As the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Nepal crossed the 600 mark this weekend and three recorded fatalities after two months of lockdown, there are calls for easing the restrictions so as to prevent hardship and allow medical treatment for pre-existing conditions that are killing more people.
Serious questions need to be asked about the government’s response to mitigate the longer term impact on the economy and society in the post-COVID-19 scenario. We expect some of these answers in the Finance Minister’s budget speech later this week.
A few months after the 2015 earthquake, Nepal’s second Constituent Assembly promulgated a new constitution with its emphasis on political devolution, full functionality and accountability of elected governments at federal, provincial and local levels. This was supposed to help expedite reconstruction.
After the 2017 election, the Federal Parliament approved a new Nepal Disaster Risk and Management Act and the Local Government Act (2017). The country now has policies, directives, and regulations that specify the roles and responsibilities of all levels of government, departments, Chief District Officers, and the elected mayors during and after a disaster.
Nepal’s economy, already weak, takes direct hit, Sanghamitra Subba
COVID-19 is a disaster, and needs to be treated as such. These legal instruments should have helped in more effective disaster response and recovery. They have not. Risk reduction measures continue to centre around sectoral silos, there is little coordination, and most decisions on the coronavirus pandemic are ad-hoc and poorly communicated.
Nepal’s institutions continue to be unprepared to tackle this fast-spreading virus, and even more importantly, the resulting socio-economic emergency it has created. The shock of COVID-19 was unanticipated, it was rapid and global. There was no past playbook to guide us. Yet a state that had weathered a massive earthquake five years ago and had new disaster risk management laws and policies in place should have done much better.
After 2015, there is at least one good news. House owners and builders have started to incorporate seismic resistant design elements like concrete bands and ties as suggested in the building code. However, most new houses are now using reinforced concrete, resulting in a loss of indigenous design. Without a commodity chain for alternatives materials, Nepal is now even more dependent on external suppliers for construction, and an energy-intensive cement industry to meet this new demand.
Unlocking the economy post-lockdown, Sanjib Subba
Even as we try to catch up with earthquake reconstruction, the economy has ground to a halt, setting a whole chain reaction on the state of public health, nutrition, education, and governance. COVID-19 was a chance we had to put the 2017 disaster management laws into practice, it was a test of the government’s capacity to coordinate response between line ministries and sectoral departments during a crisis.
It still provides a chance to break from the past to overhaul universal health care to provide community-based health system, empower local governments to lead proactive grassroots response to the medical needs of the most vulnerable sections of society. We have often seen proof that the most effective response in any crisis in Nepal in the past has been at the community level.
The disruption caused by COVID-19 on migration flows, loss of remittance income, livelihoods and employment, and food insecurity are going to have longterm socio-economic consequences. We already see the writing on the wall in the tens of thousands returning workers from India at the border. Governments at all levels must immediately plan a strategy and start implementing it to address these needs, plan for recovery while minimising humanitarian, social and economic hardships.
Commercially Important People, Editorial
These are not normal times, the entire capacity of the state needs to be marshaled even more effectively than after the earthquake. Left unaddressed, the impact of these disruptions can become threats to Nepal’s stability as a nation state, trigger social unrest, and turn what is now a health emergency into a humanitarian disaster.
Unfortunately, even at a time like this Nepal’s politicians are busy with their usual shenanigans, and to that we have the added distraction of Kalapani There is little thought given to investment in creating an encompassing and inclusive public space for evidence-based policy making.
Even before the crisis created by the lockdown, Nepal was confronted with rapid and haphazard urbanisation, fragile infrastructure, socio-economic inequities and degraded natural ecosystems. The crisis is going to magnify those problems, especially widening the inequality and increasing deprivation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new and complex risks and created fundamental governance challenges. Addressing them requires major investments in generating different forms of knowledge from diverse sources. Collaboration and partnerships among countries, in the region and globally, is critical in these times of forced isolation.
Unlock the country in phases, Editorial
Nepal’s new normal, Editorial
Ajaya Dixit is an adviser at ISET-Nepal and writes the regular column ‘Climate for Change’ in Nepali Times. With Sukhdeo Thorat and Samar Verma he edited the book Strengthening Policy Research, Role of Think Tank Initiative in South Asia as well as Nepal ma Bipad.