POPULATION: 21 million. Total population of the country doubled between 1961 and 1991. The population consists of 61 caste, subcast and ethnic and sub-ethnic groups who speak 40 major languages altogether. Nepal is a meeting place of two great civilizations Hinduism and Buddhism.
AREA: 147, 181 square km. Cultivable land comprises 20 percent of the total areas. Nepal is divided administratively into 5 development regions and 75 districts and 3995 Village Development Committees. There are 36 municipalities in the country. Ecologically it is divided in to three ecological regions, mountain, hill and terai. There are eleven world heritage sites in Nepal listed by UNESCO for their rich historical and natural values.
NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT: The country is not rich in mineral resources but it has abundant surface and groundwater. Forest covers about 38 percent of the land area. The high pressure on agricultural land has led to considerable deforestation and soil loss. Unplanned urban settlement, receding forest cover, industrial establishment, the over-concentration of economic opportunities in urban areas are further aggravating environmental population. Pollutants from cooking with kerosene and industries such as the dye, brick kilns, cement factory, fuel-wood, diesel, etc continue to aggravate the air pollution problems.
HUMAN RESOURCES: Nepal is potentially rich in human resources. However, rapid population growth and sustained poverty at the household level are the two critical obstacles to the realization of this potential. The contribution of women to the national economy is not adequately reflected in the national statistics.
HEALTH AND NUTRITION: Average life expectancy within the last two decades has increased by 13.5 years. Nonetheless, average life expectancy is only 55 years (1994 figure). Women have a life span which is shorter by two years compared to men. Infant mortality rate is improving, but is still one of the highest in the region. Diarrhea, pneumonia and measles remain the main determinants of infant mortality. High incidence of undernutrition, early marriage and child bearing, poor housing conditions, inadequate access to safe drinking water, insufficient sanitary facilities and abuse of alcohol and tobacco contribute to the nation’s poor health standard.
LITERACY AND EDUCATION: The national literacy rate, which was 14 percent in 1971, increased to 40 percent by 1991. Enrollment of primary school children increased from 8,000 in 1960 to roughly 3 million in 1992. The adult literacy programme contributed to the literacy of 1,000,000 illiterate adults during 1992-97 only. However, the literacy rates among male and female populations remain grossly disproportionate ( 2:1).
ECONOMY: Agriculture contributes more than one-half of the household income, provides employment to 88 percent of the population. The intensity of poverty, which is correlated with illiteracy, malnutrition and other forms of deprivation, has hindered the overall pace of human development.
INCOME: Nepal with a per capita income of US $ 210 (equivalent to US $ 1,186 in terms of international purchasing power parity) belongs to the group of very low-income countries in the world. Economic growth averaged at 3.9 percent per year from the ’70s to the ’90s. Given the high population growth rate of 2.5 percent, per capita income grew by only 1.4 percent per annum during the last 25 years. The country’s gross domestic saving (GDS) is very low: on average it stood at about 10 percent of the GDP during the last decade.
DISTRIBUTION OF PRODUCTIVE ASSETS AND INCOME
Sixty-nine percent of the landholdings are less than 1 hectare in size; 88 percent are below 2 hectare.
The bottom 20 percent of the households receive only 3.7 percent of the national income while the top 10 percent claim a share of 50 percent.
Gender disparity in income distribution is acute as well due to the control of male household members over family income, absence of property rights for women.
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT: Nepal as a state is now 230 years old. The 1990 constitution envisages a parliamentary democracy with constitutional monarchy. It guarantees the standard civil and political rights of the citizens. The directive principles and policies are intimately related to human development, protection of environment, participation of female population in national development, safeguarding the rights of children and protection and welfare of orphans, the aged and the disabled.
(Extracts adapted from Nepal Human Development Report 1998)