Addressing Marginalization and Vulnerability
Along with a friendly business environment and strong labor institutions, social security and protection systems are critical for alleviating poverty and enhancing the living standards of society at large. To date, Nepal has incorporated a variety of such programs, but in a fragmented manner. Following the Comprehensive Peace Accord of 2006, all political parties committed to promote marginalized groups’ access to government services, and successive governments have introduced populist social protection programs for the poor and vulnerable. It is estimated that around 70 programs now exist; most are versions of cash transfer programs for the elderly, women, children, and other groups. While these programs are popular, it is unclear how well they correspond to government priorities – e.g. the 32 fundamental rights enshrined in the new constitution – and how well they are integrated with development assistance planning. Critically, the cost to the government of all these programs is also unclear. Analysis is needed to map the various schemes and their costs, and to develop a more coherent social protection policy and related legal/ regulatory framework.
While social protection programs help address certain types of vulnerability, other policies are needed for novel, episodic or geopolitical types of vulnerability. Nepal’s perennial susceptibility to disaster, for example, is a difficult policy issue because disasters magnify other pre-existing vulnerabilities. The country’s dependence on remittances, fuel imports, a couple of major supply roads, and a single international airport are other vulnerabilities that have national security implications as well as direct costs to the public. The government has a significant capacity gap regarding these vulnerabilities. There is a need to develop mechanisms (e.g. security advisory bodies or commissions on energy security, supply security, and so on) to focus information, analysis, and expertise to address these issues. Recently, the ruling coalition has called for forming an advisory committee under the prime minister for this purpose. However, much remains to be done from a strategic perspective.
Though the new constitution seeks to redress the historical political marginalization of certain groups, members of marginalized communities still struggle to influence public policy processes at the local, provincial, and federal levels. Despite reserved seats for ethnic minorities, Dalits, women, Madhesis, Muslims and geographically disadvantaged populations at all three tiers of government, members of these groups still struggle to make their voices heard, in part due to political disregard for their inclusion in the restructuring process. Persistence of marginalization is likely to cause instability without mediation between aggrieved groups and the government and accompanying changes in practice.