Bhandari caste in Nepal, how to share

"As if there were no Covid" - normality in Nepal amid shattered politics and a broken economy

NOTE: This post is mostly a pure translation of the English article >> It’s as if there’s no Covid ’: Nepal defies pandemic amid a broken economy << by Pete Pattisson. Published on February 11th, 2021 in "The Guardian".

I am neither the originator / author of the original article nor did I participate in the content of the original English article. We owe the research and journalistic effort to Pete Pattison, whose article provides a good summary of the situation in Nepal, which I find so important that I want to share it with you.

If you are confident enough in English, you will find the text in the original English here. This translation on my blog only came about because some of my followers (Facebook, Instagram, blog, email) had difficulty understanding such a long article in English. This translation is therefore intended to help those people understand.

[The above lines in italics were added later - after this article was published - to make it even clearer that this is NOT my journalistic work. In addition, the note at the very beginning and the very end has now been changed to bold. Changes were made on 02/15/2021 at 11:48 p.m.]

The number of Covid cases seems consistently low and sporting events are packed to the brim. But all this does not hide the fact that there is unemployment, a lack of prospects and the rapid increase in horrendous private debt. The protests in the population are getting louder.

Normality in Nepal or what's behind it?

If we were standing in the streets of Kathmandu today, we would not notice anything “special”. It would feel like an ordinary day in the chaos of the capital. No trace of a pandemic or crisis. Traffic jams at large intersections and the massive particulate matter pollution are long gone. Since September 2020 to be precise. The media has also been dominated by another topic for some time. The power struggle - both within the party and within the coalition - determines current events. Political leaders hold mass rallies and are more preoccupied with fighting themselves than any virus. On the surface it seems as if everyday life in Kathmandu is back to its bustling normalcy. But beneath this crumbling surface there is a misery of all those people who are not allowed to count themselves to the overprivileged class ("caste" does not officially exist in Nepal ...).

“It's like nothing happened. The night clubs are full, schools and colleges are open again, and sporting events are well attended. There is absolutely no suggestion that Covid exists, ”says Sameer Mani Dixit, a health care professional. "It contradicts all logic."

Falling number of cases in Nepal instead of an exponential, uncontrolled increase

The big difference between Asian, Arab and African societies and our “Western values” is that these cultures are more a community than an individual society. That the common good - at least definitely in Asian culture - is given greater importance than one's own individual good.

For this reason, the fears of health experts for these (mostly developing) regions are still particularly great. With a weak health system, large families sharing a household for several generations, and an enormous number of migrant workers returning from India, it all looked like the coronavirus would have a serious impact on Nepal as one of the poorest countries in the world World has.

Instead, the number of infections has steadily decreased - from an average of 3,000 new infections per day in October to an average of 300 in January! Last week, Nepal even marked the first day since August that no Covid-related death was recorded. In total, only a little more than 2,000 people have died since the pandemic began in March 2020 - and that with a population density of almost 30 million.

The government is celebrating itself for this. “The number of cases is definitely falling. The hospital admission rate is very low… All in all, it seems like the virus is contained, ”says Basu Dev Pandey, former director of the state's Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.

What is behind the low number of cases

Meanwhile, experts agree that it is difficult to determine the reasons for Nepal's seemingly low infection and death rate. Above all, the lack of reliable data and the extremely limited test and control mechanisms make it impossible to determine the current situation. As in most developing countries, measures can - understandably - only be implemented to a limited extent.

Although the Nepalese government imposed a tough national lockdown in March of last year, which only ended in July, and even denied re-entry of its citizens from abroad, critics say that the management of the pandemic is haphazard and completely arbitrary was carried out. The government did not pursue chains of infection very proactively and carried out only a few - if not no or very loose - controls on the open border with India. The ineffective quarantine system, in which current travelers even simply “skip” the quarantine, has also been heavily criticized.

Focus on political power struggles

“The government has been very inefficient so far. Since the beginning there has been a reluctance to approach experts, evaluate data and use scientific knowledge. The Prime Minister has failed to follow the advice of the health service, ”says Dr. Anup Subedi, an infectious disease doctor.

In the midst of the pandemic, the ruling communist party is engaged in intra-party power struggles. Despite a large majority in parliament, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolved it in December and called for early elections to seemingly break an agreement on power-sharing with a rival within the party - a procedure that is actually unconstitutional.

The dissolution of parliament sparked a series of protest rallies by various groups from across the political spectrum, in which tens of thousands of people took part.

The virus destroys families one way or another ...

Even if the government downplays the health risks of the coronavirus, the economic damage is immense and the outlook is bleak. Unemployment and private debt have skyrocketed - especially for those in the tourism and informal sectors.

Funds from the millions of Nepalese migrant workers living abroad have remained relatively high, but the World Bank calculated economic growth for Nepal of only 0.2% in 2020.

Three terrifying case studies that represent the plight across the country

In the south of Kathmandu, Shova Shrestha shares the fate of many of her countrymen in the city. Before the pandemic, she sold vegetables on a small cart. This came to an abrupt end when the hard lockdown was imposed. To date, she has not been able to resume business.

“Life after the lockdown is very tough for me. I'm looking for work, but can't find anything anywhere. My husband started drinking again. We can't even afford our children's school fees anymore, ”says Shrestha.

The tourism industry is down around the snow-capped peaks of the Everest region. The government had hoped to attract 2 million tourists with its “Visit Nepal 2020” campaign. But only just under 230,000 travelers came.

Dingboche, a community on the busy route to Everest Base Camp, welcomes around 700 trekkers per day in the high season, but since the pandemic there have been no tourists and therefore no income at all.

Nyima Tsering Sherpa, who runs a lodge in the village, explains: “Almost everyone here is dependent on tourism. We haven't earned anything since March. We live on our savings. In the beginning we were afraid of the virus, but now our only worry is the lack of money. "

In the flat south of Nepal, one of the poorest regions in the country, the virus has forced a struggle for survival among the already poor and marginalized groups. The Harawa-Charawa, a community of committed agricultural workers - often forced to work for landowners to repay their high interest debts - has been hit particularly hard by the crisis.

During the curfew, many of them were unable to get to their landowners' fields and lost their only source of income. They were now forced to take out more personal loans, the horrific interest rates of which drove them deeper into the spiral of debt.

Those who were able to work were paid even worse than usual (less than € 1.50 a day) as the landowners took advantage of the desperate situation of these people.

No help from the government

There was no uniform, nationwide aid from the Nepalese government. Neither in the form of financial relief nor in the form of food (in a reasonable amount). Instead, there were public appearances, taunts against political rivals and massive government spending on their own "food and entertainment".

[Caution: My cynicism!] Why care about the people in the lower class ("caste"?) When all privileged and super-rich friends in politics and business come from their own caste ... before I mean, of course, come from their own ranks - The caste system doesn't exist anymore ... It's clear ...

There were occasional relief supplies from local government. “The local government gave us 10 kilograms of rice as part of the Covid aid. That wasn't even enough for a week to feed our families. The lack of a livelihood makes everything difficult, ”explains community activist Lagendra Sada.
[Excursus: With my aid association we distributed 12 tons of rice ...]

The corona pandemic has re-exposed deeply rooted social problems: poor governance, discrimination against population groups (“caste”), a lack of jobs and widespread extreme poverty. Kanchan Jha, director of Sano Paila, an organization that supports marginalized communities, explicitly warns: “People are losing their jobs. Frustration and anger are budding. I fear that further social conflicts are imminent. "

Note: This post is heavily based and largely translated from the English article >> ‘It’s as if there’s no Covid’: Nepal defies pandemic amid a broken economy << by Pete Pattisson. Published on February 11th, 2021 in "The Guardian".

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Poverty, Corona Virus, Covid-19, society, society in Nepal, hunger, caste, crisis, pandemic, politics, economy