Facts about Nepal and Humla

Some facts about Nepal and Humla

(Hans Alm 2012-05-27)

(The information is taken from various sources, mainly from "the web". The sources are sometimes slightly contradictory, so all data must be viewed on as approximate.) 


Nepal has about 30 million inhabitants. It lies between Tibet and India with an area equivalent to barely one third of Sweden. It is about 800 kilometers long and between 100 and 200 kilometers wide.901 Nepal 600x333

The country can be divided into three natural zones a) The Highlands in the Himalayas region along the border with Tibet, b) The Kathmandu valley and (c)) the lowland Terai along the border with India. About 40% is covered by forest. About 15% are used for grazing, and also about 15% are currently cultivated. 

Between year 1990 and May 2008, Nepal was a constitutional monarchy with Hinduism as the State religion. An imperfect democracy with several unsuccessful Royal interventions and Maoist rebellion from 1996 to 2006 has created major problems for the country.  

In November 2006, an UN-led negotiation between the democratic parties and the Maoists started in order make peace and start the work with a new Constitution. An elections for a new Constituent Assembly could after several delays be held in April 2008. This CA is responsible for the creation of a new Constitution. . This should have been ready several years ago but the process has been constantly delayed. One of several deadlines May 2012 has been passed without a new Constitution.  

In the 2008 election to the 601 seats of the Constituent Assembly (CA), the Maoists (CPN/M) got 220 seats, the Nepali Congress Party (NC) 110 and Unified Marxist Marxist-Leninist Party (UML) 103. Parties representing the residents near the Indian border – the Terai districts – got 81 seats. There are representatives from 25 Parties in the CA. One of the Assembly's first decisions was to abolish the monarchy. It was on May 28, 2008. 

Nepal has major economic problems due to years of mismanagement and rebellion. About 2 million people fled to India and about 200 000 were refugees in their own country. Reports say that around 2000 schools were closed, which directly affected the approximately 250,000 children's schooling.  

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in Asia and about 25% of the population is living below the UN poverty line. Aid and money from emigrants saves the currency balance. Export consists mainly of textiles and tourism. 

Aproximately 80% of the population is Indo-Nepalese and 20% are Tibeto-Nepalese and indigenous population consisting of among others Newars and Sherpas. Approximately 90% are Hindus, 5% Buddhists and about 3% Muslims. 

The capital Kathmandu and the surrounding area have about 1 million inhabitants. The official language is Nepali. Besides Nepali there are about 20 different languages spoken.

Administratively, Nepal is divided into 14 zones, which in turn are divided into 75 districts. Humla is included in the far west Karnali zone, which has its name from the Karnali River, which flows through the area.

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Cultivating on terrasses in Kathmandu Valley The Buddhanath Stupa in Kathmandu











Approximately 40% of people over 25 years have not attended school. Only around 65% of men over 15 years of age can read. The corresponding figure for women is around 30%. About 25% of the girls do not attend school. In the so-called rural areas as Humla the literacy rate is clearly lower. About 25% of the adult population can read. For women in Humla the figure is 8%. 

Many children are sent abroad to schools that offers both subsistence and education. It is not uncommon that the parents are lured and the children end up into child labor and/or prostitution. 

Health Care

In urban areas there is often access to doctors in small hospitals or clinics. But it costs normally money unless they are operated by NGOs. No semblance of health insurance for ordinary people.


Humla is the highest, most remote and north-westerly region of Nepal. It is bordering Tibet. The capital is Simikot. It is reachable only by foot or by air. It is approximately a 10 days walk to Simikot from the nearest driveway in Nepal. The area lacks almost completely infrastructure such as roads, electricity, telecommunications and water etc. The altitude varies between 3 000 and 4 000 meters with peaks exceeding 7 000 meters. Only two percent of the land is arable. There they grow mainly potatoes, turnips, corn, buckwheat and millet. Agriculture and animal husbandry are the main employment sources for the Humlis. 

The living conditions for the population of Humla are extremely harsh. The growing season is short and is framed by a hard, cold and snowy winter. When it is below -15 degrees outside and you only have a fire wood stove for warming the house it will probably be rather cold even inside the houses. The Humlis are subject to periodic food shortages and many residents survive the winter only because aid shipments of rice from the UN´s World Food Program (WFP). Unfortunately, food aid will not always be passed on to the remote villages where it is most needed. Hunger is widespread, and according to one source, about 40% of children suffer from malnutrition. The number of inhabitants in Humla is 50,000 to 55 000. 

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The villages are climbing up the hills There can be a lot of snow in the winter









 Many of the problems for the Humlis are connected with the remoteness – as said above there are no roads to or inside Humla - and that the people are fully preoccupied with obtaining food for the day. A large part of the population migrates, especially during the winter months, for shorter or longer periods to other parts of Nepal and to India for work or trade.  

The population in Humla consists of Tibetan-speaking Buddhists and Nepali-speaking Hindus. They live on the wooded mountain slopes or in villages on the steep hillsides with cultivated terraces around. The Buddhists have a very low status in the country and are Nepalese citizens of the Tibetan cast.  

The mountainous landscape with its high peaks and deep valleys with streams, their forests with a rich animal life and their Hindu and Buddhist sacred sites makes it extra inviting to trek in the area. Tourism could thus evolve and become an important alternative source of income for the population. The Pilgrim road to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar goes through the area. 


As the families are focused on producing food for the day, they can often not afford their children's labor and let them go to school. They have no time and no money to visit remote health stations so small problems can often tend to be large problems. The isolation and poverty of the barren nature makes people have only the necessary amount in the form of food and clothing.  

Approximately 75% of all school-age children are illiterate. Among women, the corresponding rate is over 90%. For a couple of years ago approximately 50% of children did not go to school at all mainly because of poverty. Of the children who start school less than 10% will go to class 2.  

Many schools lack the most basic equipment for a school such as Blackboard, desks, teaching and motivated teachers. At least for some years ago most teachers often came from other parts of Nepal, and would therefore spend as short a time as possible in Humla. Under the rebellion years, the Maoists closed many schools that did not follow their "curriculum". 

The situation has improved in recent years and the school in Yalwang which the KMCH children attend is working very well and is in accordance with the principal of the school one of the best schools in Humla.

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The landscape is tremendous buitiful Most work is done by hand










The lack of trained health personnel and the widespread poverty is a factor that contributes to severe health problems. The most important is rooted in severe chronic malnutrition. Frequent diarrhea is usually due to lack of hygiene and cleanliness. Many die of a cough that has developed into pneumonia. The strong sun and lack of vitamin A leads to eye diseases.  

Child and infant mortality is among the highest in Nepal. Outside the main town of Simikot, there's no possibility of accessing medical assistance at childbirth. Infant mortality is estimated at between 30% and 40%. 

Health centers and schools in the so-called Rural Areas as Humla normally do not work well if they not are operated or supported by NGOs. The availability of basal medical service is thus limited to a few villages near the district capital Simikot where there is a hospital.  

Overall, the situation for the Humlis is likely to be the most difficult in Nepal. This indicates among other things the following summary.  IMG 2269 350x263On the highway between Simikot and Yangar

Index of Humla in relation to the other 74 districts in Nepal (1 is best 75 is the worst).


Overall Composite                                                         Index 74

Poverty and Deprivation                                                Index 73

Women's Empowerment                                                Index 73

Socio-economic, Infrastructural Development                  Index 72 

Source: ICIMOD/CBS/SNV in 2003.

The indexes for Humla have probably not been improved much since 2003. It is probably no exaggeration to say that Humla is one of the poorest districts in the world. Since a United Nations study indicates that Nepal is the 12th poorest country in the world the assumption above seems to be true.  


HUMLA-some facts taken from an UN report from 2013

(From United Nations Field Coordination Office (UNFCO). Mid Western Region, Nepalgunj, Nepal-2013.)

(Hans Alm 2016-02-24)

Humla is the second largest district of Nepal's 75 districts. It is a mountainous landscape where only less than two percent of the area is arable. The number of inhabitants is 50 000 and the majority of whom 82% are Hindus and 18% are Buddhists. Most Buddhists live in upper Humla, near the Tibetan border. They are of Tibetan origin, and are called Bothias. The other is of Indian origin and is called Chetris. The caste system is officially abolished but is still prevalent. Bothias is the lowest caste. (The School home of KMCH is situated in the village Yangar in upper Humla. The children are Bothias.)

The Pilgrim road to mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar goes through Humla. Both are holy places for Hindus, Buddhists and Jainister. Karnali River flows through Humla. It has its source near Kailash and flows later into the Ganges.

The capital of Humla is Simikot. It is situated on almost 3 000 meters above sea level. There are still no roads to Humla and within Humla. There is a road under construction from the Tibetan boarder to Simikot. Humla can be reached only by plane that land on a air strip in Simikot. Humla  is among the poorest and least developed of Nepal's districts. Approximately 62% of the male and 48% of the female population can read. There are still children who do not go to school. Access to health care outside Simikot is very rare. All cooking is done with wood, there are a few small hydroelectric power stations so several villages have access to electricity. Solar energy are coming but is still used primarily for lighting. Approximately 95% of households do not have access to running water in their house and about 40% must walk about 30 minutes to a source or a tap.

Most of the population lives by farming and animal husbandry. Since very few families can live on this so trade, collection of medicinal plants and seasonal work outside Humla and Nepal are common alternative pursuits. Illegal sale of timber into Tibet is a fairly common source of income. Large quantities have been sold through the years and deforestation creates major problems with landslides, etc.

Because people can't get enough food from their own agriculture, malnutrition is still common. About 60% of the children below 5 years are estimated to be malnourished and 15% severely malnourished. 53% have anemia. (These are probably very unsure figures but they are an indication of a very difficult life for many people in Humla. Comment by Hans Alm.)

Only 10% of households have sufficient food for a whole year, 18% receive food for six to nine months, a third have food for three to six months and 28% have food for less than three months. Annual per capita production of edible food in Humla typically does not cover even a quarter of the requirement, and thus food must be imported from other districts. The need for income from other activities is thus significant.

The harsh climate specifically in upper Humla, with long, cold and snowy winters do not make life easier. They cultivate, among other things, wheat, buckwheat, barley and potatoes. They have started to plant apple and walnut trees to supplement their own diet and to sell. Humla is an eco-region so chemical products and fertilizers is not allowed to use.

Although a large part of the population is illiterate, more and more of the children go to school. Year 2011 20% of the men and 10% of women over 20 years have passed class 8. The corresponding figure for those who passed class 10 and received a so-called "School Leaving Certificate" is 9% and 3%. A statement that the school year 2011/12 was only 165 days due to the harsh climate and many long weekends sounds rather unlikely but can certainly have been the case for many schools in the region, but I think not for the school that the children from  KMCH attend.

The report concludes with a summary of the main challenges and opportunities.

Main Challenges.

Difficult terrain makes transportation challenging and delays service delivery and infrastructure improvement, as materials have to be airlifted from Nepalgunj or Surkhet;

-       Politically influenced development assistance projects may not target the most pressing local needs;

-     Harsh weather conditions pose significant challenges to agriculture and most farmers cannot afford to invest in mitigation measures, for example in greenhouses;.

-        Those who have completed studies in in Kathmandu, Nepalgunj or elsewhere do not often return to Humla due to lack of local job prospects;

-       Alcohol abuse contributes to gender-based violence.

Main Opportunities.

-   Could be promoted as a beautiful tourist destination and transit point to the Kailash Manasarovar;

-    Medical and aromatic herbs can be farmed commercially;

-      Road construction can reduce the costs of marketing organic apples and walnuts to other districts;

-     Formalising the trade in timber can minimise smuggling to China.

A personal reflection.

To obtain reliable statistics from areas such as Humla is difficult. I think that some information must therefore be taken with a large pinch of salt. However, the data indicate that life in this region is difficult, uncertain and poor. Efforts that facilitate the lives of this population are therefore important. The basis for this is education and health care, which are KMCHs focus areas.