[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
KATHMANDU, 16 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - Development experts see only a glimmer of hope that Nepal will achieve its millennium development goals (MDGs) by 2015. With just ten years remaining to achieve the goals, the Maoist rebellion and political instability are holding back development, particularly in rural areas, they say.
"It will be a difficult task to achieve the targets set by MDGs due to the conflict situation and also due to issues related to governance," said Mohan Man Sainju, prominent economist and former vice chairman of National Planning Commission (NPC).
The MDGs agreed in 2000 by 191 nations set development targets in health, poverty reduction, education, environment and in the rights of women and children.
In order to achieve the MDGs, Nepal has set targets to halve extreme poverty, reduce the proportion of people suffering from hunger, enrol all children in schools, reduce child and maternal mortality rates and halve the incidence of malaria and other preventable diseases. Kathmandu also committed itself to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, a growing problem in a country where the migration of labour is common.
Although the government has announced it has succeeded in reducing poverty by 31 percent over the past five years, many development analysts say this reduction is a consequence of a growth in remittances from migrant labourers working abroad rather than a genuine drop in poverty rates.
"This [poverty reduction] is matter of debate. Remittances are not a sustainable and authentic indicator of how far poverty has been reduced," said Prerna Bomzan from Rural Reconstruction Nepal (RRN), a leading NGO working in several impoverished districts.
According to reports by NGOs, underemployment and unemployment are rising. The rate of maternal and child mortality in Nepal remains the highest in the world. According to the Ministry of Health, pregnancy-related complications kill over 4,500 women every year. The under-five mortality rate is 91 per 1,000 live births, again one of the highest in the world.
Nepal has less than three months to submit its five-year report to the United Nations during the 'MDGs - Five Year Plus' session in Geneva scheduled for September.
NGOs and civic groups are concerned that the government MDGs report may not give a true picture of Nepal's achievements. A group of organisations are already preparing an alternative report to submit to the UN.
"The government has appointment its own consultants and there are good reasons for us to be sceptical about its report to the UN," explained Bomzan.
But the government seems optimistic that it will get at least half way to achieving the MDGs.
"It all depends on the intensity of the conflict. Once there is peace, we could achieve about 75 percent of the MDGs," explained Dr Shankar Sharma, vice chairman of the NPC. "For example, we have successfully launched a school enrolment programme."
NGOs don't agree saying that the enrolment programme launched in April has not been a success, particularly in rural areas where a large number of children were unable to register because of poor management and coordination between the central and district level government education offices.
When the MDGs were set out for Nepal, many pinned their hopes on the process of decentralising government but development workers say this has not been implemented effectively. The nine-year old conflict has meant an absence of local government representatives in villages and a reduction in local and international development initiatives.
Despite the daunting challenges, some experts also believe that there is room for improvement even in the current situation.
"Wherever you have conflicts, there is breakdown in the normal way of doing things in delivering services but there is also opportunity to prioritise one's efforts keeping in mind one must attain the development goals," said Mathew Kahane, UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nepal.
In a bid to ensure the MDGs are achievable in Nepal, the UN has initiated the Millennium Campaign which plans to use NGOs and civic groups to help raise mass awareness of, and participation in, the development process.
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