Nepali Times
Censoring the census


The good news about the 2011 Nepal Census report issued last week by the Central Bureau of Statistics is that it looks like Nepal finally defused its population bomb. The country's population growth rate, which was hovering at about 2.5 percent is now falling past the 1.3 percent mark and the average fertility rate has seen a sharp decline.

The bad news is that the youth bulge is huge, with nearly 55 per cent of the population below the age of 25. Members of this baby boomer generation are now entering the labour market at the rate of nearly 500,000 a year. Half that number is migrating to work overseas, the rest are left to fend for themselves.

It doesn't take a Nobel laureate to figure out that Nepal's population pyramid will have enormous political ramifications in the years ahead. No matter which party gets to rule this country, leaders will have to come to grips with providing domestic jobs for the backlog of unemployed as well as hundreds of thousands of young adults who will be entering the labour market every year.

Democracy's demographic challenges are going to make governance so thorny and complex that one wonders why the parties are so desperate to get to power. But we already know the answer to that: the leaders are so obsessed with politicking that they are oblivious to the looming job bomb.

When they do show some interest in demography, it is to play identity politics and claim that the census is somehow biased against Brahmins, or Janajatis, or Christians, or Hill people, etc. Economists have already pointed out flaws in the census for not counting the absentee population, and grossly underestimating the number of people who are working in India and other third countries at any given time.

Those burning the census report at Thapathali this week citing ethnic undercounting obviously ran out of an agenda, and once more took recourse in fanning the flames of identity politics out of desperation. It's not just the Janajatis whose population has gone down, there is a massive depopulation of mid-hills with some districts showing as much as one-third of its population "missing" compared to 10 years ago, due to out-migration.

What is going to have a real profound impact on future politics, though, is the fact that for the first time in Nepali history, more people now live in the narrow strip of Tarai plains along the Indian border than in the Pahad and Himal. Some of this is because of the high natural population growth in the plains, but much of it is due to transmigration of people from the hills and from across the border. One can argue over which of these is the main factor in Tarai growth, but what is clear is that the plains are now a melting pot. Carefully handled, this can moderate politics, but irresponsible short-sighted politics can turn the Tarai into an explosive ethnic cauldron.

The census result shows dramatic improvements in literacy, especially in the percentage of women who can read and write which has soared from 37 per cent 10 years ago to 57 per cent. As literacy goes up, it will have a positive impact on a slew of indicators, including the fertility rate, maternal and child mortality, age of marriage, and future enrollment of children in school.

The youth bulge, melting pot demographics, and urbanisation can all be turned into forces of good and for progress. But only if there is the political will to follow through on the positive changes seen in the census, and to avoid the pitfalls of short-term political advantage.

Nepal is not a small country, it is the world's 40th most populous. It is also not poor. Just poorly-governed, and for far too long.

Read also:
Mind the gap, RAMESH KUMAR
As Nepal's population pyramid experiences a youth bulge, many young adults will simply have no jobs when they enter the labour market

1. DG
Why has not the Central Bureau of Census of the Government of Nepal not published the long awaited   data on ethnicity district- wise at this stage itself ? The changes in the ten years period in the districts are so important to the restructuring.
The sooner this is made public the better to address the issue. There has been huge changes in places like Kathmandu Valley (61%), Jhapa, Rupandehi or Kailali etc. Let the CBS come forward and publish the data as soon as possible. It is ready with them . It is no good withholding them. Let there be hue and cry. But  this is the best and most reliable institution of the country and we must support its findings. The question is how it is put before us. We can analyze the data, play with it . Can make many type of permutation and combination, but not change it though. This is the best source . It cannot be the perfect. We should not cry for the moon and blame this institution.  CBS must be bold and brave.

2. Sunita Gurung
Latinos in America made the big difference in President Obama's reelection. The white only attitude of the Republicans is a lost cause and  an out dated idea !  Nepal is also rapidly changing in demographics. Soon, the Bahun domination of Nepali politics, that is really a huge and terrible drag on future of Nepalis will come to an end. Every body loves winners. Dictatorship of Bahun Netas and total disregard for rule of law cannot last forever. The needs of the citizens will prevail .Its disgusting that even a census is used a tool by politicians to hide their weakness and deprive the people of the reality. Nepal desperately needs a strong middle class that can produce educated and honest men and women who can be better leaders in the coming days ahead. The people need less political headlines and more editorials to awaken them about their rights and needs. Great Job on this piece, kudos to you Mr. Editor at N T.    

3. who cares
the most amazing is the population of christians.

stat says there are 300000 christians but christian agents claim there are 2.5 million.

so what i would like to say is, go fellow nepalese, register yourself with churches and get paid while being loyal to your own religion, tradition.

this is the greatest thing of being open minded you get paid for just joining some gang. keep on milking whites. 

4. renu r
Nepalis can politicise everything on the face of the earth and now we are using the census as yet another tool to play identity politics. How about we focus on the real issues? Let's get the elections over with so that a stable four-year government can take over and kick start the economy and  generate jobs and opportunities for the millions who will enter our labour force in the next decade. Like the editorial points out, if we ignore this youth bulge , it will come back to haunt us in the future and i am sure no Nepali wants another protracted conflict.     

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)