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Nepal’s fertility rate

Hans_Rosling_20140808091206The x-axis on the screen represents the number of children per woman: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…. The y-axis displays under-5 mortality rate: 40, 100, 250, 350… Nepal is represented by a crimson bubble on the plane; India by a larger orange circle. The rest of the world remains in the background in different but lighter colours. The starting year is 1950, when Nepal and India signed the friendship treaty.

The total “fertility rate” in Nepal then was six children per woman, and 346 babies out of 1,000 born died before reaching the age of five. In India, on average one woman gave birth to 5.9 children but 267 children out of every 1,000 born did not see the fifth birthday.

In his rectangular now-hipster glasses and tailored black suit with a Swedish Academy of Sciences tiepin, Rosling follows the bubbles’ trajectories and screams with excitement, “Look, look. Look at Nepal catching up.” Rosling had already tickled Nepalis’ vanity by greeting and introducing himself in Nepali at an event jointly organised by Nepal Planning Commission and Unicef. He proceeds to massage that ego by opening another slide on the trendalyser software a team comprising his son and daughter-in-law coded. This time the x-axis is adjusted for income per person in purchasing power parity. The other dimensions remain unchanged.

“Nepal is the only country in the world that with just a little over $1,200 per capita income has managed to bring down the under-five mortality rate to 42. Nepal is a world champion in that respect.” But Nepal is lagging behind in economic growth, reminds the data magician. Comparing Nepal’s trajectory on the slide to that of China’s, as well, Rosling suggests that it is now time to fulfil the “enormous material needs that exist in Nepal.”

“Gender equity does not come with economic independence. It is a separate fight. Be harsh about it as you fight for economic growth for your children.”

And going back to the numbers, he says, “Data are important but they are not the same as understanding.”

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