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close this bookUnited Nations University - Work in Progress Newsletter - Volume 13, Number 1, 1990
close this folderThe human factor in the Himalayas - Coping with modem intrusions
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentThe complexities of poverty
View the documentImpact of 'modern' system
View the documentDebt from rising aspirations
View the documentAscending the caste ladder - to Hunger

Debt from rising aspirations

More significantly, this is the time they fall into debt. The question of indebtedness is very complicated - but undoubtedly changing, or rising, aspirations play a large role. For instance, increasing desires to own "luxury" goods such as radios or wrist-watches, or to be able to send at least one child to school, all place an increasing strain on very limited monetary means, thus leading to indebtedness. There are, in fact, estimates that 90 per cent of all debt in Nepal is for consumer items. As much as 80 per cent of given land-ownership, especially irrigated land, may be pledged. Interest rates can be extremely high. In the Middle Mountains, the problem is particularly acute, with reports that 35 per cent of households are in debt. On the other hand, the debts may be rolling ones, where the principal is not repaid and foreclosure rare.

Debt, of course, also occurs in the traditional sector, notably for life-cycle ceremonies - births, weddings, funerals. Here, however, it was a redistributive mechanism, part of the gift-exchange structure of reciprocity, where giving (and lending) was a prerogative of rank. This traditional ethos may have carried over into the modern situation, so that debt is perhaps not the enormous problem It appears to be from the available figures.

The effects of malnutrition, however, are cumulative. There is, for example, a vicious circle between decreases in production and increasing malnutrition. An outcome is ill-health, particularly the incidence of debilitating disease and, notably in Nepal, diarrhoea. Blindness may be a result of malnutrition, especially Vitamin A deficiency.