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Human development and empowerment in Nepal today

Just as the HDI, and others developed since, seek to capture elements of life beyond per capita income, many countries have tried to devise indicators that can both reflect and influence short-term policy changes in particular socio-economic contexts. In this chapter, we will look at development and empowerment to date in Nepal through the lens of the major measurement tools that have evolved in the global Human Development Reports since 1990 and draw them together into a new HEI. Because this new index appears remarkably sensitive to shortand medium-term policy changes in the economic, social and political dimensions of empowerment, it may help Nepalese citizens redirect their development towards poverty reduction, especially at the district level (see annexes 1 and 2).

Figure 2.1 Human development in rural and urban Nepal

and better access to social and health services in the towns and cities. When we disaggregate HDI in Nepals ecological zones, development regions and sub-regions, as well as at the district level, significant differences emerge (see annexes 2.1, tables 1 and 2). HDI in the mountain scores lowest (0.386), followed by the Tarai (0.478) and the hills (0.512); people in the mountain are poorer than those in the Tarai and the hills. The far western and midwestern development regions score the lowest HDI values of the country. Not surprisingly, life expectancy at birth, adult literacy and mean years of schooling and the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) income across regions show different patterns that reflect the uneven distribution of resources country-wide and differences in accessibility as well. There also exist considerable inter-district disparities in HDI: of the 75 districts, the lowest HDI score is found in Mugu, followed by Bajura, Kalikot, Bajhang and Jajarkot, and the highest in Kathmandu, followed by Bhaktapur (see table 2.1 and map 2.1).


According to the UNDP Human Development Report 2004, Nepals HDI score stood at 0.504 a graduation from low HDI status to medium HDI. But the figure is lower than all the South Asian nations except Pakistan. Using the latest data available from the 2001 census and other sources (see annex 1.1 and 1.2), the HDI value is estimated to be even lower: 0.471.1 HDI in the urban areas (0.581) outstrips that of the rural areas (0.452) in which the majority of the Nepalese people live (see figure 2.1). The proximate causes that underlie this striking disparity are higher per capita income

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TABLE 2.1 Classification of districts by human development status Range of HDI values Less than 0.400 0.400-0.449 0.450-0.499 Names of districts in ascending order of HDI Mugu, Bajura, Kalikot, Bajhang, Jajarkot, Jumla, Achham, Humla, Dolpa, Dailekh, Rolpa, Rukum, Baitadi, Rasuwa, Salyan Doti, Mahottari, Sarlahi, Rautahat, Dang, Dhading, Sindhupalchok, Pyuthan, Darchula, Siraha, Bardiya, Ramechhap, Dadeldhura, Kapilbastu, Khotang, Kailali, Parsa, Dhanusha Dolkha, Saptari, Gorkha, Nuwakot, Kanchanpur, Bara, Gulmi, Taplejung, Sindhuli, Arghakhanchi, Bhojpur, Banke, Solukhumbu, Makwanpur, Okhaldhunga, Sankhuwasabha, Nawalparasi, Mustang, Panchthar, Surkhet, Palpa, Udayapur, Baglung, Lamjung, Jhapa, Myagdi Sunsari, Manang, Parbat, Dhankuta, Chitawan, Ilam, Terhathum, Tanahu, Morang, Syangja, Kavrepalanchok, Rupandehi Lalitpur, Kaski, Bhaktapur, Kathmandu TOTAL No. of districts 15 18 26

0.500-0.549 0.550 and over

12 4 75

HDI over time

To make the present HDI based on 2001 data comparable with the 1998 HDI, based on 1996 data, the 1996 HDI has been recalculated using the same logarithmic transformation method for the calculation of income index (see annex 2.1, table 9). Such income adjustment increases the 1996 HDI to 0.403 from its original value of 0.325 for the country as a whole. This means that the HDI has in fact increased to 0.471 in 2001 (present estimate) from 0.403 in 1996. As the table shows the percentage increase is relatively lower in the far western and midFigure 2.2 Changes in HDI between 1996 and 2001

western development region than in other development regions. Interestingly the percentage increase in HDI has been less than 3% in urban areas compared to 17% in rural areas (figure 2.2). However, a comparison of the present HDI (0.471) based on 2001 data with the previous 2001 HDI (0.466) based on 2000 data shows only a slight improvement in human development as a whole throughout the country.2


The Human Poverty Index value for Nepal is estimated at 39.6, a figure fairly close to the HPI (41.2) reported in the global Human Development Report 2004. The HPI value exceeds that of all the other South Asian countries, except Bangladesh and Pakistan. Human poverty in rural areas (42.0) surpasses that of urban areas (25.2) (see figure 2.3). The incidence is most pronounced in the mountain, followed by the Tarai and the hills. Likewise, it is heavily concentrated in the midwestern and far western development regions and is highest in the mid-western mountain 1.7 times higher than that of the central hills where the HPI value is recorded to be the lowest. Similarly, considerable disparities in human poverty exist across districts (annex 2.1, table 3 and 4 and map 2.2).



HPI over time

As with HDI, the previous 1998 HPI based on 1996 data has been recalculated by dropping the proportion of population without access to health services. This adjustment has reduced the 1996 HPI marginally to 48.1 from its original value of 49.7. A comparison of human poverty indices shows an improvement in HPI from 48.1 in 1996 (the 1998 HPI) to 39.6 in 2001 (current HPI; see figure 2.4). Making further adjustments in the 2001 HPI for malnourished children from 1-5 years to 1-3 years to make the two reference points comparable, the HPI in 2001 drops marginally to 38.6 (see annex 2.1, table 9 for details). The decline in HPI has been highest in the mid-western, western and central development regions with the least progress in the far western development region. Ecologically, there has been least progress in poverty reduction in the Tarai and the mountain compared to the hills (annex 2.1, table 9).

Figure 2.3 Human poverty in rural and urban Nepal

The Gender-related Development Index is simply the HDI adjusted downwards for gender inequality. The greater the value of GDI, the lower the degree of gender disparity in human development. GDI in Nepal has a score of 0.452 as against the HDI value of 0.471; this suggests that the depth of gender disparity in opportunities is not very great. The GDI for the rural areas (0.430) is significantly lower than for the urban areas (0.562), indicating a higher degree of gender inequality in rural areas (see figure 2.5). Among the ecological belts, women in the mountains have a lower GDI value than

MAP 2.1

Human development status by district


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MAP 2.2 Human poverty status by district

Figure 2.4 Changes in HPI between 1996 and 2001

equality in human development indicators is more pronounced in the rural areas, especially in the mountains and far western region as indicated by their relatively lower GDI/HDI ratios. The gender disparities across districts are shown in map 2.3 (see also annex 2.1, table 6). The GDI over the period 1996-2001 has increased to 0.452 in 2001 from 0.345 in 1996.3


The Gender Empowerment Measure score of Nepal indicates that women are much less empowered than men in the political, economic and professional domains. Womens share of earned income is about one half of that of men, while their participation in the political process is only one fourth of that of men. The gap widens in their participation in professional and administrative jobs. Women in rural areas are much less empowered than those in the towns and cities (figure 2.6). Likewise, women in the mountains and the

those in the hills and the Tarai. Similarly, among development regions, women in the eastern and western regions have higher GDI scores (0.475 and 0.477) than those in the other development regions (see annex 2.1, table 5). The magnitude of gender in20


Tarai and especially those located in far western and mid-western development regions are less empowered than those in other regions. The GEM value across eco-development regions ranges between 0.309 in the far western mountain to 0.511 in the western mountain. Wide disparities also exist in the level of gender empowerment across districts (annex 2.1, table 7 and 8 and map 2.4). GEM in Nepal between 1996 and 2001 more than doubled, although the two figures are not directly comparable.4

Figure 2.5 Gender-related development in rural and urban Nepal

Figure 2.6 Gender empowerment measure in rural and urban Nepal


The new Human Empowerment Index has been constructed by bringing together the available social, economic and political indicators into a composite index of empowerment. It has taken a holistic perspective to measure the empowerment level of all Nepals citizens in the same spirit as the HDI.5 The HEI value for Nepal is estimated at 0.463, indicating a low level of empowerment; this is fairly close to that of HDI value (0.471). For the country as a whole, the level of economic empowerment (0.337) dips below that of social empowerment (0.406), while political empowerment stands at 0.646 (see figure 2.7). The low level of economic empowerment reflects the low level of income, limited access to productive assets and lack of gainful employment opportunities which severely limits the scope to use the expanded human and social capabilities. The levels of social mobilization

MAP 2.3 Gender-related development status by district


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MAP 2.4 Gender empowerment status by district

The current level of both economic and social empowerment remains far too low to effectively address the overarching goal of poverty reduction on a sustained basis

and communication outreach are fairly low compared to the health and education indices, resulting in the low level of social empowerment. The current level of both economic and social empowerment remains far too low to effectively address the overarching goal of poverty reduction on a sustained basis. Indeed, this low level of economic empowerment is unlikely even to sustain existing social empowerment unless economic opportunities are expanded to utilize the existing human and social capabilities. The existing mismatching of socio-economic and political empowerment also indicates clearly the need for more balanced interventions

on all three fronts for sustainable empowerment and poverty reduction. While a strong correlation exists between social and economic empowerment, political empowerment is weakly correlated with both economic and social empowerment (see also annex 2.2, table 9). 6 The higher level of political empowerment is the outcome of the higher voter turnout and candidacies per seat in local election only two available objective indicators included in measuring political empowerment. These two objective indicators available at the district level cannot fully capture the concept of political empowerment.7 However, the higher political empowerment is a clear manifestation of peoples rising expectations. This and related issues are discussed at length in chapter 3 of this Report.

Figure 2.7 Dimensions of empowerment in Nepal

The rural-urban gap in human empowerment

The HEI for rural areas (0.439) is about 70% that of urban areas (0.620), while the HEI for urban areas is approximately 34% higher



than that for the nation as a whole (see figure 2.8). The level of political empowerment is much higher than social and economic empowerment in both rural and urban areas. Indeed, the urban areas surpass the rural hinterlands in terms of all three dimensions of empowerment. In addition, the rural-urban gap in social empowerment is relatively more pronounced than disparities in economic and political empowerment. For example, the social empowerment in rural areas (0.372) is just 60% of that in urban areas (0.604). The causes underlying such conspicuous disparities in social empowerment are the relatively better access to social infrastructure (education, health and communication media) and income-earning opportunities that the residents of towns and cities enjoy. The educational index, health index and communication media index in urban areas are 2.4, 1.6 and 3.4 times greater than in rural areas. Over 50% of the rural adult population (15+) are still deprived of basic capability in education compared to one third of the adult population in urban areas. An infant in the rural area is exposed 1.4 times more to risk of death (70 per 1,000 live births) compared to an infant in the urban area (51.7). The extent of chronic malnutrition measured in terms of stunting (height for age) among children (under 5 years) is 1.4 times higher in rural areas than in the urban areas. Sanitation coverage in the rural areas is extremely low compared to that in urban areas. The rural population is still deprived of mass communications media; the communications media score of rural areas (0.214) is only 29% of that in urban areas (0.732) a gap created largely by extremely low outreach of telephone facilities in the rural areas. In terms of economic empowerment, the value for rural areas (0.304) is about 59% that of urban areas (0.518) an outcome attributed largely to higher per capita income, along with better access to economic infrastructure and employment opportunities. For example, the per capita income level in rural areas does not even equal half that of

Figure 2.8 Dimensions of empowerment in rural and urban Nepal

urban areas. Similarly, the proportion of electrified rural households is just onefourth of that of urban areas, while the share of non-agricultural employment is only 36 percent. The rural urban disparity in political empowerment is relatively less pronounced compared to that of social and economic empowerment; the political empowerment score in urban areas is only 15% higher than that of the countryside.

Empowerment across ecological regions

The level of human empowerment decreases as we move from the south (Tarai) to the north (mountain). Historically an area of much hardship and inaccessibility, the mountain lags behind other regions in all components of empowerment (see figure 2.9). Given its limited access to economic infrastructure and productive assets, low income and limited employment opportunities outside agriculture, the mountain ranks among the lowest levels of economic empowerment. By contrast, the Tarai plains have long been an area with relatively higher level of economic infrastructure and opportunities. Not surprisingly, the HEI value of the Tarai is about 32% higher than in the mountain. The higher HEI of the Tarai stems primarily from its relatively higher position


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Figure 2.9 Empowerment across ecological regions

levels of empowerment even within those that are better-off.

Human empowerment across development regions

The HEI shows marked disparities in human empowerment across the five development regions. The HEI is the highest in the central development region (0.497), followed by the eastern development region (0.486). By contrast, the mid-western (0.393) and the far western (0.399) development regions reveal the lowest HEI score some 15% below the national average (see figure 2.10). These two lowest-scoring regions lag behind other development regions in all dimensions of human empowerment. The level of social empowerment in the midwestern region is just one third that of the national average whereas its level of economic empowerment is about half that of the national HEI score. People in the midwestern development region experience far greater deprivation in health and social capabilities than those in the far western development region; its infant mortality and child under-nutrition rates rank among the highest of all development regions. It has also the lowest per capita income and other low indicators of economic empowerment compared with the other development regions. Caught among concentrated poverty, disempowerment and violent conflict, people in this region remain largely neglected; in the absence of substantial shift in national policy and priority in resource allocation, this deprivation seems unlikely to change.

in political as well as economic empowerment. The economic empowerment index of the Tarai is 16% higher than that of the national average. Yet the social empowerment index of the Tarai is 23% lower than that of the hills: the higher position enjoyed by the Tarai people in social mobilization outreach is largely offset by their low position in education- and health-related indicators of social empowerment. However, if we compare the situation across development regions, wide disparities exist in the
Figure 2.10 Empowerment across development regions

Disparities in human empowerment across eco-development regions

Nepals disparities in human empowerment become much starker when we compare HEI values across the 15 eco-development regions products of the three ecosystems and the five development regions. The western mountain, which includes the Manang and Mustang districts with highest per capita income, has the highest rank,



Figure 2.11 Empowerment status across eco-development regions

followed by the central hills, which include the largely urban Kathmandu Valley. The eastern Tarai and central mountain are the other two regions that score higher than the national average. By contrast, the mid-western hills (0.276) and far western hills stand out as the two most disadvantaged regions; their HEI values are, respectively, 40% and 30% lower than the national HEI score (see figure 2.11). Social empowerment exceeds economic empowerment in all the eco-development regions except for the mid-western mountain, central, eastern and western Tarai. The mismatch between social and economic empowerment is less pronounced than the gap between socio-economic and political empowerment across the regions. The disparity observed in socio-economic empowerment scores across these regions suggests an uneven distribution of basic social services and economic opportunities. The midwestern hills and far western Tarai illustrate the typical case of multiple disempowerment, where people experience very low status in all three dimensions of empowerment. The gap between social (and/or economic) and political empowerment is particularly striking in the moun-

tainous areas of all the five development regions. Again, the mid- and far western mountain reveal the largest mismatch, between their lowest socio-economic empowerment levels on the one hand and, on the other, the highest political empowerment levels. While their high political empowerment reflects the rising expectations of people in these regions, their low levels of social and economic empowerment point to a denial of access to opportunities in which citizens could expand and utilize their capabilities. So great a mismatch can also be taken as a source of disenchantment that leads to conflict in various forms.

Inter-district disparities in human empowerment

The values of HEI disaggregated at the district level show that the citizens of Kathmandu followed by Lalitpur, Kaski, Bhaktapur and Morang enjoy far greater empowerment than citizens in other districts. By contrast, the lowest levels of empowerment are found in Rolpa, followed by Rukum, Doti, Mugu, Dolpa, Humla, and Kalikot districts. The level of human empowerment in Kathmandu (0.66) is more than four times that of Rolpa (0.14), about


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MAP 2.5 Human empowerment status by district

The higher level of political empowerment relative to social and economic empowerment may well be a source of disenchantment that culminates in varied forms of conflict

four times that of Rukum (0.17) and more than twice that of Doti, Mugu, Dolpa, Humla, and Kalikot, the most deprived and disempowered districts in terms of almost all indicators and components of empowerment. Classification of districts in five groups in terms of HEI values (see table 2.2 and map 2.5) shows that most low-scoring districts are located in the mid-western and far western development regions. Only five districts Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Kaski, Bhaktapur and Morang enjoy an HEI level within the 0.60.7 range. Altogether 55 of the 75 districts of the country fall into the low human empowerment category (less than 0.5) and the remaining 20 districts into the medium human empowerment category (0.5-0.7). None reaches the high human empowerment category (above 0.8). Moreover, the low HEIscoring districts for the most part rank at the bottom rung in terms of all three components of empowerment. Social empowerment scores are lowest in Mugu (0.05), followed by Humla, Dolpa, Rolpa, Jumla and Bara. Economic empowerment is lowest for

Sindhuli8 (0.10), followed by Rolpa, Dailekh and Dolpa. The lowest political empowerment scores are found in Manang (0.08), followed by Rolpa, Rukum and Doti. In 45 districts, social empowerment falls below the national average, while 43 have economic and political empowerment values below the national average score. The analysis of human empowerment among the low-scoring districts reveals a considerable mismatch between political and socio-economic empowerment in most districts (see figure 2.12). These are also the isolated districts suffering from high levels of socio-economic deprivation and violent conflict. Mugu, Dolpa and Humla clearly typify case of social exclusion in which people remain markedly deprived of social capability attainment or social empowerment relative to their economic empowerment levels. Six districts of the mid-western and far western regions (namely Mugu, Bajhang, Kalikot, Dolpa, Bajura and Jajarkot) rank lowest in the health capability score (below 0.30) just half the national health score.



Table 2.2 Classification of districts by human empowerment status

Range of HEI value Less than 0.300 0.300-0.399 0.400-0.499

Names of districts in ascending order of HEI Rolpa, Rukum, Doti, Mugu, Dolpa, Humla, Kalikot, Bajura, Bajhang, Jajarkot Jumla, Achham, Baitadi, Sindhuli, Gorkha, Darchula, Dailekh, Salyan, Ramechhap, Khotang, Manang, Bhojpur, Taplejung, Gulmi, Myagdi, Rautahat

No. of districts 10 16 29

Pyuthan, Baglung, Palpa, Dadeldhura, Solukhumbu, Mahottari, Dhading, Lamjung, Sarlahi, Rasuwa, Panchthar, Siraha, Dolkha, Udayapur, Sankhuwasabha, Okhaldhunga, Argakhanchi, Surkhet, Sindhupalchok, Makwanpur, Bara, Dhanusha, Mustang, Kapilbastu, Syangja, Kailali, Nuwakot, Tanahu, Ilam Parsa, Saptari, Bardiya, Kavrepalanchok, Parbat, Nawalparasi, Terhathum, Kanchanpur, Sunsari, Rupandehi, Dang, Dhankuta, Jhapa, Banke, Chitawan Morang, Bhaktapur, Kaski, Lalitpur, Kathmandu TOTAL

0.500-0.599 0.600-0.699

15 5 75

With the exception of Rolpa, Rukum and Doti, where people experience multiple disempowerment relatively lower positions in terms of all components of empowerment marked gaps exist between the political and socio-economic empowerment among these lowest-scoring districts. And again, the higher level of political empowerment relative to social and economic empowerment in these districts may well be a source of disenchantment that culminates in varied forms of conflict.

(0.451) while Tarai ranks second to hills in terms of HDI. Similarly across the development regions, HEI places central development region at the top position whereas the HDI places the eastern development region in the top position and the central development region in the third place (figure 2.13). The degree of regional disparity is relatively more pronounced in the HEI than that of HDI. This suggests the importance of empowerment approach to poverty reduction. As with the regions, the ranking of districts based on the HEI is not compatible in some cases. For example, the HEI ranks Chitwan
Figure 2.12 Decomposition of empowerment across lowest-scoring districts



This section explores how the human empowerment index and its components are associated with human development and its associated measures, particularly the HPI. The ranking of regions and districts based on HEI is first compared with the ranking based on HDI followed by a simple correlation and bivariate regression analysis. 9 The overall score of HEI is fairly close to that of HDI, and this suggests that the level of human empowerment is reflected in the low level of human development. Although the ranking of regions based on HEI is broadly comparable with the ranking based on HDI, it is not compatible in some cases. Ecologically, HEI places Tarai (0.476) at the highest position followed by the hills


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Figure 2.13 Disparities in HEI and HDI across regions

at the 6th position while the HDI places it at the 12th position among the 75 districts. HDI places Syangja at the 7th position but HEI places it at the 25th position. Among lowest scoring districts, Rolpa ranks lowest followed by Rukum in terms of HEI while HDI rank them at the 11th and 12th positions respectively. Further, the gap between the top- and bottom-scoring districts is much wider in the case of HEI than in the case of HDI. For instance, HEI score of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Kaski, is more than three times higher than that of two lowest-scoring districts Rolpa and Rukum whereas the HDI score of top three districts is more than two times higher than that of the lowest HDI scoring districts, Mugu and Bajura. Figure 2.14 illustrates how the ranking of districts based on HEI compares with the HDI scale. Interestingly, the HDI exceeds HEI at the lower end of development scale where human poverty is concentrated. HEI may therefore serve as a powerful tool for

Figure 2.14

Relationship between HEI and HDI across districts ranked in ascending order of HEI

Name of districts in accending order of HEI



identifying the areas of concentrated poverty (multiple disempowerment) and unsustainable empowerment (mismatch between socio-economic and political empowerment) crucial for devising successful policy interventions on poverty reduction and sustainable human development. Although HEI correlates significantly with HDI, the correlation is not perfectly uniform; much of the variation in the relationship remains unexplained (see annex 2.2, table 9). Some interesting findings emerge from a simple bivariate/regression analysis conducted to investigate how different components of HEI, HDI and HPI are influencing each other. The findings show:10 ! The effect of HEI on HDI is stronger than that of HPI. ! Progress in social empowerment will have more impact on HPI than progress in HDI. ! Economic empowerment is more powerful than per capita income in explaining HPI. ! HEI appears to be more responsive to change in economic empowerment than similar unit change in other components of empowerment.

that HEI captures poverty-reducing opportunities, as well as social economic and political capabilities, more than the HDI and other associated indices such as GEM and HPI. A comparison of the ranking of the districts based on HEI with those based on HDI indicates that HEI is a more powerful index, particularly at the lower end of the development scale. The composite index of human empowerment consisting of a larger set of short and medium-term progress indicators crucial to measuring capabilities and choices in all spheres of life (the social, political and economic) can serve as a powerful tool for devising more successful national policies and strategies for reducing poverty and for transforming inequitable distributions that contribute to conflict. HEI can thereby help us enhance the process of human development. As the technical note (annex 1.3) indicates, HEI still calls for refinement. It certainly does not supplant HDI as a critical pillar of human development. However, it does capture a concept of human development that goes beyond what HDI and other associated measures now provide. It enriches our understanding of the current levels of disparities in capabilities on all fronts and thereby points to the nature of interventions required to address specific issues of exclusion by measuring levels of mismatchings and multiple disempowerments in areas of concentrated poverty. To return to some of the central questions raised by the Nepal Human Development Report 2001, HEI shows how and where excluding whole regions or groups of people from one or another area of empowerment violates their human rights. In addition, these exclusions deprive the nation as a whole of the contributions these deprived citizens could well make to economic, social, cultural and political life. Exclusion therefore works against the norms of civilized order, damaging both individuals and society as a whole often irreparably.

Exclusion [therefore] works against the norms of civilized order, damaging both individuals and society as a whole often irreparably


Like other indices, the HEI provides a picture of the levels of human empowerment and how these levels in social, economic and political terms manifest themselves across regions. From a policy perspective, one important question that arises is what HEI, as compared with HDI and its associated measures, can add to our information about the broader concept of human development. As indicated above, although the HEI value for Nepal as a whole is fairly close to that of HDI, indicating the robustness of HEI, much of the variability in the relationship remains unexplained. It seems to stem from the fact