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    You are reading: The Kathmandu Post >> Editorial, dated : 2004-05-06 04:19:37




International aid and Dalits






Hira Vishwakarma



During the partyless Panchayat era there were no specific development issues. There was a blanket approach to improving people’s living standards. Formation of NGOs and interest groups were prohibited.

It was only after the nineties the issue and problems of Dalit started to surface and the credit goes to Save the Children US and USAID that carried out first ever research study in six districts of Nepal to understand the situation of Dalits. That study clearly highlights the problems faced by Dalits that need to be addressed systematically, not just through a blanket approach. Save the Children, with the support from USAID, again started an endowment fund to provide scholarships to Dalit students starting from primary to high school education and launched BELE (Basic Education for Least Educated) in 15 districts of Nepal in partnership with Nepal’s one of the oldest Dalit organisations Nepal National Depressed Social Welfare Organisation (NNDSWO), which is the first Dalit organisation to launch targeted development programme for Dalits. The same tradition was followed by Dalit Welfare Organisation again with the support of Save the Children US.

In Nepal international aid comes through three categories of international agencies. 1) Multilateral agencies such as World Bank, Asian Development Bank, UN agencies, European Union etc 2) Bilateral agencies such as USAID, DFID, JICA, CCO, NORAD, DANIDA and FINNIDA. 3) INGOs such as Actionaid Nepal, Plan International, Save the Children alliances, CARE Nepal, Lutheran World Federation and list is more than 100. Many of these INGOs have agreement with the Social Welfare Council and with some ministries.

Since Nepal’s development budget is largely dependant on International aid, loan and grant which is evident even in the current fiscal year’s annual budget where the government expects to receive 60 percent of its development budget from loans and grants. The reality is that out of the 96 billion rupee budget 50 percent goes to general administration, which is largely raised through tax.

As stated earlier, issues of Dalits started to receive attention only after the mid-nineties. Therefore, not all development organisations are sensitive enough to understand and translate the issues into their development programmes. Under the leadership of Dr Jagadish Chandra Pokhrel, the Dalit NGO Federation carried out a study to understand the current scenario of development and the socio-economic status of Dalits.

Because of time constraints only 40 agencies of all three categories were given questionnaire. Out of 40 agencies, nine said they did not have any Dalit-specific programme. Out of 31, only 18 responded formally. The study found that the average money spent directly or indirectly for Dalits stood at 250 million rupees which are spent through support organisations and according to their own plan document ~ ~

It was interesting to note that these agencies prefer to use neutral terms such as disadvantaged groups (DAG), real poor, ultra-poor, rights holders, and more recently excluded community to describe Dalits.

These agencies have their own country-specific strategy that directs investment in Nepal; they use different strategic themes to make their programme and projects pro-Dalit. These themes include “pluralism and diversity protection”, “inclusive programme design”, “targeted programme”, mainstreaming”, thematic approach”, democracy and good governance”, “combating discrimination.”

It is interesting and encouraging to note that they are sensitive to the issue of caste and ethnic representation in their staffing structure. Another interesting feature of the study is that most of these agencies do not have Dalit segregated data and they use the rule of thumb to come up with a figure of 10 percent of their total support going towards Dalit. They claim that they have reached the Dalit communities through support organisations but are not sure to what extent their support has been effective in addressing the issues and problems of Dalits.

The Dalit community of Nepal makes 13.38 percent of total population and their literacy rate is 23 percent against the national average of 54 percent. Life expectancy stands at 50.8 years against the national average of 59 years. Their per capita income is Rs. 4940 against Rs. 7673 national average.

The Dalit civil society claims that out of 38 percent population living below the poverty line, the majority are Dalits. Therefore, one can strongly argue that the Dalits of Nepal should come to the forefront of any development agenda of both government and international agencies. Unfortunately, both at national and international development forums, the issues of Dalits have not yet received the attention they deserve. The Millennium Development Goals of Nepal do not spell out programme for Dalits.

The study also indicated that international agencies working in Nepal have been found to be getting sensitive towards the problems and issues of Dalits but majority of them have not dared to include them as target groups. Therefore, through this article I would like to ask the Dalit civil society to create more pressure on the government and international agencies to make the uplift of Dalits as one of the millennium development goals, and urge all development agencies to include Dalits in their development agenda. Failing to do so may flare up the ongoing conflict in Nepal.