The administrative zone Karnali is located in North-Western Nepal. It is composed of five districts: Dolpa, Humla, Jumla, Kalikot, and Mugu. Its capital is Jumla. Karnali is part of the Mid-Western development region. Karnali is a large zone, representing 14.5 percent of Nepal’s territories. It is a mountainous and remote area, and it is also the most underdeveloped zone of Nepal. Since the new constitution implemented in 2015, Nepal is a federal state divided into seven provinces. Karnali is part of Province no. 6.


388, 713 people live in Karnali. The most populated districts are Kalikot with 136,948 (68,833 men and 68,115 women) inhabitants and Jumla with 108,921 (54,898 men and 54,023 women) inhabitants. 50,858 (25,833 men and 25,025 women) people live in Humla and 55,286 (28,025 men and 27,261 women) people live in Mugu. The least populated district is Dolpa with 36,700 (18,238 men and 18,462 women) inhabitants.

Figures for the Karnali administrative zone are not available, but the Central Bureau of Statistics of Nepal provides data for the widest Mid-Western development region of which Karnali is part of.

In 2015, in the Mid-Western development region, 3,546,682 out of 3,277,738 people were Hindus, 98,824 were Buddhists, 112,815 were Muslims and 49,913 were Christians.  

In 2010, the largest ethnicities represented in the Mid-Western region were Cheetree with over a million people from this descent, and Magar, Taru and Kami with over 400,000 people from these descents respectively.  

The most spoken languages  in the Mid-Western development region are Nepali and Tharu.

The Mid-Western development region literacy rate in 2008 was 52 percent.


The Mid-Western development region of which Karnali is part of is mainly agricultural. Out of 1,325,261 workers, 972,936 are employed in the agriculture sector, 50,368 in manufacturing, and 66,737 in wholesale trade and retail. 88.6 percent of the households are involved in agricultural activities. 87.9 percent of these households mainly cultivate maize, 82.4 percent cultivate wheat and 62.4 cultivate  paddy. While households from the Mid-Western region grow paddy, Karnali is particular for being mountainous, thus paddy cannot be cultivated there. Karnali’s farmers also cultivate fruits.

The districts of Humla, Mugu and Dolpa attract tourists for their trekking activities.

The Mid-Western development region is not well integrated to the economy of Nepal. It only accounts for 2.8 percent of Nepal’s exports and 2.67 of its imports.

The unemployment rate in 2010 was 1.6 percent. The mean income per household was of 159,868 Nepalese Rupees and the mean income per capita was of 30,941 NRs.

the poverty rate in 2008 was 31.68 percent.

In 2008, 14.1 percent of the Mid-Western region’s population had emigrated out of the region. In 2010, 51.9 percent of households were receiving remittances. These remittances represented a share on their income of 30.3 percent.

In 2015, the Parliamentary Development Committee published a report on Karnali’s future and recommended measures. To develop, Karnali needs better road networks. The zone, thanks to the Karnali river, is rich in water resources and hydro-power plants could be built there. Efforts should be made to improve the sectors of horticulture and tourism, which present an economic potential.


Karnali has a strong political identity. The region used to be an independent state until the unification of Nepal. The Maoist held a strong sway there.

During the political process leading to the new constitution and the creation of provinces, concerns have been raised as for Karnali’s fate. Karnali was first supposed to be part of a province along with the zones of the Far-Western development region. After protests, another province was formed to separate Karnali from them. Karnali is now part of Province no. 6. New complaints were made as for the future provincial capital. Karnali’s inhabitants wanted the provincial capital to be located in Karnali while the central government has chosen Birendranagar, in Surkhet district, as the capital. Karnali’s inhabitants fear to be ostracised in this new province.

In the latest local elections, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) won a short majority of seats in Province no.6, with 27 seats compared to 25 for the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Kendra respectively. In the Karnali zone, the Maoist Kendra won in Kalikot and Humla districts, the Nepali Congress won in Jumla and Mugu, and the CPN-UML won in Dolpa.

Further readings:

Mahendra Lawoti, Susan Hangen (2013) Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nepal: Identities and Mobilization After 1990, Routledge

V. R. Raghavan (2013) Nepal as a Federal State: Lessons from Indian Experience, Vij Books India Pvt Ltd

John Whelpton (2005) A History of Nepal, Cambridge University Press