With 2020 just weeks away, there’s a lot to contemplate on. Have we achieved any of the goals we said we’d reach by 2020? A decade ago everyone was super enthusiastic about 2020, setting goals for themselves. With the visually appealing, beautifully balanced number approaching fast, nobody is talking about what they have achieved. Guess it didn’t happen. Isn’t it time to evaluate what was achieved so far? There’s no point in setting goals if at the end we do not make an assessment.
The country’s financial growth seems to be largely fueled by remittances as the government doesn’t need to lift a finger to receive this flood of cash reportedly amounting to about 32 % of the GDP. Poverty alleviation in the villages has mostly been dependent on the remittances sent home by migrant relatives. If one looks at the modern concrete houses that are coming up in the villagers all over Nepal, it’s quite obvious that the financing didn’t come from selling the rice they grow in their small plots of land. During the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake, I visited many villages outside the valley and discovered that a large number of families were receiving help from their relatives working abroad. Today almost every household has someone working in some distant country; even the porters that I encountered had a son or daughter working abroad.
If one takes time to think seriously about the implications of migrant workers leaving the country, there is much to thank for and not just for the money they send back. For one, the vast numbers of citizens missing from the country means there are fewer mouths to feed. We do not grow enough of anything to be self-sufficient, a fact that has been borne by the shortage of onions which has led to their prices reaching a staggering Rs 250 per Kg comparable to the price of chicken. Because of their absence, the consumption of everything has gone down: water, food, medicines, clothing, consumer goods like tooth paste, soap etc. Millions of Nepalis have gone abroad, not just migrant workers but also students, refugees, immigrants and professionals. Thus the burden of having to create jobs has also been alleviated. Many migrant workers have come back and invested in businesses helping to boost the economy, putting money in the banks, and bringing in their expertise as well.
So when one hears people say there is no need to go abroad, that one can earn just as much here in Nepal, you wonder if they really see the bigger picture. Besides the fact that remittances have been a boon to the country, a fact the government now sees in good light, there are good reasons why people go abroad looking for work. Not everyone has the skill to become a businessman and doing business in Nepal is no easy task anyway. One needs guile above everything else to deal with the kind of people one encounters. Especially those who rely on credit, often find it is near impossible to collect the cash someone owes them. And being a ‘nice guy’ is a big disadvantage. Some of the big business firms are the biggest defaulters and I have personally seen professionals quit and leave the country unable to collect their dues. I have also overheard daily wage earners working in construction sites complain of how the contractor (thegadar) hadn’t paid them for months on end. They leave the country in frustration while the thegadar buys another plot of land. That’s how it works.
On the brighter side, there has been a slight improvement in the air quality around Kathmandu but if you look at the smog over the city, it’s still depressing and the pollution level is still far above what WHO considers safe. Besides the growing number of vehicles, the proliferation of brick kilns outside the valley that are spewing thick smoke is cause for concern. Driving past Bhaktapur, one begins to see brick kilns and the foul air around them. Same is the case if you go past Naubise, Bungamati or Dakshinkali. Seeing the mountains has become a rare privilege even from the hills surrounding Kathmandu valley.
Heading towards 2030, are we going to make pledges like getting rid of poverty by then? Or getting rid of polluting vehicles and replacing them with electric ones? I still don’t see the electric buses that are supposed to run the Ring Road route. Reportedly their purchase has been officially blocked which invariably happens when a big investment is involved. Will we be rid of the traffic jam at the Tribhuvan International Airport? My flight from Bhadrapur to Kathmandu was scheduled for 6:10 pm. When I reached the airport, my porter told me the 1pm flight hadn’t left because the plane hadn’t even arrived from Kathmandu. We eventually took off at 9pm and were told the reason: a jam at TIA. That proved to be true because above TIA, the pilot announced that we would have to keep flying until we found room to land. That doesn’t bode well for Visit Nepal 2020! Let’s not even talk about Manthali.
With traffic on the roads as well as the runway at TIA becoming unmanageable, should our goal for 2030 be “Let’s get out of here!”