Nepal has made significant progress over the last 15 years in reducing poverty, improving access to education, health services, drinking water, promoting biodiversity conservation and alternative energy.
What is even more remarkable is that these have been achieved despite political instability and the armed conflict. Even though some serious challenges remain in addressing inequity and exclusion to ensure that the focus remains on uplifting the marginalised poor, deprived and excluded communities, it is clear that we are on the right track.
Nepal has integrated the Millennium Declaration and is committed to the achievement of its goals by 2015. In the first assessment report of 2002, it looked like only two of the millennium targets were likely to be achieved. The second report brought out this year says that, we are on track to meet five of the seven goals.
Access to safe drinking water, infant and child mortality, poverty reduction by half are likely to be achieved, whereas maternal mortality and gender equality could be achieved with some extra effort in the next decade. Only reducing HIV/AIDS and ensuring universal primary education looks unachievable by 2015.
Today, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) are no longer regarded as just a buzzword among planners, decision makers and civil society in Nepal. There is increased integration of targets and indicators in the national plan, in sectoral and donor strategies.
There are several reasons why Nepal's development prospects don't look as dire as the doomsday scenarios. The decline in poverty has had a direct impact on other parameters, as families spend more on education and health as soon as incomes rise. Literacy levels, pre and ante-natal care improved with rise in income levels.
There was a jump in health and education facilities: the number of health posts increased from 23,000 and 1,100 to 39,000 and 4,400 respectively between 1990 and 2005. Infrastructure development was dramatic with the road network more than doubling to 17,000 km in the last 15 years. This had a strong impact on agricultural productivity, wages and availability of services. Increased awareness through the expansion of radio, tv and newspapers had a positive impact on health and education indicators.
The impact of education was most dramatic among women--mothers who had passed SLC show infant mortality rates of 11 for every 1,000 live births, whereas it is at 84 among illiterate mothers. Greater involvement of private sector in health and education has benefited mostly the middle class and the rich, but the investment and accessibility in these sectors has increased significantly.
The main challenge is consolidating on these gains and finding a resolution to the conflict which could not just halt progress but also reverse past gains. Foreign aid could decline because of political problems, low disbursement and weak governance. Diversion of development spending to security, a decline in revenue from a stagnant economy and rising income gaps could be problems.
We are mostly on track in quantity to meet the millennium goals on accessibility to drinking water and some other health and education indicators but there isn't sufficient focus on quality.
Dr Shankar Prasad Sharma is the vice-chairman of the National Planning Commission