The striking beauty of Nepal's landscape stands in stark contrast with the country's wide spread poverty. Landlocked and endowed with few natural resources sustainable for commercial exploitation, Nepal remains one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world with its social indicators one of the lowest in the entire Asia Region. Unlike Australia, whose social welfare system is among the finest in the world, Nepal suffers much from its lack of an organized system of social welfare and adequate health services. Life expectancy at birth in Nepal is 57 years and the infant mortality rate at 82 per 1,000 live births is among the highest in the world. Medical facilities are shockingly incomplete, partly due to the huge skill shortage and Nepal's woefully inadequate transport network - 1 qualified physician has to be shared amongst 12,700 Nepalese. Australia, however, enjoying the advantages of a modified welfare state is very well placed by the standards of the developed world in terms of nutrition, living and working conditions, as well as general rates of life expectancy. Life expectancy at birth is 81 years and with an easily accessible health care system, infant mortality rate in Australia is 5 per 1,000 live births - only a sixteenth of Nepal's infant mortality rate.
Abundant in natural resources and a major exporter of agricultural and other primary products, Australia has a prosperous Western-style capitalist economy, with a per capita GDP at the level of the highly industrialized European countries - US $21,400. Nepal, on the contrary, lacking in foreign investment interest, hampered by its technological backwardness, its landlocked geographic location and its susceptibility to natural disaster, relies on agriculture as the mainstay of the economy - the GDP per capita in Nepal is alarming at US $210.
Literacy rate in Nepal is appalling at 27%. Due to its incomplete infrastructure, much of Nepal is accessible only by foot, education is only available in rural areas, though primary education is free, most Nepalese families are barely earning enough for basic needs of survival and are unable to purchase essential text books and stationery in order to support their children through school. Australia, on the other hand, has an advanced education network. Its literacy rate is 99% and most Australians are encouraged to undertake vocational training, which ensures that the country does not suffer from skill shortage.
Nepal's development needs are complex - it is a small, landlocked country with a difficult terrain, a limited resource base and rapid population growth. To alleviate poverty and promote sustainable human development in Nepal, it is imperative to address key elements such as infrastructure, agriculture and rural development, health and education. However, the emphasis should be focused on long-term development - creating changes that will last, thus tackling the root causes of poverty.
The infant and maternal mortality rates in Nepal are among the highest in the world and the formal health system reaches barely 15% of the population. Advances in essential infrastructure such as water supply and sanitation, transport and communication are fundamental to the economic development of Nepal, as well as development in its social welfare. NGOs such as ACTIONAID and USAID have been working to provide technical and financial resources in training front line health workers and improving community-based treatment, setting up mobile health centres to improve accessibility facilities, preventing diseases via means of vaccinations and educating the public of health-related issues. Infant mortality rates have decreased significantly with USAID focusing on improving public knowledge of diarrhoea and pneumonia - the two leading causes of childhood deaths in Nepal, and the distribution of oral rehydration salt packets, which greatly reduces mortality due to dehydration from diarrhoea.
Nepal suffers from poor infrastructure, like many developing countries. Roads, telecommunications and power are woefully inadequate and are barriers to attracting new industry. The challenge lies in using existing resources and opportunities in the optimum way. Forest and farm productions are tightly linked in Nepal's economy. Organisations such as USAID and OXFAM work to promote the sustainable management of a productive resource base and increase productivity by offering technological assistance in training Nepalese workers in farming techniques that enrich the soil, prevent erosion and increase the harvest.
Nepal also has considerable scope for accelerating economic growth by exploiting its potential in hydroelectricity, tourism and human resources. The Nepal Forward Foundation has designed and implemented several projects targeting these sectors, as well as the Government, who is currently implementing a number of power generation projects in harnessing hydroelectricity. Carefully designed tourism projects have also been implemented to prevent further damages to Nepal's fragile environment and to promote Nepal's tourism industry - this is evident in Nepal's gradual increase in foreign exchange earnings.
Organisations such as ACTIONAID are working increase the GDP by strengthening human resources - a critical element in Nepal's economic growth. ACTIONAID assists in increasing the incomes of lower castes through small business enterprise, for example, in traditional crafts, and help to generate more income by encouraging workers to upgrade their skills and widen their range of products.
Education is development's most basic building block and is vital for alleviating poverty. NGOs such as VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) are involved in both technical and vocational training, as well as assistance in basic education for children. Centres are being set up where teachers give lessons to children and adults at flexible times, so as not to interfere with housework or farming. Scholarship schemes have also been developed by ACTIONAID to help cover the costs for their books and stationery.