Deep Bahadur Puri, a 31-year-old tipper driver, lives in a rented room with his family on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Originally from Ramechhap, Puri moved to the capital a few years ago in search of a better future, but with his salary of less than Rs 10,000 a month, he is struggling to feed his family of four.
“No matter how much I work, I am never able to buy enough food,” says Puri.
Earlier this year Puri had sought help from a local NGO which provided his two malnourished children with food for three weeks. Although his children are much healthier now, he fears their condition might worsen any day.
Manoj Adhikari, 34, came to Kathmandu from Sarlahi with his wife five years ago. They started working as street vendors but could not earn enough to rent a room. So they shifted to a shelter on the premises of Pashupati Temple where they continue to live.
Government statistics show the national poverty rate has declined to 23.8 per cent from 41.2 per cent in the last decade, but urban poverty is on the rise. According to Nepal Living Standard Survey, the number of urban poor has grown from 9.55 per cent in 2004-2005 to 15.46 per cent in just five years.The survey also shows that more than 60 per cent of people living in the urban areas do not own houses.
National Planning Commission (NPC)’s former Vice Chair Pitambar Sharma says the portion of the urban population living below poverty line will grow to 20 per cent in three years if economic opportunities are not created. “More people are migrating to cities from rural areas but jobs are not being created in the same proportion,”
The urban poor, economists say, are also living in a more deplorable situation than the rural poor as there is no social bonding among the city dwellers.
“In villages, if you do not have food to eat, you can ask your neighbours for help. But in cities like Kathmandu, neighbours rarely know each other,” says economist Keshav Acharya.
Former Governor Dipendra Bahadur Chhetri says lack of societal safety net is adding to the misery of the urban poor. “When political parties enforce shutdowns, the poor bear the brunt,” he says.
Less than one per cent of the 30,000 NGOs operating in Nepal are working for the urban poor.
Economists and sociologists also see a strong correlation between political upheavals and urban poverty. They say political instability have driven hundreds of thousands of families out of their villages and into cities with no financial support.
When asked about the government’s initiative to help deal with the problem, Suresh Pradhan, a joint secretary at Ministry of Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation said: “We are now holding discussions with all stakeholders and will forward our strategy to the cabinet by the end of the current fiscal year.”