Nepal Earthquake Recovery Apeal Strategic Overview(2).pdf
4. APPENDIX: Overview country background
This appendix serves to inform the reader about the intricate cultural, ethnic, linguistic, political, economic
dimensions and relationships of this contextual setting of Nepal.
4.1 Geography and population
Nepal is a landlocked country situated in the midst of two of Asia’s emerging global giants. Famed for its
Himalaya range in the North bordering the Tibetan Autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China and
India borders the South, East and West.
The land area is 147, 181 square kilometers, of which the topography is distinctly diverse leading to three
ecological zones within the country. The northern Himalayan belt and home to Mt. Everest, dominates 42%
of the land, the Hill belt below this covers 35%, and the lowlands/plains (varying between flat agricultural
land and dense jungle) known as the Terai belt in the south comprise of 23% of the land (Vaidya and Gautam,
2008). The population has doubled over 30years to 29,959,364 (World Bank, 2012a), with density most
noticeable in the Terai and Hill belts. Nearly 50% of the population are below the age of sixteen (WHO, 2007)
and 85% live in rural areas (Sharma Paudel, 2007) of which 80% is reliant on agricultural subsistence farming
4.2 Language and culture
Nepal is both multi-ethnic and multilingual with an estimated 103 ethnic groups, speaking approximately 94
languages, although roughly 49% of the population speaks Nepali as their first language (Vaidya and Gautam,
2008). Sharma (2008) describes Nepal as a ‘country of minorities’, as even “[t]he single largest ethnic/caste
group makes up barely 16 per cent of the total population” (p.1).
Nepal was formally the only Hindu kingdom in the world, where the king was revered as head of state and
living deity (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu), until the 2007 abolition of the monarchy to become a federal
republic. Hinduism still prevails as the dominant religion with approximately 80% of the population claiming
to be Hindu.
There is a unique overlapping of religions and ritualistic practices associated with Buddhism, Animism and
Shamanism creating a culturally diverse and yet historically peaceful co-existence. Hinduism underpins
society and largely shapes not only religious and cultural rituals and traditions but also daily social, political
and economic life. Most people’s daily lives are still entrenched in practices and beliefs based on or associated
with the complex patriarchial caste structure, laid out by Hinduism, and codified in the ‘Muluki Ain’ (National
Code) of 1854, reformed in 1963 officially abolishing the caste system. “Caste refers to a complex system of
hierarchal social classification that involves elements of race, ethnicity, and occupation and has a complex
and contested religious implications” (Shields and Rappleye, 2008b:p.266; Cameron, 1998; Parish, 1996).
“While caste- based discriminationis frequently outlawed through legislation, underlying practices and
attitudes are often difficult to change” (UNESCO, 2010:p.171). Despite critics claiming that a contemporary
state democracy should have no place for this archaic system Nepalese national identity is powerfully linked
to the Hindu caste system. “Low status is intrinsic to marginalization” (ibid). Linked inequality and acceptance
of related injustices, is an integral part of this hierarchal system and deeply embedded into the social fabric
and religious psyche of Nepalese society.