Nepal, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a small, landlocked country in the Himalayas wedged between two major Asian powers - India and China. The latest census has the population at approximately 27 million (with nearly 2 million absentee workers living abroad.) The country has become a favorite destination for mountaineers and mountain trekkers, and justly so - of the world's ten highest mountains, eight are located within the boundaries of Nepal including Mt. Everest. Nepal also offers spectacular mountain scenery. However, virtually all visitors to Nepal see only the small part of the country that derives considerable economic benefits from tourism. One only needs to step behind the backdrop of the beautiful mountain scenery into the remote regions of Nepal that the casual visitors never see, to learn that the majority of Nepal's population lives in abject poverty. In spite of substantial external development assistance, Nepal remains one of the worldÕs least developed countries.
Nepal's backwardness can be attributed to many factors. Prior to the Chinese takeover of Tibet, Nepal was completely isolated from all external influences by the then rulers of the country. Other factors are the country's topography - 85% of Nepal's territory are mountains, the absence of roads -travel throughout most of the country is possible only on foot and transportation by manpower, and a very large population in a relatively small country (comparable in size to the state of Florida). The rate of unemployment and underemployment approaches half of the working-age population. Thus many Nepali citizens move to other countries in search of work. Besides being landlocked, having rugged geography, few tangible natural resources and poor infrastructure the ineffective post 1959 government and the long running civil war is also a factor in stunting the economic growth and development.
Administratively, Nepal is divided into seventy five districts and each district into approximately ninety Village Development Committees (VDCs). The dark spot in the centre of the map is Kabhre Palanchok district, NSP's target region for development assistance. The majority ofNepal's population lives in rural areas and 76% is engaged in agriculture, although only 17% of Nepal's territory is under cultivation. The majority of the rural population are subsistence or below subsistence farmers. About one half of the population lives below the poverty level.
Any official statistics on the status of progress in Nepal must be taken with caution. In 1970, the life expectancy was only 29 years, in 1993 it was quoted as 51. The main contributing factor to the high mortality rate is the lack of emergency medical facilities particularly in rural regions of the country. The lack of medical facilities must also be blamed for the very high infant mortality.
According to the 2011 census, more than one third of the total households do not have a toilet in their houses.
Although the official literacy rate has improved (2011 census) since the last census (2001), any observer visiting remote regions of Nepal will find that the majority of adult and teenage population is illiterate. This can again be attributed to the lack of schools in rural areas and the distances involved to reach those that existed. Twenty years ago, primary level education was only up to grade 3, but has since been upgraded to grade 5 and in some areas grade 7. However, the quality of education in remote regions is quite poor. It is doubtful that any child in a remote rural region of Nepal now passing grade five will be able to read a book or newspaper or be able to write a letter.
What impresses the majority of visitors to Nepal most are the Nepalese people. It would be impossible to meet friendlier and more charming people in any other country. Hinduism is practiced by about 81% of Nepalis; 9% are Buddhist. Islam, Kirat, Christianity and animism make up the remaining 10%.
Following the overthrow of the Rana regime in 1951, parliamentary democracy was established in Nepal, but ten years later, the present King's father abolished the parliamentary democracy, established a partyless Panchayat system of government and became an absolute monarch. Throughout the subsequent twenty nine years, the political forces within the country continued to be active. The resistance to absolute monarchy culminated in 1990 with the movement for the restoration of democracy. In April of that year, the King relented and allowed the restoration of a democratic system of government under constitutional monarchy. However, a decade-long Civil War by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), finally led to the end of the Monarchy and the establishment of a federal multiparty representative democratic republic in 2008.
Since the restoration of democracy the political climate in Nepal has been anything but calm, some credit must be given to the governments that were in power since 1990 for their efforts to improve the quality of life within the rural regions of the country. We have observed more positive actions taken during the nine years since the restoration of democracy to benefit the rural population than at any time during the preceding fifteen years of our presence in Nepal. Many more new schools were established in rural areas, and progress is also being made in the health sector with the government's objective to establish one sub-health post in all VDCs throughout the country. However, in spite of all the government's efforts, due to Nepal's still primitive economic status taken as a whole, the country shall continue to be dependent on external development assistance.