Humanitarian Profile :
Nepal's government and Maoist rebels signed a peace accord in 2006 ending a 10-year civil war that killed 13,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. The Himalayan nation is one of the world's poorest with very high rates of child malnutrition. Foreign aid is vital to the economy.
Wedged between China and India, Nepal was an ancient mountainous kingdom until it ditched its monarchy and switched to a republic in 2008. Nepal is landlocked and roughly half the size of Italy. Over half its 30 million population live below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. A Maoist insurgency dominated the country for 10 years until 2006 when the rebels entered government. An estimated 12,000 people died in the insurgency. kathmandu is the capital of Nepal. It has a population of about 1 million and was built at an altitude of 1,400 meters. Perhaps more famous then Nepal's mountain capital is Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain, which lies on Nepal's border with China. The Nepalese are also famed around the world for their fighting abilities and the British Army still recruits men from Nepal into its Gorkha regiments.
The overwhelming majority of Nepalese are Hindu although there is also a large Buddhist minority. Dozens of different languages exist in Nepal, reflecting the multitude of different ethnicities.
Nepal is one of the world's youngest republics. It abolished its royal family, which had ruled over Nepal for generations, on May 28 2008. The Maoist party, a Communist party, headed the first coalition government but this fell in 2009 and was replaced by a coalition headed by another Communist party. Since May 2008, the Nepalese President has been officially head of state and the Prime Minister head of the government. A general election decides on the composition of the Parliament. The leader of the largest party in parliament is given the opportunity to form a government and become the Prime Minister. Parliament also elects the President.
Nepal's Parliament has only one house and is known as the Constituent Assembly. There are 601 members in the lower house; 335 elected through proportional representation, 240 are directly elected and 26 appointed by the Council of Ministers. An interim constitution was agreed after the abdication of the monarchy in May 2008. A new constitution was supposed to be in place by May 2010 but the deadline was missed.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world with about a quarter of its population living below the poverty line. The adult literacy rate is only about 60 percent. Agriculture still employs around 75 percent of the population and remittances make up around 20 percent of Nepal's GDP, according to the World Bank.
The value of Nepal's economy is estimated at around $33 billion, over 100 times smaller than neighboring India. While, its spectacular mountain scenery attracts tourists which give the economy a boost, it has also hindered the development of infrastructure. Poor infrastructure development, a poorly educated workforce and political instability has stalled foreign direct investment in Nepal.
Tax collection and government spending in Nepal are low and the United States-based Heritage Foundation think tank estimated that as a proportion of GDP, government spending has been less than 10 percent.
Until May 2008, the monarchy had run Nepal for most of its modern history with only short periods of parliamentary rule. In 1996, Nepal's Communist party started a civil war that would last a decade and kill an estimated 12,000 people. It achieved its stated aim of uprooting the monarchy which abdicated in 2008. The former royal palace in Kathmandu is now a museum.
King Gyanendra was the ruling monarch in May 2008 when he formally abdicated. He had been made king in June 2001 after a shooting rampage in the royal palace by Crown Prince Dipendra who killed the reigning king, queen and seven other senior members of the royal family.
The roots of modern day Nepal can be traced back to the 18th century when the ancient kingdoms were united. Nepal and Britain clashed throughout the beginning of the 19th century. In the second half of the 19th century their historic rivalry was put aside. The two countries became allies and Britain started to recruit soldiers directly from Nepal.
The Nepalese royal family ruled directly through most of the second half of the 20th century although there were periods of power sharing with parliament. King Birendra accepted parliamentary rule in 1991. The Maoists though pushed for the abolition of the monarchy altogether and started their civil war in 1996. Twelve years later the King abdicated.
Legal Snapshot :
Nepal's only legislative body, the Constituent Assembly, is currently rewriting the country's constitution. In August 2007, the Constituent Assembly passed a law reserving 45 percent of the posts in the civil service for ethnic minorities and women and also stipulated that women have to hold a third of the seats in future assemblies. Nepal is also one of the few countries in the world to recognize same-sex marriages.
The constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary but in reality most courts are corrupt. The top court in Nepal is the Supreme Court. The president appoints the chief justice with recommendations from the Constitutional Council, and the chief justice appoints other judges with recommendations from the judicial council.
Corruption is considered widespread in Nepal and it regularly comes in the bottom half of Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index. In 2008 the governor of Nepal's Central Bank was convicted of corruption.