Although Nepal has been passing through the most critical and prolonged political instability, the country has achieved some of the important indicators of progress in the social sector, including in the areas of infant mortality, maternal mortality, school enrolment of girls and immunization in the last fifteen years.
Along with these, Nepal has also reduced the level of poverty, narrowing the gap between the rich and poor. However, Nepal's governance, infrastructure and education still need greater attention, particularly in energy and connectivity. Nepal needs to invest more in resources.
Situated between two Asian giants, India and China, which are aspiring to be global economic powers, Nepal has a tremendous opportunity lying ahead. If Nepal improves its governance and quality of education while making greater investment in infrastructure, particularly hydropower, Nepal has every opportunity to embark on the road to prosperity.
As Nepal has been passing through a political transition, with three governments featured in ten months, Jeffrey D Sachs, a world-renowned professor of economics, has expressed the belief that Nepal has the potential to grow. He said that hydropower was one sector that could help Nepal achieve a sustainable development.
Visiting Nepal at the invitation and personal initiative of member of National Planning Commission Dr. Swarnim Wagle, a young economist, professor Jeffrey Sachs revealed that he saw enormous changes happening.
Before addressing a big group of people from different walks of life, economist Sachs also addressed the senior government officials, including secretaries at the prime minister's office, explaining the importance of public administration in improving the service delivery and reducing malpractices.
At a public lecture moderated by NPC member Dr. Wagle, economist Sachs spoke at length about different aspects of MDGs and SDGs and Nepal’s progress. The lecture entitled ‘Sustainable Development in an Uncertain World’ was organized by the National Planning Commission (NPC).
Sachs, who is also a leader in sustainable development and a special advisor to UN Secretary General, saw no future for Nepal if it could not attain economic progress as nation lying between two giants.
“I firmly believe that Nepal has enormous strategic opportunities to achieve a very rapid sustainable development in the coming 15 years,” said Sachs, the world-renowned professor of economics.
Emphasis On Hydropower
Addressing the gathering, professor Sachs emphasized on harnessing hydroelectricity and said that hydroelectric power was a strategic asset which had the most potential to be sold across the region as a clean source of energy.
“I would like to suggest Nepal should speed up works to harness hydroelectricity. A strategy to develop 10 to 20 gigawatt of hydropower through good contracts and low cost financing needs to come soon into the national budget,” said Sachs, adding, “Nepal has the potential of 40 gigawatt of power and at least 10 gigawatt of the potential needs to be harnessed in the next one-and-a-half decades. This will not only replace the import of petroleum products, expand industrial base, increase agriculture output, give quality life to the people through proper electrification in households but also supply clean energy to India, Bangladesh and other countries of the region.”
Sachs said that harnessing hydroelectricity is critical from the perspective of energy security and also to improve the quality of air because air is highly polluted due to excessive use of fossil fuels.
“As Nepal’s air quality is worsening with the atmosphere full of haze, Nepal can convert to an all-electric transport system in the next 15 to 20 years by utilising the electricity generated over the period because the world is moving forward towards electric vehicles.”
Nepal’s geographic location is an important factor. The country can reap benefits through integration with the fastest growing economies of the world, China and India. “For a long time Nepal has had an amicable relationship with India and China and now the country needs to tap this to enhance its economy by being interconnected to these two economic powerhouses. Nepal needs to maintain a balanced relationship and it is very delicate.”
“I think, this is a stage of economic, communication, information and scientific integration, which is really important. Rail network from China and highway linkages with India open the door to be connected with the entire South Asia and East Asia regions,” said Sachs. “There is a tremendous opportunity of power-backed industries, infrastructure development and, for this to materialize, the country should reduce the red-tapism and other factors hindering investment.”
Among the 17 goals for sustainable development adopted by the 193 United Nations member countries, Nepal is concerned with 14, namely ending poverty, zero hunger, health care to all, quality education, gender equality, water and sanitation, electrification (clean energy), decent work, quality infrastructure, sustainable cities, sustainable production, climate resilience, forest protection and efficient government. Sachs further highlighted that global cooperation is essential to achieve the goals.
Sachs is known as one of the intellectual fathers of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a United Nations-led initiative that aimed at halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education within 2015. After its success, this is his second visit to the country since August 1994.
“Nepal has made a lot of progress in the last 20 years. And I’m very happy about it. I’m hoping that development works would move ahead at even faster pace in the next 20 years. I’ve been looking at and listening to some of the achievements and also discussing what can be done to accelerate the pace of sustainable development in the country.
I don’t think Nepal has done all that it should have done or could have done, given that the two giant neighbours have been among the fastest growing countries in the world. Well, it’s a complicated thing to deal with these giants. But Nepal has big markets and big opportunities because both China and India are growing at about 7 percent, although Nepal has not been able to grow so fast. This is because Nepal has failed to attract investment in areas such as hydroelectricity. It’s been more than a generation since the country started talking about tapping hydroelectric potential. But nothing has happened. So, with major investments, it would be possible for Nepal to move ahead at much faster pace."
He said: “Nepal is in between two major countries which are growing fast. Both are big powers in the world, both are mega populations and nuclear powers and major forces in the world. My advice to you is to be friends with both of them to grow alongside with the neighbors because you don’t want to be a poor man in between these two giants.”
He also said that most of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), a set of 17 goals that the world adopted to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all, are still a part of national agenda of Nepal.
Stating that the world has been witnessing geopolitical, economic and physical uncertainties in recent times, he said that the world adopting the SDGs and agreement on climate change in Paris unanimously is ‘no small feat when we don’t have agreement on anything often’.
He also lauded the significant progress that Nepal has made in millennium development goals despite political and other uncertainties.
Talking about measures to curb corruption, he said that putting cash transactions into banking transactions, adopting e-governance and training officials to set up professional standards are the ways that Nepal can adopt to ‘de-corrupt’ the system.