Thursday, August 9, 2007

High Hills, Deep Poverty: Explaining Civil War in Nepal

A very interesting explanation of Nepal's conflict by Laxmi Iyer to the author Martha Legace, Harvard Business School, is copied below from the link given. We have not taken any permission to copy and paste, but since this is so important in the context of Nepal, we thought we would use this information with due acknowledgement to the authors. Laxmi Iyer co-authored a book "Poverty, Social Divisions and Conflict in Nepal" with Quy-Toan Do, an economist of the World Bank which was published in June, 2007.

The PDF version of the book is available at this link.

High Hills, Deep Poverty: Explaining Civil War in Nepal
Posted: 06 Aug 2007 10:00:00 -4000
Q&A with: Lakshmi Iyer
Published: August 6, 2007
Author: Martha Lagace


Civil wars have been the dominant form of conflict around the world since World War II, resulting in approximately 20 million deaths. But it's not just sociologists who are diving into the roots of conflict. Increasingly, economists are examining these events to learn more about civil wars and how to prevent them.

"The main conclusion from this whole stream of research is that investing in poverty reduction strategies not only has direct economic benefits but also political benefits," says Lakshmi Iyer, a Harvard Business School professor with expertise in political economy.

A new working paper that Iyer coauthored with Quy-Toan Do, of the World Bank, probes this topic in depth by examining the country of Nepal, the land-locked home of Mount Everest. Nepal's internal conflict has killed more than 13,000 people since 1996.

While many serious studies have examined conflict dynamics, including Nepal's, they have leaned toward one of two approaches: a broad view of several different countries together, or the sharp focus of a case study. Iyer and Do's method combines the best of both worlds by examining a variety of factors within a single country that could explain the descent into violence. For Nepal, these factors for study included poverty, social and language diversity, and even geographical conditions.

What Iyer and Do found: poverty trumps all, yet in a complex, nuanced way. As Nepal's conflict developed, the intensity of violence shifted from the poorest areas to areas which were relatively better off. The results and research method could aid in understanding, explaining, and perhaps preventing civil war elsewhere.

"We are filling in a methodological hole," says Iyer of their paper, "Poverty, Social Divisions, and Conflict in Nepal" [PDF]. "There are many detailed case studies of conflict, and many broad-brush, cross-country studies. Within-country studies, such as we conducted on Nepal, fill in the gap between the two different approaches. Our econometric analysis tells us whether what you observe in a couple of case studies is a general phenomenon; in this sense, this approach is complementary to detailed sociological or anthropological case studies."

"If people want to do something about poverty there—and it's a very poor country," she continues, "it is important that the political situation is first stabilized."

Iyer explained more in an interview.

Martha Lagace: What sparked your interest in Nepal?

Lakshmi Iyer: I was in Nepal before the conflict started. It is a beautiful country and it's a real pity they have descended into civil war. A peace agreement was signed last year, which I hope will last.

My primary research interests are political economy and development. In the past few years economists have been very interested in analyzing political phenomena like civil wars. Civil wars are the dominant form of conflict since World War II; they're much more common than interstate wars now and they've killed more than 20 million people.

Quy-Toan Do and I talked with people who were doing poverty assessments in Nepal, and we realized that we had an ideal setting to study the factors that influence conflict.

Most of the empirical literature has been cross-country. That's always a little bit of a problem because you're almost comparing apples and oranges. Here we had the same conflict and the possibility to check how it progressed in different parts of one country. We could keep many things constant—the conflict's ultimate goals, the personality of the leader, the tactics, the kind of a political system they already have—and focus on the role of economic and social variables.

Q: Why did you think geographic and ethnic diversity were important?

A: These factors have been hypothesized in the prior literature to affect the probability of civil war. Some findings in the cross-country literature are quite robust, such as the fact that poor countries tend to be at greater risk of civil war. The evidence is mixed on whether ethnically diverse countries have a greater risk of civil war. Scholars have argued it both ways. Some say that if a society is very diverse it is very hard to coordinate rebel forces; you cannot get a large enough bunch of people to fight against the government, so the risk of civil war is low. Others say that many different groups cannot agree on anything, so such differences lead to a greater chance of civil war. The role of geography is also open.

Nepal has a huge amount of diversity in all these dimensions. Geographically it has 3 major zones: the high mountains, which include Mount Everest, the hilly regions, and then the Himalayan foothills, which contains most of the good agricultural land.

Economically there are huge variations, too. Nepal is a poor country: GDP is only around $270 a year, and right before the conflict started, in 1996, 42 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. But this varied from less than 10 percent in the capital Kathmandu to more than 50 percent in several districts.

Nepal is very diverse socially as well. One of our innovations over much of the existing literature was to look at two dimensions of social diversity: linguistic diversity (can people communicate or not?) and caste diversity (how much do some people want to keep away from other people?). About 90 percent of the population in Nepal is Hindu, but within Hindu society there are many castes and a lot of discrimination against the lower castes. We constructed an index of caste diversity using 76 different caste categories listed in the Census. The Nepali language is spoken by about 60 percent of the population, but there are 13 different languages spoken by more than 1 percent of the population. We used this to construct a measure of linguistic diversity as well.

Q: What did your research show were the greatest predictors of conflict in Nepal?

A: Geography and poverty. Mountainous and forested areas had greater conflict intensity. That makes sense for guerilla warfare, since these conditions enable rebels to hide easily. And poor areas were much more likely to see a lot more deaths: a 10 percentage point increase in poverty is associated with 10 additional conflict-related deaths. Once we control for poverty, measures of caste and linguistic diversity are not significant predictors of the intensity of conflict. There's been a lot written about the conflict, and many accounts say that the conflict is supported by lower caste members, such as the Magar community. Our conclusion for Nepal is that the root cause of the conflict is economic, not social—but social conditions can contribute to economic backwardness. In fact, we find that areas with greater caste diversity tend to be poorer.

You also hear a surprising number of accounts of women being involved as fighters in the Maoist insurgency. And of course women in Nepal face a lot of discrimination just like they do in many poor countries of the world. But again, empirically, this doesn't turn out to be a very important factor, in the sense that we do not see a higher concentration of conflict in places where women are more discriminated against.

Another thing we did, which cross-country studies often do not do, was track the evolution of the conflict over time. We could see how the conflict's relationship with poverty changed. This observation reinforces the fact that poor areas are always at more risk: once the Maoists gained control of the poorest areas, we see the highest intensity of the conflict shifting to the relatively better off areas. It's important to keep the history of the conflict in mind, when doing such analysis, and not just look at one point in time.

Q: Did Nepal have a long history of conflict prior to the civil war?

A: Not this kind of armed insurgency. It had popular movements for democracy: street protests, marches, demands. Nepal was a monarchy and became a democracy in 1991. Democracy didn't work very well for Nepal: starting in 1991 and over the next 12 years it had 12 different governments. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which had contested the first election, turned to violence in 1996.

When the insurgency became very serious in 2005 the king (Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev) decided to take back power. In 2006, bowing to popular pressures just like in '91, he gave it up again. And now Nepal is back to elective representatives of the people. There is a power-sharing agreement with the Maoists, and Nepal hopes to have elections in November for a constituent assembly to frame a new constitution.

Q: What else do you plan to study?

A: I can think of two related research questions: the first is how to end conflict. What's the stage at which peace agreements might last? Nepal had two prior ceasefire agreements—both were broken by the Maoists. But the latest one at least seems to be holding up for now. Many peace agreements are brokered by a third country. Is that necessary? Under what conditions is that kind of agreement going to work?

The other branch of research I would like to work on is the impact of conflict. How do households cope? After a conflict ends, how long does it take for households to recover? How do mechanisms like occupational change or migration contribute to recovery from crisis? Quy-Toan Do and I are planning to study this question, in the context of either Nepal or Bosnia.

I'm also trying to find similar conflict data for India right now because India also has Maoist insurgents in many parts of the country. More than a hundred districts in India are currently affected by Maoist insurgencies, and it would be interesting to see whether the conflict has evolved in the same way as in Nepal. In fact, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist was known to be in touch with Indian Maoist groups.

In addition, because my primary field of research is political economy, I'm studying interactions between politicians and bureaucrats in India. How much do politicians control bureaucrats, and how much does it matter for policy?

Q: What can our readers—business people—keep in mind about civil conflict?

A: Investing in poverty reduction strategies can lead to political benefits in addition to direct economic benefits. Therefore, the right investment at the right time can have very important long-term consequences, making a place better off now and, by ensuring political stability, contributing to future growth as well. We should all keep that in mind whether we are business managers, policymakers, or international institutions.

About the author
Martha Lagace is the senior editor of HBS Working Knowledge.

Malnutrition is severe in Nepal: Indicating continued poverty and backwardness for decades to come

No matter how much fighting is done for politics, or no matter how much we hypothesise about social transformation, we are heading towards a grim future of this country,instead of getting towards positive transformation, if malnutrition is not addressed. Nation is built by those who grew up with proper nutrition in their childhood. Here is an eye-opening status for Nepal, an article by Tom Atwood on the Kathmandu Post, published in August 9 edition. There is a great war to win!

Malnutrition takes toll on GDP, IQ


KATHMANDU, Aug 9, 2007.

Seven years after Nepal committed itself to the task of halving malnutrition by the year 2015 - one of the Millennium Development Goals - general malnutrition remains a serious problem. Over the past 25 years, general malnutrition levels have decreased at a miniscule rate. This obviously means the status of malnutrition as a public health problem will remain for decades to come. .
According to the World Bank, decreased productivity and IQ levels resulting from malnutrition are causing a loss of up to 3 percent in GDP, which amounts to around Rs 18 billion annually.

At present, Nepal has one of the highest levels of malnutrition in South Asia. A study conducted by the Ministry of Health and Population (MHP) in 2006 shows that 49 percent of children under the age of 5 are stunted - an indicator which compares height to age and reflects chronic malnutrition.

Despite its pervasiveness, malnutrition, however, generally goes unnoticed. In Nepal, it is difficult to explain to mothers that their children are not short because short is the norm here. Surrounded by small door jambs, low ceilings, and a 50 percent stunted population, tall members of the population stick out, and the erroneous myth that Nepali people are inherently short perpetuates itself unnoticed.

In a sense, being short is not the problem. It is the process and consequences of becoming short that keep developing nations on their knees. In response to adverse conditions created by malnutrition, children become less active and less responsive to stimulus, which causes sub-optimal mental and physical development.

During the first two years of life, 80 percent of the brain develops. Studies however show, that those years are frequently marked by insufficient nourishment, disease, and subsequently, malnutrition and stunting. "Between the ages of six months and three years, the percentage of stunted children in Nepal rises from 11.6 to nearly 60 percent," according to the 2006 survey of MPH.

While malnutrition indices peak during early childhood and either level off or begin to decline slowly after age three, there is reason to believe that the damage done is irreversible. "There is actually a very, very tight window of opportunity between conception through the first two years of life," says Meera Shekar from the World Bank, "If we miss this window, we miss a whole generation."

The consequences of early malnutrition ripple through society. A recent World Bank report shows that one percent decrease in adult height due to childhood stunting correlates with 1.4 percent loss of productivity, and that stunting in general is associated with as much as 11-point decrease in IQ. The result is that schools can be built and jobs created, but without proper nutrition Nepal's economic and social development will continue to be held back.

When searching for a solution to malnutrition in Nepal, the most common misconception is that it stems entirely from lack of food security and cannot be reduced unless general poverty is addressed first. World Bank studies, however, make it clear that extreme poverty and insufficient food are part of the problem, but are far from being the entire problem.

In fact, according to the UN Common Country Assessment (UNCCA) for Nepal, two major causes of malnutrition are poor feeding practices and inadequate child care. At the age of six months, breast milk is no longer a sufficient source of nourishment for a child. Most mothers then supplement their milk with rice porridge. Often, rice porridge is bulky and energy deficient, and children, who have small stomachs, cannot eat enough porridge to fulfill their dietary needs unless they are fed five or six times a day. Unfortunately, Nepal Family Health Survey shows that mothers with heavy workloads and limited control over their use of time have difficulty feeding their children so often.

Furthermore, when children begin eating supplementary foods and start to explore their surroundings with greater ease, non-sterilized foods and sub-standard sanitary conditions increase the child's risk of infection drastically. According to the 2006 MHP survey, prevalence of illness peaks between 6 months and two years. Illness, in turn, causes decrease in appetite, and mothers usually feed sick children less when, in fact, they require extra energy to combat their illness and continue to develop and grow.

Recently, a number of initiatives have successfully reduced malnutrition in parts of Nepal. Amongst others, Save the Children's Positive Deviance Program, United Mission to Nepal's nutrition project, and the Ministry of Local Development's Decen0tralized Action for Children and Women program have yielded positive results by addressing malnutrition through holistic, community based reform.

As Meera Shekar says, "Nutrition is an investment issue. It is something that can drive economic growth rather than ride on the coat-tails of economic growth, because children who are well-nourished have been shown to have much higher income potential as adults."

Posted on: 2007-08-08 19:35:06 (Server Time)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Mahabir Pun of Myagdi, Nepal bags prestigious Magsaysay award

Mahabir Pun of Myagdi bags prestigious Magsaysay award

Mahabir Pun: 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Community Leadership.

Mahabir Pun of Myagdi, western Nepal, has bagged the prestigious Raman Magsaysay Awards, for Community Leadership.

The Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) Tuesday announced that seven Asians bagged this year's Raman Magsaysay Awards, the Asian Equivalent of Nobel Prize.

Pun is among three Chinese, a Korean, an Indian and a Pilipino to receive the coveted award.

According to the RMAF, Pun, 52, is “recognised for his innovative application of wireless computer technology in Nepal, bringing progress to remote mountain areas by connecting his village to the global village”.

Pun is the fourth Nepali to receive the Magsaysay award. He will receive the award amid a ceremony in Manila on August 31.

Here is Pun's profile:

Nangi Village, where Mahabir Pun was born, rests high in the Himalayan foothills of western Nepal. Here and in surrounding Myagdi District live the Pun Magar, whose men have soldiered for generations across the globe as Gurkhas. Yet, their worldly careers have done little to change their sleepy homeland, so far from the traffic patterns that knit together the rest of the world. Indeed, Nangi is seven hours' hard climb from the nearest road. No telephone lines have ever reached it. Despite this, these days the people of Nangi are definitely connected to the world outside. Wireless Internet technology has made this possible. Mahabir Pun has made it happen.

Pun passed his boyhood grazing cattle and sheep in mountain pastures and attending a village school that had no paper or pencils or books. Wanting more for his son, Pun's father moved the family to Nepal's lowlands, where, in Chitwan, Pun finished high school and became a teacher, working for twelve years to help his younger siblings through school. Finally, a timely scholarship led him to a bachelor's degree at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Then, in 1992, after more than twenty years away, Pun returned home to Nangi, determined to make things easier for other youths than they had been for him.

Nangi's leaders were busy establishing a village high school. Pun eagerly joined in. Once a month, he made the two-day trip to the nearest major town of Pokhara to check his e-mail and maintain his links to friends abroad. This led, in 1997, to the donation of four used computers from Australia. Powering them with hydro generators in a nearby stream, Pun began teaching computer classes at the high school. More computers followed, but it proved impossible to get a telephone connection to Pokhara and the Internet.

Pun e-mailed the British Broadcasting Corporation, asking for ideas. In 2001, the BBC publicized his dilemma and within a year volunteers from Europe and the United States were helping him rig a wireless connection between Nangi and the neighboring village of Ramche, using TV dish antennas mounted in trees. Some small grants soon led to the construction of improvised mountaintop relay stations and a link to Pokhara. By 2003, Nangi was online.

As word of Pun's project bounced around the World Wide Web, backpacking volunteers carried more and more donated computers, parts, and equipment into the hills. Meanwhile, Pun expanded the wireless network to embrace twelve villages-distributing a hundred computers to local schools, connecting them to the Internet, teaching teachers how to use them, and then tinkering and troubleshooting until everything worked.

Today, connectivity is changing Myagdi. Using the district's "tele-teaching" network, good teachers in one school now instruct students in others. Doctorless villagers use Wi-Fi to consult specialists in Pokhara. Village students surf the Net and are learning globe-savvy skills. Pun himself is using the Web to e-market local products such as honey, teas, and jams and to draw paying trekkers to campsites that he has outfitted with solar-powered hot showers. In parallel projects, villagers in Nangi have themselves added a library, a health clinic, and new classrooms for the high school.

Pun, now fifty-two, is both self-effacing and charismatic. "I'm not in charge of anything," he says. Yet, he seems to be the driving force of much around him. Eventually, he says, the people of Myagdi District will have to carry on for themselves. In the meantime, he hopes to play his unique role indefinitely. "As long as I can walk," Pun says happily, "I can do this."

In electing Mahabir Pun to receive the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes his innovative application of wireless computer technology in Nepal, bringing progress to remote mountain areas by connecting his village to the global village.

(Source: Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation) mk/ia July 31 07