|United Nations University - Work in Progress Newsletter - Volume 13, Number 1, 1990|
|The human factor in the Himalayas - Coping with modem intrusions|
Any discussion of poverty and basic needs in relation to wealth, income and land requires careful interpretation. It has been posited, for example. that whilst wealth may increase as one ascends the caste ladder, health, or at least nutrition, may decline. The higher the caste group, the greater the number of diet restrictions. Such restrictions constrain what is eaten by which member of the family, what is eaten at what age, by women or men at what time of the month, year and so on.
While much of the available evidence about Nepal and the surrounding high mountain region is sketchy and speculative, some inferences about the human dimension of the problem in the Himalayas today do seem warranted. One is that a contributing cause of poverty is the decline of traditional cultures - and introduced institutions, while attempting to work against poverty, may even be exacerbating it. This would help explain phenomena such as relative health without wealth amongst some ethnic groups.
In health and nutritional matters, in education, in family life, and so on, some caste and ethnic groups may insulate themselves against outside intrusion. But there is also the well documented research conclusion that increase in population is associated with resource degradation and hence a breakdown of traditional patterns in all aspects of life, including agriculture, consumption and so on.
Ultimately, a firm base of self-reliance may become the best vehicle for promoting economic development. When the independence and identity of a social group is broken down, severe problems may result - not simply the breakdown of social rules and order, but also a continuing dependence, which may or may not be the intention of the newly introduced institutions. At certain times, traditional societies are more exposed to intrusions - and perhaps least able to resist them.