An isolated, agrarian society until the mid-20th century, Nepal entered the modern era in 1951 without schools, hospitals, roads, telecommunications, electric power, industry, or civil service. The country has, however, made progress toward sustainable economic growth since the 1950s and is committed to a program of economic liberalization.
Nepal has used a series of five-year plans in an attempt to make progress in economic development. It completed its ninth economic development plan in 2002; its currency has been made convertible, and 17 state enterprises have been privatized. Foreign aid accounts for more than half of the development budget. Government priorities over the years have been the development of transportation and communication facilities, agriculture, and industry. Since 1975, improved government administration and rural development efforts have been emphasized.
Agriculture remains Nepal's principal economic activity, employing 80% of the population and providing 37% of GDP. Only about 20% of the total area is cultivable; another 33% is forested; most of the rest is mountainous. Rice and wheat are the main food crops. The lowland Terai region produces an agricultural surplus, part of which supplies the food-deficient hill areas.
Economic development in social services and infrastructure has not made dramatic progress due to GDP dependency on India. A countrywide primary education system is under development, and Tribhuvan University has several campuses. Although eradication efforts continue, malaria had been controlled in the fertile but previously uninhabitable Terai region in the south. Kathmandu is linked to India and nearby hill regions by road and an expanding highway network. The capital was almost out of fuel and transport of supplies caused by a crippling general strike in southern Nepal on February 17, 2008.
Major towns are connected to the capital by telephone and domestic air services. The export-oriented carpet and garment industries have grown rapidly in recent years and together now account for approximately 70% of merchandise exports.
Nepal was ranked 29th worst of 84 ranked countries (those with GHI > 5.0) on the Global Hunger Index in 2010, between Tanzania and Kenya. Nepal's current score of 20.0 is slightly worse than in 2009 (19.8) but better than its score of 27.5 in 1990.
Nepal's merchandise trade balance has improved somewhat since 2000 with the growth of the carpet and garment industries. In FY 2000-01 exports posted a greater increase (14%) than imports (4.5%), helping bring the trade deficit down by 4% from the previous year to $749 million. Trade with India rose rapidly after conclusion of the 1996 bilateral trade treaty between the two countries, and now accounts for 43% of all exports. Even though China is the 2nd largest exporter to Nepal, yet unlike India which is the largest buyer of Nepal's goods, China's imports from Nepal are zero, thus burdening Nepal's monetary stability and monetary balance. The annual monsoon rain, or lack of it, strongly influences economic growth. From 1996 to 1999, real GDP growth averaged less than 4%. The growth rate recovered in 1999, rising to 6% before slipping slightly in 2001 to 5.5%.
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