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.