Engaging with the elephant in the room – Nepal’s exodus

Remittances – money sent from people working abroad back to their home countries – represent between US$ 250 – 300 billion of income for poor countries. That dwarfs international aid which sits somewhere in the region of US$ 100 billion. In some places, such as Nepal, it represents one of the biggest contributions to national income: the World Bank this puts remittances to Nepal at 23 % of GDP, in joint second place with the services industry behind agriculture at 30 %. This puts Nepal in second place behind Bangladesh in terms of least developed countries with biggest remittance proportions of GDP and in the top 5 across all countries world-wide.

The social implications of people working abroad and sending remittances back to their families are incredibly complex. How the aid industry, including Practical Action’s work, should fit into this architecture is even more contentious, and the jury amongst the ‘great thinkers’ is still out.

On the one hand, given the sheer volume of income that remittances represent, it makes sense that charities and development agencies should try to leverage their funds to help make remittances be more effective. Some of the things we could do include: influencing migration regulations to make it easier for people in poor countries to reach big labour markets in the Middle East and East Asia; helping people to lobby for governments to clamp down on the rampant corruption of middle-men who manage the migration process; working with vocational training institutions to develop courses that build the skills of young people so that when they go abroad they do not face those 3D jobs: dirty, dangerous and difficult; developing innovations to make transferring money across borders easier and less costly.

But on the other hand, it also makes sense to step back and think about the impact of the exodus of young people out of countries like Nepal. How can Nepal overcome its huge challenges if the resources that Schumacher considered more important than all others – the people, ideas and skills – are running out of the country? This blog is inspired by an article in Nepal’s leading English language newspaper, Nepali Times, which I just read. It’s written by a young journalist called Anurag Acharya. Read here the heart-breaking reality of what labour migration and remittances mean for Nepal.

The Markets and Livelihoods programme at Practical Action in Nepal has just commenced a new project funded by the European Commission – Raising Opportunities for Jobs. This is one of a number of past and present projects across Practical Action that has training of youths at their heart. In this project the Markets team in Nepal mapped the labour market of young people in the far western region of Nepal and identified existing employment patterns and industries with an unmet demand for labour at home. Once this complex system was understood, the team targeted a few sectors where under-educated young people in Nepal could be trained up so that they would have the skills to find decent jobs right here in Nepal.

Practical Action is thinking past the length of the Raising Opportunities for Jobs project, and beyond the limited number of beneficiaries we can help directly. By working indirectly through leading vocational training institutes in the country, Practical Action is collaboratively developing syllabi which these institutes will roll out across the country to hundreds of thousands of youths and far into the future.

Of course we can’t stop these young people, once they have built up these new skills, from deciding to go abroad anyway. However, these skills will also help them, should they choose to go abroad, to avoid those three Ds, and bypass some of the horrors described in Anurag Acharya’s article. In any case it’s important to remember that going abroad is not really an exciting adventure for young Nepalis. It means leaving their families and the lives they have known their entire lives and going places where they are treated as the lowest class of people – grunts of society. As 21-year old Surya Man Lama told Nepali Times’ Acharya: “We don’t like to go abroad, we are forced to”.

Addressing the problem of basic skills of youths is only one small part of what needs to happen in labour markets in Nepal to keep young people at home or find decent jobs abroad without being exploited. And Practical Action in Nepal hopes to grow this area of work in the future. One step at a time though…

One response to “Engaging with the elephant in the room – Nepal’s exodus”

  1. Alexis Morcrette Says:

    For more about remittance flows to Nepal, see this article from another Nepali newspaper The Kathmandu Post. Stats in this article come from the World Bank’s Migration and Remittance Factbook 2011: http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2010/11/09/money/nepal-among-top-5-countries/214646/

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