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Nepal at a grlance
Nepal At A Glance
Conservation and Environment

With an area of only 56,827 square miles, the geography and climate of Nepal is uncommonly diverse. Its latitude is about the same as Florida's, and much of the southern plains have tropical and subtropical climates. In the northern part of the country the Nepalese Himalayas form one of the most striking landscapes on Earth; eight of the ten highest mountains of the world, including Mount Everest, are found in Nepal. Nepal is home to many exotic and endangered species, some of the more well known being royal Bengal tiger, the clouded leopard, the king cobra, the snow leopard, the red panda, and the Tibetan fox. Nepal also offers many unique and interesting opportunities to bird-watching or butterfly enthusiasts.

Like many developing countries, Nepal faces serious threats to its ecosystem. While most of Nepal was once heavily forested, deforestation from population growth, fuelwood consumption, infrastructure projects, and the conversion of forested areas to grazing and cropland has ravaged much of the country. This has led to increased erosion and loss of soil nutrients. Water pollution from sediments and industrial waste has degraded the quality of many of Nepal's streams and rivers. Smoke from wood burned as fuel is a significant cause of respiratory problems.

To learn more about conservation and the environment in Nepal, we recommend the following websites:

  • This is the official website of the Nepal Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. It contains information about government projects to protect Nepal's environment, and information about each of the protected areas and national parks in Nepal.

  • This is the website of the Federation of Community Forestry Users, Nepal. Community forestry is a movement to hand control of the forests to small community-based groups, who sustainably manage these resources. This website contains information about this innovative movement and FECOFUN's mission "To promote and protect rights of community forest users through capacity strengthening, economic empowerment, sustainable resource management, technical support, advocacy and lobbying, policy development, and national and international networking and to uphold the values of inclusive democracy, gender balance, and social justice."

  • This site has some readable and interesting summary information about biodiversity in Nepal.

  • This is the website of the Wetland Friends of Nepal, an organization dedicated to the conservation of Nepal's wetlands. It contains a lot of information about wetlands in Nepal, threats to these wetlands, and efforts to protect them.

  • This website has some readable summary information about micro-hydroelectric projects in Nepal. In Nepal, only about 10% of the population have access to the national electricity grid. Micro-hydro is an ecologically friendly way to bring electricity to rural Nepal, and mitigate the dependence on trees as a fuel source.

  • Ecotourism is a way for the Nepali people to profit by preserving the natural beauty of their land. This is the website of one of many Nepali companies offering ecotourism treks

People and Culture

The diversity of Nepal's environment is matched by its diversity of people, cultures, and languages. Nepal has a unique culture influenced by migrations from India, Tibet, Burma, and Yunnan. Nepali is the official language, and English is widely understood and spoken in urban areas. The population of Nepal is around 29 million, with 1.5 million living in the Kathmandu metropolitan area. Until 2006, Nepal was the world's officially Hindu state. Most people, though, practice a blend of Hinduism and Buddhism. The Newars, the ethnic group indigenous to the Kathmandu Valley, have their own language and traditions.

Most Nepali eat relatively simply; the main staples are rice and dal, a type of lentil soup. Food is spiced to be very flavorful, though; many of the same spices and curries are used as in Indian cuisine.

Nepali music relies heavily on percussion and wind instruments. Traditional music and dances are often performed for Hindu festivals or other important events. Music and dance are also used to enact folktales.

The caste system is still very important in Nepali society. Castes are broadly divided into the four traditional Hindu classifications: Brahman (priests and scholars), Chhetri (rulers and warriors), Vaisya (merchants and traders), and Sudra (farmers, artisans, and labors). A fifth class of persons forms the Dalits, or untouchables. Many international and national groups in Nepal are working to end caste discrimination, particularly against the Dalits.

Websites with information about Nepali culture are not hard to find. A couple of particular interests are:

Economic Development

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world; per capita income is less than $300. Life expectancy at birth is about 60 years. About 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. Its Human Development Index was .534 in 2005, making it the 36th poorest country in the world out of those ranked.

Nepal was an isolated, traditional agrarian society until 1951, and until that time did not have modern roads, electricity, telecommunications, schools, or hospitals. Nepal's relatively rugged terrain has made infrastructure development difficult. Most Nepali do not have electricity or telephones, especially in rural areas.

Agriculture accounts for almost 40% of GDP and employs about 76% of Nepal's workforce; many of these are subsistence farmers. Nearly half of the working-age population is unemployed or underemployed. Remittances are an important source of income for many families; Nepali workers working abroad send to Nepal about $1 billion annually, (about 2.5% of Nepal's GDP).

Nepal remains heavily dependent on foreign aid. Literally hundreds of thousands of non-governmental organizations are registered in Nepal. These organizations work for Nepali development in almost every way imaginable, from developing ecotourism to promoting women-owned businesses to combating adult illiteracy.

Tourism is a potentially very lucrative industry in Nepal, with its friendly people and breathtaking landscapes. Unfortunately civil conflict in recent years has limited development of this field. Now that peace has been restored, though, the tourist industry is on the rise once again.

Efforts have been made to develop Nepal's vast hydroelectric potential, with some plants already operational. Besides providing electricity to the Nepali people, future hydroelectric projects may allow Nepal to export electricity to India. Hydroelectricity in Nepal has been relatively environmentally friendly to date, since most plants are run-of-river plants that do not create sizable reservoirs.

For more information about economic development in Nepal, we recommend these sites:


Until 1990, Nepal was an absolute monarchy. Since constitutional reforms in 1991, Nepal has been a democratic country with a multiparty party parliamentary system and a constitutional monarch. In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) initiated the Nepal Civil War, with the stated goal of replacing the parliamentary system with a people's socialist republic. On June 1, 2001, there was a massacre in the royal palace, leaving the King, Queen, and Heir Apparent dead; it is still not known who was responsible. The late King's brother Gyanendra assumed the throne, and in February 2005 dismissed the government and assumed full executive power in order to quell the Maoist movement. In September 2005, the Maoists declared a ceasefire to negotiate their demands.

In April, 2006, the king agreed to relinquish his power to the people and reestablish the House of Representatives. In May 2006, the House of Representatives passed a bill making Nepal a secular state (previously, it was the world's only officially Hindu state). In December 2007, a bill was passed to make Nepal a "federal democratic republic," with the Prime Minister as head of state, abolishing the monarchy; this bill is to go into effect once it is approved by an elected Constituent Assembly parliamentary body formed in April, 2008.

  • This is the official website of the government of Nepal.

Civil Society and Media

Civil society is collectively the non-governmental, non-market, non-family institutions in a society. Many such organizations are active in Nepal, working to promote women's or Dalits' rights, to protect the environment, to strengthen democratic institutions, or to advance any of numerous other social causes.

The press in Nepal is relatively free, and Nepal is home to a handful of television stations and numerous radio stations, newspapers, in magazines. Media is generally in Nepali or English. In rural areas, most people do not have televisions, though battery-powered radios are not uncommon.

To learn more about Nepali civil society and media, try these websites:

  • The NGO Federation of Nepal is, as one might guess, a federation of NGOs in Nepal.

  • The Civil Society of Nepal is dedicated to Nepal civil societies which "maintain non-partisan (no political party affiliation) integrity and dignity for people of Nepal." Its objectives are to promote civil liberty, civil rights, and human rights in Nepal.

  • This website of a popular Nepali radio station has programming schedules and audio downloads in English and Nepali. You'll need to download RealPlayer to listen.

  • eKantipur is a popular English-language news site.

  • Himalmedia is a company with three popular publications, including the Nepali Times. Links to these publications' websites are available at this site.

Social Justice

Like any country, Nepal has its share of social inequality. Two groups which face particularly challenging hurdles in Nepali society are Dalits, or untouchables, and women. Dalits fall outside the main divisions of the Hindu caste system, and traditionally may hold only very menial jobs. Traditionally, they are forbidden from using the same water sources as higher castes, and even from allowing their shadow to fall upon someone not a Dalit. There lot has steadily improved in all Hindu regions, including Nepal, but caste-based discrimination still permeates Nepali society, often in ways that are not obvious to Westerners.

Though the Nepali Constitution officially forbids gender discrimination, women are often de facto considered subordinate to men in Nepali society; in rural areas, different gender roles are very clearly demarcated. Women have lower literacy rates and are less likely to vote or have professional jobs than men.

Child labor remains a serious, though highly publicized, problem in Nepal. According to the International Labour Organization, 26.6% of children ages 5-14 in Nepal are economically active.

These websites have information about the promotion of social justice in Nepal:

  • This report, prepared for the Nepal National Planning Commission, is an in-depth analysis of the situation of Dalits in Nepal.

  • The Mainstreaming Gender Equity Programme, sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme, is a program to promote gender equity in Nepal through awareness initiatives.

  • This International Labour Organization website has some information about child labor in Nepal.

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