Nepal: Beauty and the Beast

 

lake view

Beauty has no equal

 Mountain village

 

 

 

 

Mountain lake

Speaks for itself

It is unmistakably a landscape photographers dream venue or, for anyone with an eye for taste. There is much to admire in the country; so much to do as a tourist. Over one million visit Nepal annually. They come for various reasons; the overwhelming majority come to enjoy all that is beautiful about the country. Naturally these tourists are welcomed; their spending contributes a great deal to the nation’s economy. They are there to view the beauty of the landscape, to photograph, paint, to hike, to climb, and to challenge themselves in the wilderness of the Himalayas.

However, there is a seedier side to the country, the poverty of huge numbers of the population and the distress of so many children. The basis of this tragedy lies in the core problems that beset Nepal: the traditional way of life, language barriers, the environment, and as ever politics and its offspring the inevitable power struggle.

The Maoist (CPN-M) insurrection against the monarchy lasted 10 years, 1996-2006. The struggle for power brought victory for the Communists, who subsequently won an election in 2008. They were voted as the largest party in the new assembly. War had cost 12,000 lives, while 100,000 were displaced. (bbc.co.uk, Aug: 2012) With a population of approximately 30m both figures are sizable and must have put enormous strain on the people and the nation’s ability to cope; at a time when radical change was required.

 There is a large body of thought that maintains that change must not be imposed; rather that we work alongside the people until they recognise the rationale to change. For cultural anthropologists there is integrity in this logic. However, each day that passes more children die and are abused. I understand resistance to change by those steeped in tradition over generations. Nonetheless, the question must be asked as to whether ignorance should dictate policy. Some will argue that that very sentiment works both ways; that to intervene too early damages the prospect for success and the rights of the people. A contrary view (mine) would argue that the cost to the children is too great. That if people need to be dragged screaming and kicking into the modern age, so be it.The capitalist society of Western culture might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it does hold out a much better opportunity for the youth of Nepal to gain a better existence.

Charities can play a small part in instigating change. The individual areas they choose to work in may act as a catalyst for change over the long term. But, but, but, can the kids wait? Is the argument that we cannot prevent the brutality of the children without first winning over the dominant males of that society? Let’s not kid ourselves; we are talking about the dominant males! For me, if we do not confront them we denude the children and the women and empower the males even more.

Facts always make poor reading and so it is with these:

13,000 children die each year from respiratory infection. While 3,000 die from diarrhoea.

50% of under-fives have stunted growth and 66% are underweight. (UNICEF)

The mortality rate for kids under five is 48%. (childrensrightsportal.org)

Sad as these statistics are the fact that the, Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has been in force for 23 years; turns a tragedy into a sick joke.  I’ll just repeat that shall I – 23 years.

The CRC article 7 states that every, “child shall be registered at birth.” Well, not in Nepal! Could this be a job for UNICEF or a charity?

Article 6 states, “every child has the inherent right to life.” What does ‘life’ mean in this context?

Nonetheless, much of the information we have on Nepal comes from UNICEF. They keep writing reports, doing studies, accumulating appropriate data. And then; and then they do it all over again.

On the positive side these reports do have relevance; they keep track of the diverse nature and spread of poverty. Moreover, the presence of UNICEF ensures that the government of Nepal has one clear eye on the need for action. In addition the reports can help to identify where need is most acute.

On the downside, there is no immediacy and therefore the children are left in a critical situation. There does not seem to be any coherent plan to tackle this daily blight. There is

children collecting stone

child workers

a history of economic plans; each with a reduction in poverty as a prime aim. Twelve plans so far, some of 5 years, some of 3 years. The latest is of 3 years duration. The plans have been running longer than the CRC but have had minimal impact. (mpra.ub.uni-munchen.de/) From the same German study we find, “…there has been no significant improvement in reducing the gap between poor and rich people.”

Q. Which side are you on? Slow, slow, slow, snoring!

Or get a move on!

Is change coming, precipitated by economic reality? Many young men are taking the opportunity to work abroad. (Guardian.co.uk, July 2012) The article talks of ‘remittances’ e.g. the young men sending or bringing home money earned abroad to the value of $3.5bn per year. The journalist,        J. Glennie cites the World Bank’s figures of a reduction of ‘extreme’ poverty, from 70% to 25% of the population in 15 years.  Glennie, suggests that the ‘remittances’ have had an impact on the poverty figures.

 In consequence of the men leaving, women in some villages have had to act as pallbearers at funerals which hitherto would have been taboo. Also alluded to in the article was the fact that some men returned with sexual diseases which has lead to divorce;  creating another fracture in the traditional family hierarchy. There is a sad irony here in that the men working in India and frequenting the local brothels may be taking their pleasure from young Nepalese girls, trafficked from their home country.

Are we seeing a fissure so deep that it threatens to transform traditional Nepal? Is migration affording us a glimpse of the future that the only prospect for a good life lies outside the country? Will the young men ever return permanently? If not, will their young women follow them? The “deserts in the sky” (hymalayanchildren.org) may well become deserted.

 Part 2 to follow…