Opportunity for sustained growth

  • Degree of success in achieving national goals rests largely on what local governments can achieve on the ground

Aug 8, 2017-While presenting the budget at Parliament last May, the Finance Minister informed Members of Parliament that they could look into the amount of resources that had been allocated to the local governments of their respective constituencies. These resources were earmarked for local governments to use to implement development activities of their choice and need. The year 2017 has been a watershed year in Nepal’s development history; it has changed the way development will be planned and implemented in the country.

The Constitution of Nepal 2015 grants full authority to the local governments to carry out development work at the local level. The 75 districts that functioned primarily under central ministerial guidance and had limited authority have been replaced by 744 local governments (LGs) with full authority to plan and implement development work in key sectors such as agriculture, forestry and water resources. In order to carry out these plans, the LGs will receive fixed amounts as grants in addition to their own local funds. While this new system poses some challenges, it also provides ample opportunity for sustained development. A lot depends on how prudently things are handled by all concerned.

Recognising threats

At the root of the story lies the fact that, despite progress made on several economic fronts over the past decades, development has not been able to keep pace with the growing needs and aspirations of the populace. The per capita income has reached $862 and the proportion of people below the poverty line has dropped from 38 percent in 2000 to 21.6 percent in 2015. The proportion of people surviving on a minimal level of dietary consumption fell from 47 percent in 2000 to 22.8 percent in 2015. Drinking water coverage has reached 83.5 percent. There are other areas such as the literacy level, life expectancy and under-5 mortality rate where progress has been remarkable.

However, during the same period in which this noticeable progress was realised, the country suffered from an alarming trade deficit of over 90 percent. More than 1500 youth are leaving the country every day to join the labour market abroad. Agriculture productivity is almost stagnant and the country imports food worth nearly Rs100 billion a year. Degradation of water sources has been equally worrisome. In a nation-wide survey recently conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics, 86 percent of the respondents said they have experienced increasing instances of drought and 74 percent have experienced drying up of local water sources in the last two decades. 84 percent of the respondents have also acknowledged that the arrival of the monsoon has been delayed by 1-4 weeks.

The people expect a great deal from the LGs in terms of improving the local situation, which will lead to improved development indices. Bound by the promises made to voters during elections, LGs have to carefully judge options to meet various expectations and demands. The policy environment to prioritise development at the local level is bound to reflect a mix of several key concerns including infrastructure development, economic growth and poverty reduction. Each of these policy concerns requires focused attention.

It is also necessary to consider the emerging threats presented by climate change, which is considered to be an economic concern impacting all policy themes and sectors. Effects of climate change will also have repercussions on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are highly prioritised by the national agenda. For example, extreme weather events caused by climate change will affect agricultural productivity, which will subsequently affect food security and make it difficult to achieve the second SDG of zero hunger. Several of the SDGs are interconnected and SDG 1, 2, 3, 5, and 12 in particular will bear the consequences of extreme weather events.

Forward thinking

It is also time to formulate strategies required to sustain the achievements recognised through SDGs. This would demand that agriculture and water resources be made more resilient to climate threats because a large number of people are still dependant on farming. Agriculture and water ministries and others that are engaged in the management of natural resources, and have traditionally worked on sector specific issues will need to assess the implications of climate change on their sectoral activities and make suggestions that the LGs can incorporate into local plans.

According to the constitutional mandate, the responsibility of development lies with the LGs. The authority given to the LGs to plan and carry out development work means that they are not bound to follow what is in the centrally formulated periodic plan. Moreover, the LGs will have multiple reasons to justify investment to improve the roads, schools, health posts, water supply, irrigation and so on. They may also invest a substantial amount in rebuilding infrastructure damaged by water induced disasters. However, climate change may not be a priority for years to come, because climate change is largely regarded as a national concern.

The degree of success in achieving national goals rests largely on what the LGs can achieve on the ground through their plans. By making LGs responsible for local issues, we have increased the chance that local problems will be dealt with effectively as each province and their LGs will deal with specific problems within their area. For instance, the vulnerability index prepared by National Adaptation Program of Action shows each district’s vulnerability to various climate threats. Accordingly, the LGs in Province 1 will have to prepare themselves to deal with glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) and rainfall floods, while most of the LGs in Province 6 will have to deal with severe drought. Expected drought in Province 6 seems to have already begun as indicated by inadequate rain over the last three years in several districts. The LGs in Province 2 will have to deal with dual problems. Not only are all the eight districts in Province 2 vulnerable to floods, two of them are also highly vulnerable to drought. Landslides will be a common threat that all provinces will have to deal with, except for Province 2.

The LGs have a twofold responsibility of addressing local problems while keeping national goals in mind. They will be more successful if we assist them in carrying out their responsibilities. Those that hold decision making positions and command authority in various areas of development will also have to help the local governments. Experts in key sectors need to translate the existing information generated through years of research to help formulate local plans focused on issues facing each of the LGs; the federal authorities and the leaders need to show the LGs how national and local objectives are linked and how they can help address both; the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) need to help by bridging the gap between expectations of the people and what can be achieved realistically within the given time; and the think-tanks need to bring forth potential areas which are not priorities now, but might become a matter of concern as we move forward. These are necessary to realise a speedy and sustained growth that the people eagerly await. 

Upadhya is a hydrologist and the author of the book ‘Ponds and Landslides’

Published: 08-08-2017 08:25

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