The landlocked nation of Nepal covers an area of 56,826 square miles (roughly the size of Illinois) and is located in Southeast Asia along the base of the Himalayan Mountains. It has three main geographic zones. The heavily populated Terai Plain is located in a subtropical fertile area in the south and is situated around the Ganges River. Just north of the Terai, a hilly transitional zone characterized by streams and valleys leads into Himalayan foothills. The northernmost region contains the Himalayas and is pinnacled by Mount Everest, the country's highest point, standing 29,035 feet above sea level. In contrast, Nepal's lowest point is found at 230 feet above sea level in the Terai range. Natural resources include quartz, timber, copper, cobalt, and iron ore. Deforestation, however, continues to grow; nearly 33% of Nepal's woodlands are now wasteland (de Blij, et al, 2002, p. 420). Nepal's mountainous region experiences cool summers and harsh winters. The southern region completes the climatic spectrum with its sub-tropical summers and mild winters. Soil quality in Nepal is poor to begin with, but steep hills, monsoon rains, and the rampant deforestation have resulted in terrible erosion.
Nepal's population of 23.5 million is increasing at an annual rate of 2.4% (PRB, 2002, p. 7). The total fertility rate of 4.8 is slowly declining as a result of the nation's family planning program. Still, only 29 percent of women use contraception. Nepal's infant mortality rate of 79 is the third highest in the region. With an average life expectancy of 57 years, Nepal's population is mostly middle-aged (16-65 years). Children under the age of 15 account for 41% of the population, while those older than 65 make up just 3%. Nepal's population density of 413 people per square mile is just above the regional average, yet only 11% of its population lives in urban areas. Nepal is a nation said to be "materially poor but culturally rich" (de Blij, et al, 2002, p. 420). Nepalese people are of many different origins; among them are India, Tibet, and central Asia. About 86% of the Nepalese practice Hinduism, with Buddhism and Islam totaling only 11%. Nepal is the only Hindu state in the world (Bradshaw, 2002, p. 218). Nepali, the official language of the nation, is spoken by 90% of the people, including its 30-some dialects (CIA, 2001). The literacy rate of the Nepalese is 27.5%. Many of those involved with government and business also speak English.
Like all countries in the region, agriculture is a mainstay of Nepal's economy, as subsistence farming engages nearly 95% of its population (de Blij, et al, 2002, p. 420). This poses a serious threat to Nepal's economy, as half of its farmland has already been lost due to erosion. Small-scale manufacturing plants, typical of the area, can be found here. Outside countries have made investments in Nepal's hydroelectricity industry, though the country's GNI PPP is the second lowest in the area: $1,280. Nepal is one of three countries in the region to make use of its mountain range for tourism, yet even that is on a small scale; Nepal draws between 300,000 and 400,000 visitors annually. The currency of Nepal is the rupee, which, in January of 2001, was worth about $0.013 US. The future of Nepal relies on emerging industries to strengthen and grow, as well as the Nepalese making better use of their limited resources.
Nepal's neighbor to the east, Bhutan, occupies 18,147 square miles, an area about half the size of Indiana. At the foot of the Himalayan Mountains, Bhutan has a mountainous terrain with a few fertile valleys and treeless plains (called savannas). The landlocked "buffer state" has few cross-border contacts (Bradshaw, 2002, p. 215). Bhutan's highest point rises 24,777 feet above sea level; the Kula Kangri, part of the Himalayas, is located along the northern border with China. The Drangme Chhu River marks Bhutan's lowest point at 318 feet (CIA, 2001). Though Bhutan has significant mineral resources, its inaccessibility and traditional ways of life have proven a barrier in further developing their use. Forests and hydroelectric power round out the nation's natural resources. Climates in Bhutan range from year-round tropical conditions in the southern sector to harsh winters and cool summers in the Himalayan north. Strong storms plague the nation, coming down from the Himalayas. These storms are where the nation's name was derived; Bhutan translates to "Land of the Thunder Dragon" (CIA, 2001). Also, during rainy seasons, landslides are frequent.
While Bhutan's population of 900,000 is the second smallest in the region, it is also the second fastest growing country (behind the Maldives in both categories), growing at a rate of 3.1% each year (PRB, 2001, p. 6). Population is estimated to reach 2 million by the year 2050, resulting from the country's fertility rate of 5.6. An average infant mortality rate of 71 keeps the population from growing more quickly. With a life expectancy of 66 years, it follows that only 4% of Bhutan's population is over the age of 65. Children under age 15 account for another 42% of the population. It is interesting to note that, according to CIA estimates, Bhutan will have no migration; thus, any increase in population is exclusively domestic. Though 15% of Bhutan's population lives in urban areas (5% in the capital of Thimphu), the population density is just 50 per square mile. Throughout Bhutan, symbols of Buddhism, the official religion, stand out. The other prominent religion of Bhutan is Hinduism, where Indian- and Nepalese-influenced forms collectively make up 25% of the population. Bhutan's main ethnic group, the Bhote people, have a rich history in the area; prominent events include driving out the Indian population around A.D. 800 and building striking monasteries later in the 1500s (de Blij, et al, 2002, p. 423).
Bhutan is a severely underdeveloped country, with a GNI PPP of just $1,260. As is the case with many countries in the area, subsistence farming employs the largest number of inhabitants, accounting for an estimated 93% of the Bhutanese workforce (CIA, 2001). Other areas include services and industry/commerce, with five and two percent, respectively. Hydroelectric production remains a large source of business, as Bhutan exports 1.55 billion kWh (kilowatt-hours) annually (CIA, 2001). Much of that exported power goes to Bhutan's largest trade partner, India, which receives 94% of Bhutan's exports. India also sends the greatest amount of goods into Bhutan, accounting for 77% of its imports. Other trade partners include Bangladesh for exports and Japan, UK, Germany, and US for imports. One ngultrum or Indian rupee (the two major currencies, nearly equal in value) is worth about $0.02 US. As Bhutan's population continues to increase, the people of Bhutan must take care to wisely use their natural resources to the fullest. The key to a better-developed Bhutan is to continue the strong relationship that the nation currently has with its big brother to the south, India.
The island of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) occupies 25,332 square miles (PRB, 2001, p. 7). The island, slightly larger than West Virginia, is located just east of India across the Palk Strait. Sri Lanka features steep, tree-covered slopes along the southern seaboard. Here, the highest point on the Island, Pidurutalagala, sites 8,000 feet above sea level. This area gives way to the northern lowlands, where the island meets the Indian Ocean and its lowest point: sea level. A moist southwestern section is home to the country's agriculture. A major source of graphite, Sri Lanka also has limestone and clay deposits and is a producer of hydroelectric power. A monsoon climate is typical throughout the nation, continuously in the tropical south, from December to March in the northeast, and from June to October in the southwest. These weather patterns sometimes lead to tornadoes.
Sri Lanka is home to 19.5 million people and is among the slowest growing nations of Southeast Asia. Growing at a rate of 1.2% each year, Sri Lanka's birth and death rates are 18 and 6 respectively; its government sees this as "satisfactory" growth (PRB, 2001, p. 7). One factor contributing to the low growth rate is the widespread use of contraception; some form of birth control is practiced by 66% of childbearing-age women. Sri Lanka has the lowest infant mortality rate of 17 in the region and the second lowest fertility rate of 2.1. The average life expectancy is 72 years, the highest in the region. Major languages include Sinhala (the official language), spoken by 74% of the population, and Tamil (a national language), spoken by 18%. English, commonly used in government, is spoken "competently" by 10% of Sri Lankans. The literacy rate, again one of the highest in the region, is 90.2%. Sri Lanka, along with the Maldives, has some of the best living conditions in the region (Bradshaw, 2002, p. 218). Early settlers of then Ceylon were of Aryan origin. The descendants of these people, the Sinhalese, make up Sri Lanka's primary ethnic group, with 74% of the population (CIA, 2001). Later, the Dravidians from India attempted to overtake Ceylon, but were unable to outnumber the Sinhalese. Today, these Tamil people make up an 18% minority of Sri Lankan society (de Blij, et al, 2002, p. 423). Religion follows, for the most part, the ethnic breakdown of Sri Lanka. Almost 70% are Buddhist and 15% are Hindu. Although the Sinhalese remain the dominant cultural group, the Muslims and Tamils run the main business groups. The stemming conflict has resulted, among other things, in a terrorist group known as the Tamil Tigers (Bradshaw, 2002, p. 218).
Despite the turmoil of clashing ethnic groups, the economy of Sri Lanka remains strong. Sri Lanka boasts one of the best and most diversified economies in the region. Agriculture thrives in the moist southwestern district, where coconuts, rubber, and tea are produced. Accounting for 25% of the value of Sri Lankan exports, tea is one of its most famous and valuable products. Rivers from the southern highlands flow to the paddies below, where rice (a staple crop) is grown. Paddy farming, though, is quite inefficient. That, coupled with a growing population, has forced Sri Lanka to import rice to fulfill demand (de Blij, et al, 2002, p. 423). Much of the forestland and Sri Lanka is cut and used locally as firewood. Another important part of Sri Lanka's economy is manufacturing, which accounts for 10% of its GNI. Since its independence, Sri Lanka has branched out into manufacturing such things as steel, textiles, tires, and electrical equipment (Bradshaw, 2002, p. 219). To this point, economic development has been hindered by the civil war, as public funds are spent on defense, rather than improvements to the nation's infrastructure. Of all the nations in the area, though, Sri Lanka seems to have the best outlook for the future. The many problems faced by Sri Lanka have left it a "regional symbol of opportunities lost" (de Blij, et al, 2002, p. 425).
Submitted by Matt Schultz on November 5, 2001