With so many donor agencies operating in Nepal, getting hold of development statistics has never been a problem. But there are discrepancies on the most vital indicator: poverty incidence.
The latest figure was 38 percent, down from 42 percent in 1996. Now, the World Bank's Nepal Living Standard Survey conducted in 2003-04 seems to show that Nepal's poverty incidence has fallen to 30 percent. Which should mean that Nepalis are much less poorer than 10 years ago. Right? Maybe.
The survey does seem to show that overall poverty levels have dropped, but no one is sure by how much. At the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) and the National Planning Commission (NPC), officials confirm poverty incidence has dropped down but can't say by how much.
The World Bank expert team that conducted the survey is in Washington putting the average calorie intake of Nepalis through their computers before they come out with a definitive figure. The World Bank had supported the CBS in conducting the survey of 4,000 households all over the country last year. Indicators like access to services, literacy and education, health services reportedly show positive trends.
"We are waiting for the calorie consumption figure, only then can we come out with the definitive poverty figure," says Director General Tunga Shiromani Banstola of the CBS. World Bank officials, however, said it was for the government agencies to determine the poverty figure. "The government agencies need to have backup documents to come up with a concrete poverty figure," said a World Bank official.
Poverty reduction has been the mantra of all governments in the past decade and the sole objective of the 10th five-year plan. The government has also come up with the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) which is supported by almost all donors although the World Bank has pulled out a $70 million tranche for this year because of the government's failure to meet its reform conditionalities.
The real poverty figures hinge on the calorie figures but the World Bank says it is leaving it up to the government to announce the real poverty figures. In its four-year country assistance strategy that began last year, the World Bank has said that 40 percent of the country's population lived on less than $1 a day as of 1995. "There is little evidence that poverty has declined since the 1980s and the absolute number of poor people has likely increased," the bank said in the paper.
Just like the poverty incidence, the other figure that looks fuzzy is the per capita income of Nepalis. Even though $ 270 is the accepted figure, there are doubts if it is accurate. The Asian Development Bank has supported the CBS in conducting new surveys to come up with a more accurate figure.