Dr J suggested I post some thoughts on the recent, devastating earthquake in Nepal, but I don’t know if I have much to add. Over at Policy of Truth, one of Dr Khawaja’s friends was in Nepal when the quake happened and there are some photos that his friend was able to take. And a development economist has some good advice on giving to Nepal.
Instead, I’ll just break down some interesting tidbits about the country. I can’t do any better than Wikipedia (minus most of the links):
Nepal […] is a landlocked country located in South Asia. With an area of 147,181 square kilometres (56,827 sq mi) and a population of approximately 27 million, Nepal is the world’s 93rd largest country by land mass and the 41st most populous country. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People’s Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India. Nepal is separated from Bangladesh by the narrow Indian Siliguri Corridor and from Bhutan by the Indian state of Sikkim. Kathmandu is the nation’s capital and largest metropolis.
The mountainous north of Nepal has eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest, called Sagarmāthā (सगरमाथा) in the Nepali language. More than 240 peaks over 20,000 ft (6,096 m) above sea level are located in Nepal. The southern Terai region is fertile and humid.
Hinduism is practiced by about 81.3% of Nepalis, the highest percentage of any country. Buddhism is linked historically with Nepal and is practiced by 9% of its people, followed by Islam at 4.4%, Kiratism 3.1%, Christianity 1.4%, and animism 0.4%. A large portion of the population, especially in the hill region, may identify themselves as both Hindu and Buddhist, which can be attributed to the syncretic nature of both faiths in Nepal.
A monarchy throughout most of its history, Nepal was ruled by the Shah dynasty of kings from 1768—when Prithvi Narayan Shah unified its many small kingdoms —until 2008. A decade-long Civil War involving the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), followed by weeks of mass protests by all major political parties, led to the 12-point agreement of 22 November 2005. The ensuing elections for the 1st Nepalese Constituent Assembly on 28 May 2008 overwhelmingly favored the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a federal multiparty representative democratic republic. Despite continuing political challenges, this framework remains in place, with the 2nd Nepalese Constituent Assembly elected in 2013 in an effort to create a new constitution.
Nepal is a developing country with a low income economy, ranking 145th of 187 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) in 2014. It continues to struggle with high levels of hunger and poverty. Despite these challenges, the country has been making steady progress, with the government making a commitment to graduate the nation from least developed country status by 2022.
Nepal’s GDP (PPP) per capita stands at about Intl$ 2,300 according to the World Bank, which is lower than Bangladesh and on par with Senegal (in west Africa), and Tanzania and South Sudan (both in east Africa). GDP (PPP) per capita is, of course, my favorite unit of measurement for comparing the health and wealth of societies.
I couldn’t find much information on ethnic groups, but the number of religions practiced, plus the number of languages spoken by significant portions of the population and coupled with the decade-long civil war between Maoists and monarchists, is enough to suggest – to me – that the country has no tradition of liberalism whatsoever, and will thus likely remain in poverty for a long, long time – despite the fact that a federal state has recently been implemented from the bottom up.
Ideas matter, though at the same time, the question of federalism versus liberalism seems a lot like the question about the chicken or the egg. If a Maoist insurgency and a reactionary monarchy can give way to a liberal federation in the middle of the Indian-Chinese border I’ll disavow learning altogether and take up the cloth in liberalism’s name!
I am hoping Dr Ranjan – a South Asian specialist – can jump in and provide us with some insight as well, but spring is a busy time for scholars.