Indecent Development

I’ve spent a lot of time over recent days trying to make sense of the trend in poverty in Nepal. Low expectations have been shaken up by some staggeringly good results of a recent household survey, as yet unconfirmed.

The extensive development community in Nepal has been strangely quiet on the subject, which I interpret as closing ranks in disbelief. But an independent expert, Chandan Sapkota, has worked hard in his blog to find an explanation.

His attention has focused on the impact of remittances which now find their way into more than half of all households in Nepal. I had also noticed that no fewer than 1.9 million citizens are working abroad, according to the preliminary results of the 2011 census.

Despite their somewhat chilling description in the census as “absentee population”, it seems possible that the migrant workers are succeeding where foreign aid and a Maoist-dominated government “of the people” are failing.

I duly made a mental note to consider Nepal as a case study for our Migration Guide. These results might support those who advocate labour migration as a proactive tool of development.

Then this morning I was brought up short by an article featured by my OneWorld colleague, Daniel Nelson. Under the title “Departure Lounge”, Weena Pun of the Himal Southasian journal paints a touching picture of an up-country Nepali youth muddling his way through the airport for his first-ever flight. Even greater uncertainties of working in Qatar lie ahead.

Multiplied by 1.9 million, and not forgetting the even less palatable fate of the majority heading for work in India, this is the human experience behind those percentages of GDP and the poverty line calculations that are the dispassionate tools of our trade.

Whilst labour migration may be good economics, the reality too often reflects what Ban Ki-moon has called the “push of despair.”

We talk a great deal about decent work as a bottom marker for economic growth and the escape from poverty. We may need to think more about whether migration on this scale and in these circumstances represents a “decent” roadmap for development.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK