so they choose to have less children.”

– Sarah Ottosen
Photo: Flickr

USAID Programs in Nepal
Since 1951, USAID has been implementing various development programs in Nepal. With a poverty rate of 25% as of 2010, Nepal is a developing country and has benefited greatly from these programs which cover areas such as agriculture, education and environmental issues. Here are some examples of USAID programs in Nepal.

USAID’s Agriculture Programs in Nepal

An important aspect of USAID’s work in Nepal has been to improve the livelihoods of those who work in agriculture. As a rural country, agriculture accounts for about 34% of Nepal’s GDP, yet malnutrition has been a persistent issue due to low productivity and limited access to markets. As a result, 36% of children in the country suffer from stunting, which further results in a multitude of lifetime ailments.

To combat these issues, USAID has worked under the U.S. government’s Feed the Future Initiative to improve crop yields and subsequently increase profits and access to quality foods for farmers. As Nepal’s terrain is mostly mountainous, the average farm is very small, with over 50% of farms being less than 0.5 hectares. Furthermore, factors such as low-quality seeds, poor soil management and substandard infrastructure further contribute to low productivity. As a result, 83% of farmers rely on agriculture for their income, yet for 60% of them, agriculture does not meet their dietary and monetary needs.

USAID programs in Nepal have the intention of addressing these issues by engaging with various governmental entities as well as the private sector. Its Feed the Future Initiative emphasizes the production of specific crops that can produce high yields and are resistant to environmental events such as drought and waterlogging. As a result, Nepal has seen increases in rice, maize, lentil and vegetable production.

USAID’s Education Programs in Nepal

USAID has also worked to improve education standards in Nepal by providing a better quality of education for younger students. It has also worked to increase access to schools for communities that the 2015 earthquake affected.

USAID has been concerned about literacy amongst Nepali children. According to a study from 2014, 19% of third graders could not read the Nepali language, while less than 13% of them were able to read Nepali “with fluency and comprehension.” To combat this, several USAID programs in Nepal regarding education have emerged to improve reading standards. The Early Grade Reading Program has a design to increase the number of students in grades one to three who can read and write Nepali. Stretching over five years, this $53.8 million program seeks to design instructional material and standardize reading standards across the country.

After the 2015 earthquake, USAID has also been diligent in rebuilding schools that experienced destruction. Along with the Government of Nepal, USAID was instrumental in building over 1,000 schools which serviced about 93,000 students. USAID equipped these schools with learning materials, sanitation facilities and training for teachers.

Additionally, USAID Nepal has prioritized gender parity in education. Along with UNICEF, it has launched the Zero Tolerance, Gender-Based Violence Free Schools project, which aims to eliminate gender-based violence in schools and create equal education outcomes for boys and girls. The segregation of girls during their menstrual cycle and child marriage also occur in Nepal and they have a negative impact on educational outcomes.

The Zero Tolerance project is a three-year, $5 million project which reaches at least 100,000 students across 200 schools in areas of the country with high levels of gender-based violence. It seeks to promote awareness of gender-based issues in order to create safe learning environments for all students.

USAID’s Environmental Programs in Nepal

As a country with an extremely high level of biodiversity, Nepal has received attention from the U.S. government due to its vulnerability to environmental issues. In addition to this, the fact that a large portion of Nepal’s population has employment in sectors that are heavily dependent on the environment further underscores the need for biodiversity conservation.

USAID has implemented several projects with the goal of biodiversity conservation. The Program for Aquatic Natural Resources Improvement, known locally as the Paani Program, aims to protect Nepal’s many river systems. While Nepal’s waterways are crucial for the livelihoods of many people as they are the main habitat for many fish species, and provide irrigation and power dams, they also suffer from stress due to overpopulation and overuse. The Paani Program aims to instruct locals on how to efficiently manage their waterways. It has identified certain indicators of river health, such as soil fertility and water quality, and instructs locals on how to analyze the data and provide data for authorities to use.

In all, USAID programs in Nepal cover a wide range of areas regarding the country’s development. By focusing on things like agriculture, education and the environment, USAID has a commitment to improving the lives of ordinary Nepali citizens.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in NepalIn 2019, the malnutrition rate in Nepal was 43% for children under 5 years old. Malnutrition is defined as a lack of nutrition and can be a result of either being underfed or not eating enough nutritious foods. When children suffer from chronic malnutrition, it can result in stunting, which can permanently affect a child’s growth physically and cognitively. For the first two decades after 1990, malnutrition in Nepal decreased. Thereafter, malnutrition progress slowed down. Currently, malnutrition in Nepal is still a serious issue that needs addressing.

Malnutrition in Numbers

Nearly 66% of children between 0-5 months old are exclusively breastfed. Between 6-24 months old, only 36% of babies receive a minimum acceptable diet. Additionally, as little as 47% of these children receive diversified diets with the proper nutrients.

Mother Fights Malnutrition

To help fight malnutrition, adolescent girls, women and children, need access to better nutritious diets and associated nutritional care. According to UNICEF, “The first 1,000 days from the start of a woman’s pregnancy to a child’s second birthday offer an extraordinary window of opportunity for preventing undernutrition and its consequences.” In this critical period, preventative intervention is vital. This includes breastfeeding support,  supplementary foods for infants and micronutrient supplementation for women and children.

Bimala Chaudhary is an example of a mother who has been educated on the importance of nutrition. On a monthly basis, Chaudhary participates in a mothers’ group meeting where female community health volunteers teach mothers about how to improve both their own nutrition and the nutrition of their children. The mothers have been taught lessons that include the importance of handwashing and how to prepare nutritious porridge.

The health volunteers also visit Chaudary’s home to provide one-on-one nutritional counseling. A USAID-supported radio program called Mother Knows Best further emphasizes the lessons she learns through the women’s group. She also receives SMS messages to remind her to take her daughter for visits at the clinic in order to monitor progress.

To help the community, Chaudhary shares what she learns from the meetings with other mothers. Her end goal is to make sure no children are malnourished in the future.

Solutions

Since the 1990s, a lot of progress has been made to fight malnutrition in Nepal. The current country program (2018-2022) works to improve nutrition in Nepal. Adolescents, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, infants and young children receive special focus. UNICEF supports the Government of Nepal in the implementation of comprehensive nutritional strategies. These strategies include deworming children, vitamin A supplementation, iron folate supplementation and nutritional education and counseling.

The Nepal Youth Foundation has developed child malnutrition treatment centers. These Nutrition Rehabilitation Homes (NRHs) treat severely malnourished children, teach mothers about children’s health and train professionals on best nutritional practices. These homes bring in critically-underweight children for three to four weeks to help improve their health through a monitored diet. For a long-term solution, caregivers and mothers are taught how to make nutritious meals. They are then encouraged to share these lessons with their communities. Since the first NRH was opened in 1998, 15,000 malnourished children have been restored back to health.

Food for the Future

By increasing the nutritional education of communities, malnutrition in Nepal can improve. With both short and long-term solutions, organizations like UNICEF and the Nepal Youth Foundation improve the lives of mothers and children.

Sarah Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 misinformationOne of the issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic is misinformation about COVID-19 on social media. The spread of misinformation can resemble the spread of a virus. In an interconnected era, information and misinformation on social media and the internet can spread exponentially. COVID-19 misinformation can be dangerous when it impacts human behavior in a way that puts people at higher risk of transmission.

Misinformation and COVID-19

Fighting COVID-19 means fighting its transmission through the use of masks and gloves and social distancing. However, a 2020 research study conducted by Harvard Kennedy School examines COVID-19 misinformation and how it impacts human behavior during the pandemic. The study found a link between misinformation about COVID-19 and lower use of social distancing measures: “We thus draw a clear link from misinformation circulating on social media, notably Twitter, to behaviors and attitudes that potentially magnify the scale and lethality of COVID-19.” However, if social media is perceived as part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution.

COVID-19 in Nepal

Nepal has been strongly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers Nepal a high-risk country to travel to in terms of COVID-19 levels, suggesting that travelers avoid all travel to the country. The CDC deems Nepal level 4, the highest designation for COVID-19 risk.

The Asian Development Bank predicted that the onset of COVID-19 would reduce Nepal’s GDP by 0.13% and leave almost 16,000 people unemployed. Nepal’s tourism sector, which contributes 8% to the economy, has been severely hit. Tourism has declined significantly from 70% pre-pandemic to less than 10%. COVID-19’s harsh economic impacts have left the country struggling to recover. As impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic quickly spread, so has COVID-19 misinformation.

Youth Collaboration

The Volunteer for Action (V4Action) group is a collaborative effort by the U.N. Volunteers program, UNICEF, the UNDP, the WHO and the U.N. Resident Coordinator’s Office (UNRCO). It was launched on March 19, 2020, and the group consists of more than 500 youth volunteers across Nepal with the collective goal of curbing COVID-19 misinformation in Nepal.

The tasks of the group include sharing verified and accurate information about COVID-19 on social media platforms and reporting COVID-19 misinformation in Nepal on UNICEF’s Joint Fight Against Misinformation rumor-tracking platform. In total, more than 100 myths were sent to the UNICEF misinformation platform for debunking. Personalizing the response to cater to the demographic, the volunteers made informative videos in local languages to provide COVID-19 education to people.

Social Media to Fight COVID-19

Overall, V4Action harnesses the power of the youth and social media in influencing the public in a positive way. In addition to debunking inaccurate information about the pandemic, the V4Action volunteers also conducted online research. They efficiently tracked online rumors about COVID-19 using surveys and reported them accordingly.

On one hand, social media can be used to spread misinformation and incite panic. On the other hand, social media can help educate populations on important issues. The V4Action volunteers had an essential role in educating the Nepalese population during the COVID-19 pandemic. They used social media to connect with the population and share fundamental information to limit the transmission of COVID-19. Perhaps, more importantly, they underlined the importance of mental health awareness, solidarity and unity during challenging times.

Soizic Lecocq
Photo: Flickr

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