16-22 June 2017 #863

Warning bells from the Gulf

Bishnu Rijal
Perhaps few other peoples in the world feel the pain of being poor and jobless as much as Nepalis. If there is conflict anywhere in the world, Nepalis are impacted right away.

Whether it is extremists massacring foreigners in Iraq, Libya erupting into conflict, another attack in Afghanistan, or the battle on Kargil, it is the bodies of Nepalis that are sent to bereaved families back home. It would be surprising, therefore, if the current crisis in Qatar did not affect us.

Qatar is being blockaded by its Arab neighbours over various allegations: that its Emir’s dream project of Al Jazeera supports terrorism, it helps the Islamic State and the Islamic Brotherhood, and that Qatar allowed the Taliban to open an office in Doha. At the heart of the dispute is the Shia-Sunni divide between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a power struggle for control of West Asia.

Whatever the case, it is up to the Arab states in the region to resolve their problems peacefully. The more relevant question for us is what is Nepal doing to reduce the impact on our own economy from tension in an area of the world where so many Nepalis work. Are we prepared? Have we made contingency plans? Do we have alternatives? Qatar is a warning sign for us to work on getting our own house in order in case the Gulf is engulfed in a political volcano.

Nepalis prefer to work in India not just because they don’t require passports and visas, but also because there is no language barrier. The prospect of higher earnings have, however, attracted them to the Gulf and the remittance they send home props up our economy. It is clear that we need a long-term strategy to reduce our dependence on migration, create stable governments and build a robust state structure. We have none of these three attributes. We have no real plans in place to create jobs within Nepal.

Our economy is not poor, we cannot even spend the money we have. We pay out more on administrative costs than on development. How can we create jobs at home if we spend only 20-25% of the annual development budget outlay?

We are embroiled in politics, and haven’t been able to turn political change into economic transformation. If we can mobilise our resources and manpower for large infrastructure projects, Nepalis would no longer have to migrate overseas for work. We need to start working on that from today itself.

Bishnu Rijal is an editor and commentator

Read also:

'Blockading Qatar', Editorial

Nepalis in Qatar worried, Karma Dolma Gurung

Gulf row could hit migrants, Om Astha Rai

Qatar waits it out, Barak Barfi

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