The gloom of the Karnali region

The Karnali zone is currently the most underdeveloped region of the country. But there is no single root cause that fully explains the region’s underdevelopment. Among the many reasons, a weak business sector, unfriendly natural environment, traditional agriculture technology, demographic factors, and political instability, are perhaps most potent. These have caused the area to be the home of poverty, inequality, and isolation from the national development mainstream.

The Central Bureau of Statistics 2011 emphasized unemployment as a leading cause for Karnali’s underdevelopment. Unemployment reduces the annual growth rate of the region by 1.3 percent. Proper employment opportunity would potentially result in a doubling of the region’s per capita income. Millions of dollars of aid and countless hours of advice have been spent, but Karnali districts have not been able to promote growth and progress as expected.

Karnali’s demographic history has been characterized by low density population and seasonal migration. The region holds only 12 persons per square kilometer. Continued migration is blamed on limited economic opportunities and unfriendly geographical environment, weakening the livelihoods of the population. Rapid deforestation has further worsened the problems and is fuelling complete desertification. Consequently, Karnali is more food-insecure today than it was just a couple of decades ago.

Weakly developed business sector is another problem. Small-scale businesses within the region find it more difficult to compete with bigger companies present in other parts of the country. The producers cannot find information about market opportunities, and they lack support to upgrade their technologies to local, regional or international markets. There are no large-scale producers, and small-scale producers don’t have much influence on market. There are no organizations that impart knowledge about the pros and cons of different models of collaboration either and thus no effective mechanism for the operation of markets that create incentives for the poor. The service provision by the government and NGOs are not market driven, but take the form of typical development aid.

In order to address the challenges, quick impact activities are not the solution. Human Development Index will not improve without an adequate road network, electricity and efficient telecommunication systems. Karnali needs rapid investment in infrastructure. One might ask where the money will come under current economic difficulties the whole national faced. That is a crucial question, to which, there is no direct answer.