Covid-19 management: A herculean task for Nepal
Kaushal Kishore Jha
It’s already nine months since Covid- 19 case was identified for the first time in Wuhan, China. In Nepal it was diagnosed first time on 23 January 2020. First local transmission was spotted on 4 April and the first death due to corona occurred on 14 May.
In the first phase Covid – 19 had its worst effect on countries like China, Iran, Italy and Spain closely followed by Western European Countries. In the second phase the US, Russia and Brazil were among the prominent countries to face the wrath and menace of deadly COVID-19 and the third phase was more testing for South Asian countries with India suffering the most. The virus spread in northern and eastern India rapidly and Nepal too was affected by this virus.
Till date more than fifty three thousand one hundred and twenty people have tested positive for Covid-19. Out of the total affected, three hundred thirty six (336) people lost their lives and thirty seven thousand five hundred and twenty four (37,524) people got recovered after treatment. New cases from last few days are on an increasing rate.
The peak is still not confirmed but we can only hope that it doesn’t further increase. SAARC countries excluding India have new cases on a decreasing rate. The death rate due to this virus is 0.88 percent in Nepal which is quite below the death rate of our immediate neighbour with open border, India which has a death rate of 2 percent and more.
As there is no immediate possibility of availability of vaccine against Covid-19 till next year the country and the people should be cautious and strictly follow the norms of social distancing: washing hands with soap, using mask and sanitizer, keeping a good hygiene and maintaining healthy way of life and other necessary instructions given by World Health Organization and our health authorities.
Nepal is currently a Least Developed Country and is on the verge of promotion to the status of a developing country. But she suffered a setback due to the unexpected and uncontrollable menace of COVID-19. To control its sporadic rise and save the valuable lives of the citizens, the government of Nepal had no option but to impose lockdown on the country from the last week of March to third week of July for almost four months continuously, followed by another lockdown in August-September which was lifted few days ago with partial lockdown still effective.
These lockdowns, along with the overall global scenario of sealing of the international borders, closure of the internal and external air services and also due to restricted movement of the means of transportation, have caused havoc to the economy of the country. When the first lockdown came into effect and was prolonged for quite a long time all development works came to a halt. The harvesting and post-harvesting activities got adversely affected. The agricultural supply chain got disrupted.
On one hand, the government had to make necessary arrangement for controlling the spread of the virus through updating its medical facilities and personnel while on the other hand it had to manage the people who either got stuck at a place or lost their job. Maintaining the food supply in every nook and corner of the country and to all was another arduous and daunting task for the government. The virus compelled thousands of people who had gone for the foreign employment in India, Malaysia, South Korea and Gulf countries to return home. This dealt another blow to the country because remittances from migrant labourers dried up.
Due to prolonged lockdown, remittance which accounted for almost 28 percent of the GDP will incur irreparable loss at this sensitive juncture. Nepal earned a whopping US$ 8 billion through remittance in 2019 whereas it was paltry US$ 4 billion in 2011. We can understand its positive impact on our economy in recent years. It is also one of the key resources of liquidation for the banking system. Another financial inflow in the form of Foreign Direct Investment and net financial development assistance is also likely to suffer due worldwide economic recession.
Another major contributor to our economy is wholesale and retail sector which is in fact the second largest contributor to economy after agriculture with more than 14 percent of the total economy. It is likely to suffer greatly. Due to the disruption in supply of raw materials, manufacturing industry will have a negative impact. Similarly, travel and tourism sector which along with remittance is the main sources of foreign exchange reserve and it is likely to lose around US$ 585 million due to decline in tourist inflow according to study by the Asian Development Bank. Tourism sector’s contribution to GDP is 4 percent and is also a huge source of employment. Thousands will be rendered jobless in this sector due to decline in numbers of tourists.
Agriculture due to favourable monsoon raised some expectations of better rice crop this year but that hope too was shattered by unavailability of chemical fertilizer in the country. The areas that will have adverse effects is many but some important sectors and their expected scenario have been discussed shortly based on the reports prepared by many NGOs as well as the UNDP, WB, ADB and others.
Now the question is how to manage effectively the impact that will have a say in days to come. The possible areas where we should tackle properly and effectively may be as follows:
South Asia with one-fourth of the total world population and one-third of the people below poverty line is vulnerable in the present context. Especially assuring uninterrupted food supply to them poses a big challenge. Nepal too has more than 25 percent of people below poverty line and therefore should be cautious. Programmes at local level should be designed and implemented in such a way that guarantees their meal on a regular basis.
Vaccination programme is of paramount importance for the newly born and infants. It should be restarted in a fool proof and safe environment.
Budget should be re-prioritized and special focus should be given on Agricultural and MSMEs sector.
The returning labour force from the foreign employment should be engaged in commercial and smart agricultural sectors. They could also be engaged in agriculture-related industries with proper training and skill-development.
Medium and micro industries with highly subsidized loans should be promoted at municipal/village level.
All the three tiers of the government in the country should work in unison and with high degree of coordination among them to realize the set goal.
E-learning should also be made available at community level school in the near future.
All sorts of unnecessary expenditure at all levels must be discouraged. Especially, government at all three levels should keep tight vigil in this regard.
The writer is a Joint Secretary at Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation.
Published on 17 September 2020