Course:ANTH302A/2020/Nepal

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Contents

Introduction

Figure 1. Map of Nepal and its geographical regions.

Nepal is a landlocked country located in Southern Asia, bordering both China and India[1]. With seven provinces, seventy-seven districts and the capital city of Kathmandu, Nepal lies on the southern part of the Himalayan mountain range [2]. There are three main geographical regions in Nepal: the Himalayan Region in the north, the Tarai (jungle) region in the south, and the mid hill region in between the Himalayan and Tarai regions (as seen in Figure 1).[3] Nepal sits on top of two tectonic plates, forming the Himalayan mountain range that covers over 77% of the region and making the country an active earthquake zone [1][4].The mid hill region is characterized by a lack of snow and makes up the majority of land in Nepal.[3] The Himalayan region in the north is mountainous and is characterized by snow and increasingly elevated terrain.[3] Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain above sea level, is situated in both Nepal and China, which borders Nepal to the north. Nepal is home to over 6,000 rivers and holds the "water towers of Asia".[3] The three largest river systems are the Koshi, Narayani (Gandaki), and Karnali, all of which originate from glaciers in the Himalayas.[5] Flooding of these rivers is common during monsoon season in Nepal, creating many challenges for Nepali's living near these river systems.

Nepal, much like other regions of South Asia, has a vast range of spoken languages[6]. Of the hundred languages spoken in Nepal, two of these languages (Nepali and Maithili) are spoken by over sixty percent of the population while rural districts speak endangered dialects such as Sarke and Leke[6]. Hindu Nepali's make up 80% of the population, with Buddhists at 10% and Islamic Nepali's at 4% [7]. The diversity in ethnicity, religion and language often means that national identities of Nepali people are unique to each individual. Rural communities usually have their own ethnic identities like the Newer, Magar and Rai people- dependent on location[8]. Additionally, religious groups in Nepal like Nepalese Muslims build their communities around similar religiously-based belief systems. Many Nepali people also come from different ethnic roots, like the Indo Nepalese people who identify with Indian heritage[8].

Another prevalent feature of Nepal is its caste system, influenced by the Hindu model present in India today [9]. Similarly, it is divided into four tiers but integrates different religions and ethnic groups unlike the Indian caste system [9]. Up until 2007, Nepal was considered a constitutional Hindu monarchy and it was not until 2015 that Nepal was formally recognized as secular [10]. Prior to the ratification of the Nepali constitution, Hindu youth leaders demanded for Nepal to be declared as a Hindu state, to end cow slaughter and other amendments to protect various Hindu institutions in the country [11]. Today, there continues to be a very strong presence of Hindu activists fighting for greater emphasis of Hindu principles in Nepal’s government [11].

Figure 2. COVID-19 Cases in Nepal as of May 14th, 2020

As mentioned above, Nepal’s 2015 constitution declared the country as secular, making it a democratic republic [10]. When the Interim Constitution of Nepal (2007) was introduced, it included the prime minister as the chief executive, the president and a Constituent Assembly of 601 members [10]. Representatives in the National Legislature are elected through a mix of the first-past-the-post system and proportional representation [10]. Some representatives are also appointed by the President of the state [12]. Currently, Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli is prime minister os Nepal, leading a communist coalition party formed from the merging of Nepal's Marxist-Leninist and Maoist parties in May 2018 [10][12].

Furthermore, Nepal is among the least developed nations in the world, with about, one-quarter of its population living below the poverty line [13]. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, providing a livelihood for almost two-thirds of the population but accounting for less than a third of the GDP [13]. Nepal’s populations is heavily dependent on remittances (money sent from employed family members outside the country), which amount to as much as 30% of the GDP [13]. Industrial activity mainly involves the processing of agricultural products, including pulses, jute, sugarcane, tobacco and grains [13]. Massive earthquakes struck Nepal in early 2015, which damaged or destroyed infrastructure and homes and set back economic development [14]. Although political gridlock and lack of capacity have hindered post-earthquake recovery, government-led reconstruction efforts have progressively picked up speed, although many hard hit areas still have seen little assistance [14]. Additional challenges to Nepal's growth include its landlocked geographic location, inconsistent electricity supply, and underdeveloped transportation infrastructure [13]. It is these economic barriers and remnants of rebuilding still needed from the 2015 earthquake, that present particular challenges to Nepal during this pandemic.

Figure 3. Image by Punya of the aftermath and destruction of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in consequences for people all over Nepal. While crisis is no stranger to the country, the pandemic has presented a unique set of struggles for many Nepali communities. Today, Nepal has upwards of 29,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 126 deaths out of a population of roughly 29 million people [15][16]. The pandemic has had a fatality rate of 0.4% and a recovery rate of 60.6% in the region as well [15]. Due to the vast amount of diversity in the region, the consequences of this pandemic have been experienced differently by Nepali communities. All of these experiences are informed by the social, political and economic conditions of Nepal that shape both everyday life, and responses during times of crisis.

After the devastation of the 2015 earthquakes, Nepal had to focus on rebuilding. In doing so, Nepal was successful in flourishing sectors like tourism, and increasing its GDP growth [17] [18]. However, the region also faced issues like civil unrest, caste and class disparities, gender inequalities, issues with rural and urban development and more. All of these issues became the topic of how Nepal would not only rebuild but improve through rebuilding. Today, Nepal faces many of the same challenges it did after the destruction of the earthquakes. Many low caste and lower class communities are facing challenges in access to resources, migrant workers are left stranded without jobs or stable income, and many women have faced gender-based violence. Nepal’s economy has also faced major setbacks due to the limitations placed by the pandemic. Additionally, the experiences of Nepali’s during the pandemic has differed based on geographical region, with different areas facing certain political, developmental and environmental issues throughout this time.

With the end of the pandemic not in sight, Nepal faces many challenges in dealing with the pandemic and preparing for its end. While the pandemic will not last forever, the issues that pervade Nepali society during the pandemic will work to define the social and economic structures that shape the region in the future. With careful study of all of the issues facing Nepali’s in the time of COVID-19, government officials, aid organizations, policy makers and more can work to gain a better understanding of how the pandemic is experienced by different communities across Nepal.

Effects of COVID-19 on Nepali Migrant Workers & Challenges of Repatriation

By: Avani Dhar

Migration of Nepali Labour

Migration of labour remains the salient feature of Nepal’s socio-economic landscape. As a young country amidst a youth bulge; at an unemployment rate of 11.4 %, amongst which a third are in long-term unemployment, labour migration has provided immense employment opportunities; which as a result has steadily increased the inflow of remittances [19]. The social and financial remittances, and the exposure gained through the process of migration have contributed positively to the Nepali economy. Remittances equate to over a quarter of the GDP, with International migrants contributing 30% of it [20]. Labour shortages in the oil-driven growth of the middle east and technological advancement in the East and Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Japan and South Korea have dramatically increased opportunities for Nepali youth [21]. Furthermore, with the progress in transportation and telecommunication, mobility has become cheaper and convenient; aiding large-scale migration of workers from different social stratum. Gains via financial and social remittances are reflected through higher standards of living and better health and educational outcomes in Nepal. However, labour migration presents both opportunities and challenges.

Figure 4. Representation of Nepalis Migrant workers that move to and fro their homes to make a living

Persistent challenges

Most male Nepali migrant workers are employed in low-skilled sectors, such as construction and manufacturing, whereas the majority of female migrant workers in the informal sector, either as caregivers or housemaids [19]. This might seem promising in terms of employment opportunities, but the real circumstances of migrant labourers are far from ideal in terms of receiving acceptable standards and safeguarding their basic labour rights, such as formal contracts that specify minimum wage, timely payments, acceptable labour conditions, and health benefits. In recent years, Nepali workers have reported cases of labour abuse and human trafficking, which are gradually calling for stricter government policies to secure migrant workers’ right[21].

Effects of the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the world into recession, and the most vulnerable are migrant workers from third-world countries like Nepal and India. The pandemic has constrained their ability to access their place of work in the countries of destination as well as their ability to return to their country of origin. Most migrants have either lost their jobs, or are on the verge of job contract expiry[22]. Workers abroad that cannot afford flights back home have reported increasing complications in repatriation and accessing basic necessities like food, shelter, and healthcare. Although, a wide swath of migrant workers have returned to Nepal via rescue flights, a significant number remain stranded in the Gulf, Malaysia, and India, globally; amongst the worst hit countries[21].The strict lockdown measures in these countries has ceased all non-essential services, hitting hardest sectors like tourism, hospitality and construction, where many workers were concentrated. Now the risk of injury and death has been replaced by poverty and homelessness

Workers that usually migrate to neighbouring countries like India often come from lower castes and indigenous groups, which are susceptible to caste discrimination at the hands of upper castes/classes [19]. The Indian lockdown has been termed as “a caste atrocity” calling it the willful act of oppression inflicted on migrant workers in the name of controlling a virus[23]. Moreover, marginalized groups such as lower caste workers form Nepal are quarantined in close proximity making them particularly vulnerable to coronavirus because of the overcrowded and congested conditions of camps they are often based in [21].  This situation has also given rise to gender-based violence, where recently a woman was gang-raped, at a quarantine facility in Lamki Chuha Municipality-1, Kailali. Simultaneously as migrant women return to their homes, they frequently become victims of domestic violence and sexual assault they often left as a result of [24].    

The Asian Foundation identifies two key drivers of migrant exodus, first, the fear of getting COVID pushed most migrants to drop their jobs and head home to be with their families. Secondly, the uncertainty of the duration of lockdown forced migrants to start walking home from places like India [25]. Furthermore, the Indian government ordered the police to clamp their mode of transportation, workers were also “harassed and stigmatized” during their journeys [25]. Upon reaching homes, migrants now face extreme poverty and food insecurity as the major sources of GDP are on a halt due to travel bans, interfering in the reconstruction of disaster ridden communities that were rebuilding infrastructure after the 2015 earthquakes.

Implications of returnees

The workers struggling to return to Nepal pose significant national and regional implications for the country itself. Firstly, evacuation, monitoring cases, and quarantine protocols would be difficult to enforce because of resource limitations and weak healthcare infrastructure [21]. Additionally, the most significant challenge the government will face; is the generation of jobs for the repatriated migrants. Due to the economic slowdown, it’s unlikely that workers who have lost their jobs will re-migrate immediately, the country will have to deal with the economic consequences of losing migrant remittances, which make up about 30% of the country’s economy [20]. This will further worsen economic recession and unemployment rate, that in-turn causes socio-political problems like the rise in crime rates and sexual assaults and may even be responsible for creating a population vulnerable to armed-group recruitment or terrorism. When the Maoists began an armed insurgency in the country in 1996, they recruited large numbers of the unemployed from rural areas. A failure to generate jobs for the youth can threaten the newly found political stability in Nepal[22] .

Long-term issues, other than health is managing food security and reconstruction after the 2015 earthquakes that ruined agricultural land. Mental health concerns about one’s well-being, job security, lack of information and future has lead to high level of anxiety amongst migrant workers, along with being victims of discrimination and fatalities due to the pandemic, migrant workers have to continue working under physically and emotionally draining circumstances.

The migration crisis engendered by COVID-19 has indeed caused public frustration regarding government incompetency and corruption. Recent protests against the government’s inaction were responded by teargas, corruption has been a long standing problem within the Nepali state, the prime minister's decision to transfer a number of crisis-related responsibilities to the Army, has worsened the impact of the pandemic, their inexperience and lack of administration has only increased the number of cases, leading to a bigger health catastrophe [26].

Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Nepal's Main Economic Sectors

By: Tamara Dzeletovic

2015 Earthquakes, 2020 Pandemic, and Nepal's Economy

In 2019 Nepal welcomed almost 1.2 million tourists, and the year 2020 was promoted as being focused on tourism. Campaigns were planned, and Visit-Nepal-Year-2020 came with a yeti mascot of whom over 100 statues were set up across the country. Upon the COVID-19 outbreak, they stand alone in empty courtyards[18].

Figure 5. Image by Gerd Eichmann of merchant selling items at Kathmandu Durbar Square, a typically bustling area pre-pandemic.

In the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes that devastated Nepal, the economy was not as distressed as many may have predicted. The earthquakes destroyed homes, crumpled historical monuments and infrastructure, and triggered a series of landslides that were only made worse by the annual monsoon season. In the collective effort to reconstruct, the nation slowly repaired itself[27]. The following year did see a large dip in GDP growth - to below one percent - but the country recovered slowly over the next three years. In the years between the earthquake and the COVID-19 epidemic, the GDP growth in Nepal was almost 7 percent per year, with predictions for 2020 being another 6 percent rise. Human development indicators were seeing promising numbers, minimum wages were rising, and poverty was decreasing. However, in a little over one month following the outbreak of COVID-19, the economy of Nepal was hit hard[28].

Border crossings and international flights were suspended by the Nepalese government, with the WHO’s declaration of a pandemic. The lock-down cut off much of their domestic economic activity, tourism revenue, and remittance from overseas. Town squares and bazaars were left bare[18]. Local businesses suffered and were forced to close. Drug stores are among the small number of shops considered essential and allowed to remain open. Kathmandu, usually known as the centre of restaurants and nightlife within the country, was also deserted[18]. With the lock-down starting on March 24, movement was restricted to purchasing food and other essentials. As a result, millions of workers were left with no employment - many of whom began walking from Kathmandu to their homes in surrounding areas shortly afterwards[28]. The initial lock-down erased more than 90% of the daily-wage jobs in Nepal. Such informal jobs are a crucial source of income for many, and the result of its removal is a push further into poverty for many households[28].

The Main Economic Sectors

Nepal has a long and rich history of its political and economic development[29]. The country has four main sectors - tourism, transportation, construction, and wholesale/retail - within which most of Nepal’s 4.4 million daily-wage workers regularly find employment. With the travel ban, the tourism sector faces a recession of long-term proportions. With that, the demand in the rest of the sectors has also experienced extreme dips. It is deemed unlikely that this will be revived in any meaningful way again before a reliable vaccine becomes available[28]. The most hopeful of the sectors is that of construction. While the others are largely dependent on external economic drivers, the construction sector has the ability of being revived with fiscal stimulus. It is currently viewed as being the best hope in regaining economic stability in Nepal, with its reliance on internal drivers[17].

A study by the Asia Foundation for the World Bank in Nepal has identified five conditions needed to ensure revival of the construction sector: the government must contain the pandemic during the easing of the lock-down; social restrictions must be relaxed enough so as to restore the supply chain, in under a month of the end of lock-down; the government must forestall the contractual disputes arising from the disruption; welfare and relief systems must prevent the rural distress and widespread hunger as a result of the changes; and the upcoming year’s budget must increase to allow provisions for the construction sector[17]. Though the construction sector seems to be the most promising of Nepal’s industries with regards to the ability of being revived, there are a number of hindering factors - including epidemiological uncertainty, disrupted supply chains, and disrupted hiring networks. The unfortunate timing of the lock-down prior to Monsoon season also means that many seasonal workers would be returning to their farms in June anyway. Other hindering factors cited include psycho-social readiness, contractual disputes, and a demand slump[17]. As fear and stigma surrounding the pandemic rises, the ability to resume economic activities is severely diminished[17].

Potential Future Measures

Recommendations for mitigating the damage include finding an alternative to nationwide lock-downs, expediting payments, providing fiscal stimulus, ramping up investments and welfare programs, and communicating changes to people with time in advance. By late April, the government announced that sites that could house and feed their workers - thereby effectively isolating - would be able to continue their work. However, as the supplies and labor were disrupted, even such sites have yet to operate at their full capacities[17].

The economic troubles facing Nepal during the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting hardest the well-being and livelihood of their poor[17]. Policies designed to address inequality will also be needed, as transformations made by affirmative action could spur on changes needed to bring those most affected slowly out of poverty[30]. The recession hitting those already in a difficult financial situation the hardest is not uncommon, and is a reflection of the inequality of employment opportunities among the classes of the people of Nepal[31].

According to the prognostics of the Asian Development Bank, the potential prolonged cessation of economic activities due to the pandemic could result in permanent losses in the country’s economy[32]. It is not at all unusual for a catastrophe to change the economic dynamics of a nation - in this case however, all of the surrounding nations are facing the issue themselves as well[33]. The post-earthquake reconstruction in Nepal could provide a good example for the disaster-financialization that may be needed post-pandemic. This transitive process would integrate donors and government authorities into instituting mechanisms of disaster prevention, adaptation, and recovery[34].

Environmental Consequences of the Pandemic in Nepal

By: Ali Haider

The Environmental Effects of the Lockdown in Nepal.

Figure 6A: Langtang range seen from Kathmandu

Nepal is recognized throughout the world for its beautiful sights and mesmerizing mountain ranges. The region has 8 of the 14 (8000m+ ranges including Mount Everest and the Himalaya) peaks which attracts tourists throughout the globe.[35] Due to the Pandemic, the government has imposed lockdowns in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus restricting businesses and manufacturing facilities to work at full capacity due to which the Langtang range (figure 6A) could be seen clearly from Kathmandu (the capital city of Nepal) which was out of sight for decades due to the smoke and air pollution. Additionally, other mountain ranges and skies could also be seen with naked eyes and the chirping of birds could be heard by the locals, which is a blessing for a nature lover.

The contemporary situation throughout the world has changed due to COVID, but there are some positive externalities of this virus on to the environment as a whole. This is perfectly explained in figure 6B which shows that due to the lockdown and a decrease in business activities, there is lesser dumping of harmful substances in the river/sea/ocean, which improves the overall water quality while giving access to better water for wildlife and humans themselves. In addition to that, lower car and air travel have cleared the skies to an unprecedented level, curbing air and noise pollution. Additionally, there has been a significant positive impact on the O-zone layer due to the pandemic. The main sources of pollution such as transport, industries, power stations, and factories have been shut down temporarily or have some sort of restrictions regarding the maximum capacity, which is aiding in the restoration of the O-zone layer.  [36]

Figure 6B: COVID life cycle

Other than that, there have been various studies regarding the environmental effects of COVID and according to one of the studies, there is a negative correlation between COVID cases and unique forest fire incidents. The study shows that an additional reported case of Covid resulted in a 4.54% decrease in the number of unique forest fire incidents and an 11.36% reduction in fire radiative power associated with these events. Estimates also show that districts with smaller areas of community-managed forests per capita experienced an 8.11% decrease in the number of forest fire incidents.[37]

Also, there is a massive decline in other illnesses in hospitals now with the decline of environmental pollution. Earlier on, air pollution and resultant respiratory ailments caused over 22,000 deaths in Nepal and 5.5 million deaths throughout the world every year.[38] But now, the numbers have significantly dropped, according to the World Health Organisation.

The Social Effects of the Lockdown in Nepal.

The impact of the virus has been widespread throughout the world and is taking a toll on the social lives of people living in Nepal. This pandemic has significantly transformed the working environment in Nepal, resulting in a high-pressure work environment, and unfavorable and demanding interactions among health workers. Contracting to COVID is seen as a stigma amongst the society and people who have recovered from the virus aren’t seen as they were earlier. The world is evolving due to the pandemic and new world order is about to kick in. Several stories regarding the landlords evicting frontline workers, medical staff, and people who have contracted COVID have come out and the Nepali government is not taking adequate actions against it.

Other than that, during the lockdown, the suicide rate has gone to an all-time high. 875 people have committed suicide nationally in a 4-month time frame which is 20% more than the normal suicide rate in Nepal. Additionally, violence towards women and girls has increased due to conflict, stress and spending more time together during the lockdown. As seen in Figure 6C, domestic violence has surged to a record 198 number of cases followed by rape. This kind of violence takes a toll on children’s mental health and stability. Additionally, Nepal has also seen a drastic increase in the number of gender-based discrimination during the lockdown period (20 calls a day).

Figure 6C: Violence against women and girls stats
Are the effects of an earthquake identical to that of COVID in Nepal?

The article, ‘Introduction: Aftershocked By  Cameron David Warner,  Heather Hindman, and  Amanda Snellinger’ suggested that Nepal being a developing country is not well prepared and invested into natural disaster responses which should be a major concern given that its susceptible to natural disasters. [39]The adverse effects of the earthquakes and COVID are somewhat identical in Nepal as it has taken a toll on various parts of the human body including the psychological aspects and cognitive thinking as well as the economy and the environment as a whole. Another key point to consider for Nepal is that the government needs to provide shelters for people affected by the virus in order to curb the suicidal rate in Nepal as well as to limit street crimes and vandalism as pointed out in the video, ‘Cities of Sleep’.

In conclusion, Covid has adversely affected the entire world but also has positive reinforcements/externalities for the environment and the O-zone layer. Additionally, the pandemic and lockdowns throughout Nepal has allowed them to think about using sustainable energy in the near future. The element of fear has brought an understanding into every brain, ‘Go Green or Go Home!’    

Geography and the Government Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Nepal

By: Yujie Li

Geography and Administrative Divisions

Nepal is a mostly mountainous country with less than 15% of land being fertile and arable.[40] Landlocked between two behemoths in China and India, it relies heavily on ground trade to receive natural resources such as oil and to export goods produced. Due to being landlocked, Nepal does not possess a sea port for trading goods.[41] Instead, it has access to seven Chinese ports after the signing of Protocol on Implementing Agreement on Transit and Transport.[42] Its capital city, Kathmandu, lies in the Kathmandu valley in the Bagmati province. Bagmati is also the most populated of seven provinces and the second most densely populated, only surpassed by Province 2 to the south where much of Nepal’s fertile land is. Over five-million people live in Province 2 with over 500 people/km2.[43] This is in stark contrast to Karnali, the least densely populated province, where only one and a half million people live and population density is only 40 people/km2. Karnali’s sparsely distributed population highlights one of Nepal’s interesting and unique characteristics. One of the ten least urbanized countries in the world, Nepal is also simultaneously one of the ten fastest urbanizing countries.[44]

Figure 7. Image by user Sagarjkhatri showing the seven Administrative Regions in Nepal as well as the separate districts in each Province.

COVID-19 Responses

The federal government responded early and closed Nepali borders to China on January 28th, 2020. A country-wide lockdown was put in place and international flights were suspended at later dates. Furthermore, the federal government set up coronavirus testing centers in all provinces, set up new terms for which private hospitals were to operate under, and sought to increase the number of isolation and ICU beds in hospitals all throughout Nepal. Additionally, with regards to the Kathmandu Valley, over 100 ICU beds and 1,000 isolation beds were to be added to hospitals and non-urgent health procedures or check-ups were halted, along with outreach and information campaigns to help Nepali citizens educate themselves on the pandemic.[45]

The response by each provincial government differed vastly. Province 1 established a 200 million NPR fund for COVID, Province 2 allocated 40 million NPR, Province 5 allocated 100 million NPR, Sudurpaschim allocated an emergency fund over 100 million NPR and over 20 million more NPR specifically for sub-metro cities, municipalities, and rural areas. Karnali allocated over 500 million NPR along with 5 million NPR to multiple disaster management committees. Every provincial government committed to adding additional bed capacity to hospitals but only Province 1 and Gandaki established specific COVID facilities. Additionally, Province 1, Bagmati, and Gandaki established COVID-19 rapid response teams or task forces. Finally, provinces established health checkpoints at land borders with China and India.[45]

Local governments were given the task of tracing and enforcing lockdown regulations put about by the federal or provincial governments.[45]

Issues with Responses

Although some measures put in place by the federal government were quick and every province established emergency funds for COVID, the effectiveness of the measures have varied. Three major factors outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO) were not properly followed in the Nepali government’s response.

The first major factor that hampered successful responses has been the lack of coordination between local, provincial, and the federal government. As part of the 2015 constitution that was ratified, the “spirit of federalism” was enshrined, thus granting provincial governments a large degree of independence.[46] Thus, much of the responsibility for responding to COVID-19 was pushed to provincial and local governments. However, as noted by the WHO, a proper response and course of action requires effective communication and coordination between many levels of government.[47] An uncoordinated response by the federal government has led to problems with testing, quarantining, and effective tracing of possible COVID-19 cases.[45][48] Although there have been a confirmed 30,000 cases, the likely amount of cases far exceeds 30,000, as less than 500,000 tests have been conducted and many migrant workers returning to Nepal were not properly quarantined or traced due to lack of robust systems and proper information management as well as the failure of the government to procure tests or protective equipment.[45]

Furthermore, there exists a stigma around those diagnosed with COVID-19. The WHO outlined that proper response to the pandemic relied on effective information dissemination and education, as well as special care and attention paid to vulnerable people.[47] Information campaigns were launched, yet possibly due to the turbulence that has shaken Nepal in the past few decades, the discrimination, prejudice, and pre-existing societal structures[49] that marginalize members of the population may have contributed to the growing stigma around COVID-19. Many migrant workers and ordinary citizens elect to forgo testing in fear of backlash from members of their community should they test positive or having their family members quarantined and ostracized. This also further contributes to the inability to properly trace cases and give public health notices about possible exposures.[50] Social media has also contributed to the stigma.[50]

The third factor is the vastly different circumstances for each province, local community. Each region has its own unique challenges. Remote, rural areas may have less need for containment or total lockdown, but assistance and correct deployment of resources and medical aid, whereas urbanized areas such as the Kathmandu Valley have greater difficulty containing and slowing the spread of the virus but treatment and assistance is more feasible.[47] Initially the federal government deferred to provincial and local governments as mentioned previously but did not provide enough assistance to how each province has chosen to respond. After a lacklustre response overall, the Oli administration granted chief district officers the authority to take new measures to curtail the spread of COVID.[46] This choice has angered many, with some calling it a move against the spirit of the constitution. With the local governments being undermined by the federal government, future measures and responses may not suit the type of assistance needed.

Consequences of a lukewarm response and possible lessons for the future

The mediocre response by the Nepali government may have many unforeseen consequences for the future. Education has been halted in Nepal and due to the lack of cable or internet infrastructure for many households especially in lesser developed regions such as Karnali or Province 2,[51] the inequality between those of a lower class or caste may grow as a result of the pandemic. Half of Nepali households do not possess internet or cable access, and only eighty percent have mobile devices capable of receiving radio, over which many classes are currently being held.[51] Thus, wealthier or privileged households are able to educate their children during the pandemic while poorer homes may not be able to.

A lack of trust in the government already exists in Nepal[52][53] and the COVID-19 crisis in Nepal may only further this, leading to issues in the future as Nepal develops socially and economically. Distrust in government may have also been a factor in the failed effort to inform citizens about COVID-19 and vulnerable populations may reject assistance. Further distrust in government policies due to a failed response can result in apathy by the general population or civil unrest.[54] After decades of instability in the region, additional troubles may set Nepal back further in its journey towards becoming a developed nation.

One possible solution may have been for the federal government to lead the anti-pandemic effort from the start and set up robust systems to track, quarantine, test, and treat cases as well as properly evaluating and quarantining migrant workers returning from India or other locations. However, this response would have garnered criticism as noted above.

Another possible solution would have been for the Oli administration to better work in tandem with provincial governments, offering more support and assistance to each province according to the unique conditions and requirements for each province as identified by the respective provincial governments. This may have come in either financial assistance, organizational or informational services, or better enforcement/harder judicial punishment for those refusing to abide by laws set out.

As the COVID-19 crisis rages on in Nepal, only time will tell whether the situation sets Nepal behind on the clock or becomes a watershed moment where socio-economic inequalities are pushed to the political forefront and progress is made towards a more equal, developed Nepal.

Caste, Class and the COVID-19 Pandemic in Nepal

By: Marissa Singh

History of the Caste System in Nepal

Figure 8. Image by the World Bank of Nepal's former caste system, Muluki Ain, that organized various religious and ethnic groups into one hierarchical order based on Hindu principles of purity.

Throughout history, caste has been a form of social stratification present in many South Asian countries, including Nepal. Despite Nepal being home to an extremely diverse ethnic, linguistic and religious population, in the past, Hindu elites and Hindu principles have been very prevalent in Nepali history [55]. In an attempt to unify all of these diverse groups under a Hindu state, the ruling Hindu elites in Nepal divided Nepali society along the four varnas of the Hindu vedas [55]. This established a caste system that integrated all of the various groups in Nepal into one hierarchical order, based on Hindu principles of purity, called Muluki Ain [55]. An image of this system can be seen in Figure 8. Although many of the people included in this system were not Hindu, Muluki Ain outlined a status for all members of Nepal that regulated behaviours and occupations within Nepal [55]. When this system was initially implemented in 1854, it dealt with issues of land rights, familial inheritance and more for each identified caste [55][11]. After over a century with Muluki Ain, Nepal’s 1962 constitution made discrimination on the basis of caste and “untouchability” illegal in Nepal [11] (p.84). However, despite this, many forms of disparity still exist between caste groups [55].

How Caste and Class Intersect in Nepal

One of the reasons that caste is such a pertinent issue in Nepal today is partly due to its effect on socioeconomic class of those classified by the old Muluki Ain system. While caste rankings do not directly correlate to class status, there are many examples of lower caste groups being disproportionately affected by poverty [56] [57]. Today, lower-caste Nepalis (Dalits and Pani Na Chalne) make up the largest proportion of Nepal’s population under the poverty line [58]. Both hill and tarai Dalits in Nepal have poverty incidences of 38.2% and 43.6% respectively [58]. In contrast, hill and tarai Brahmins have poverty incidences of 10.3% and 18.6% respectively [58]. Additionally, “impure” castes have statistically lower probabilities of upward class mobility across generations from an economic standpoint [57]. While caste discrimination is illegal in Nepal, access to forms of educations and employment for many Dalits is limited due to fears of impurity and pollution with integration [59]. Therefore, Dalits have the lowest education and literacy rates in comparison to other castes in Nepal, also placing them at a lower social class [58]. This directly affects access to white-collar and skilled jobs that aid in breaking out of the cycle of poverty for Dalits [59]. For this reason, many Dalits in Nepal work in migrant labour jobs,or jobs in the informal sector where employees are not insured or given forms of employment security [60][47]. These are just a few examples of how caste intersects with class in Nepali society, and how lower-caste members (particularly Dalits) face many more barriers both economically and socially that disadvantage their socioeconomic mobility in Nepal. And while there is no absolute correlation between class and caste, the two are still intertwined forms of hierarchy that work to disproportionately affect some communities over others [56].

How Times of Crisis Have Affected Lower Caste/Class Communities

Figure 9. Image by Vipin Goyal of the home of a Dalit, and the low stability of the home in case of a natural disaster. During a pandemic, quarantining in a home like this would also be difficult due to the amount of exposure the home has to the outside.

In the past, disasters and moments of crisis in Nepal have brought out these inequities between different caste groups that seem to pervade Nepali society even in times of stability. Folmar, Cameron & Pariyar (2015) discuss how caste inequities and the structures that perpetuate them can often be ignored during times of crisis or disaster [61]. For example after the 2015 earthquake, many homes were destroyed leaving people without shelter [61]. Since Dalits made up the majority of Nepali's under the poverty line, many Dalit communities were completely destroyed due to a lack of sturdy infrastructure [61]. Despite needing emergency services the most, many Dalits were turned away from services like communal housing from fear of pollution when in contact with members of other castes [61].The extra challenges faced by lower class communities were ignored on the basis of caste despite caste discrimination being illegal in Nepal [61]. Often times these struggles were under-reported and not given attention by both the media and government aid organizations [61]. “This silence unintentionally reaffirms caste discrimination in Nepal”, and makes it difficult for communities that are hit harder during times of crisis to receive adequate amounts of aid [61].

How Caste/Class has Affected Experiences of the Pandemic in Nepal

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has put Dalit communities at risk of not only infection, but lack of access to proper healthcare, job loss and food insecurity [62]. As mentioned above, Dalits make up the majority of migrant workers from Nepal and employees of the informal labor sector [60][47]. According to United Nations Nepal (2020), these two industries have been hit the hardest with job losses during the pandemic [47]. For example, tourism is one major industry in Nepal that employs Dalits in the informal labour sector [47]. Because of border shutdowns, many Dalits working in this industry have lost their ability to earn an income [47]. Additionally, many Dalit families in Nepal rely on migrant worker remittances [47]. However, with borders closed, many migrant workers are unable to get back to their jobs or send money back home to their families [47]. Inevitably, this has created many challenges for Nepalis under the poverty line or from low income households. Since Dalits make up the majority of this population, they are disproportionately affected by times of crisis like the pandemic when it comes to maintaining a stable income [47]. Many of these losses in employment have also put Dalit communities at very high risk of starvation and food insecurity [62]. Lack of funds has made it difficult for many Dalit families to be able to afford food, especially since they have faced large amounts of unemployment with the pandemic [62]. Additionally, social distancing measures have led to widespread violence against Dalits due to fears of pollution but also Dalits living in poverty presenting a risk of infection to other Nepalis [63]. This has created a lot of fear amongst Nepal's Dalit communities, making it difficult for them to enter communal aid facilities or seek employment opportunities within the region [63] [64]. Nepal's strict lockdown measures have also made it difficult for all Nepalis to leave the house, however, due to the food insecurity already faced by many lower income Dalit families, this has presented a particular barrier for Dalits attempting to receive government aid in Nepal [62].

Caste and class are two concepts that have been deeply intertwined in Nepal’s history. From the beginning of the Muluki Ain system to class disparities amongst upper and lower caste groups, the two forms of social stratification have worked to keep many lower caste, and therefore lower class, groups from gaining opportunities in Nepal. During times of crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, these already existing disparities have created unique challenges for low caste groups due to their lower economic and social class within Nepal. Many of these issues tend to get glossed over in context to the crisis, but it is evident that many aspects of this pandemic have hit Dalit and other lower caste communities harder. For this reason, rebuilding both during and after the pandemic presents an opportunity for Nepalis to reconstruct their views around caste and how it relates to class. Greater awareness around how caste affects life in Nepal could allow for greater effectiveness in aid delivery to lower caste communities, as well as a productive discussion around how caste and class will play a role in Nepal’s future.

Gender Based Violence During the Pandemic in Nepal

By: Lazeena Suleman

Gender Based Violence (GBV) is violence against others solely based on their gender. The violence is mostly against women and there are different terms that can be used to describe them. For instance, there is ‘Violence Against Women’, ‘Intimate Partner Violence’ and ‘Domestic Abuse’. There are many different forms of GBV “including rape, sexual assault, physical assault, forced marriage, denial of resources and opportunities, and emotional abuse” [65]. The preexisting norms, along with the isolation measures have led to an increase in GBV in Nepal [66], and in the past 12 months, there have been 243 million women who have experienced sexual or physical violence [24].

GBV has always been a major concern in developing countries like Nepal. Prior to COVID-19, Nepalese women suffered from violence in their homes. About 48% of women in Nepal have experienced violence against them [24]. Amidst the pandemic, the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre has reported 465 cases between March and May [65].  

Why Women?

The main reason as to why women are discriminated against is because society is male dominated where men are given the power. Another reason is because of the traditional values. For example in the neighboring South Asian country of India, marital rape is not considered to be a crime [67]. For this reason, women don’t prefer to get married, so as to stay away from the marital abuse. A woman was asked why she chose to be a nun and her response was “to avoid the pain of abusive marriages, miscarriages, and infant deaths” that she saw the other women had experienced in their relationships [68]. Women get harassed on the daily, and in Sri Lanka, the workers refuse to believe that being dragged into the ocean as being violent or see it as belittling [69]. Generally, it is young women who live in rural areas, who are young, uneducated and are homemakers [65]. The women are also not financially independent, making it harder to escape and be on their own [66].   

How does COVID-19 intersect with GBV in Nepal?

Social tensions caused by the pandemic, along with the isolation measures and restricted movement with the lockdown in place, have made it harder for women to get help with the violence or to escape it making the situation worse [66].  There have been many reported instances of rape, gang rape, physical and domestic violence. Due to the lockdown, women have to live with their abusers and can’t get away. Physician Sandeep Okheda stated that, “the lockdown has promoted and perpetuated an environment of violence” as he sees the survivors he treats in the hospitals [66].  Young girls and women are committing suicide because of the extreme violence that they are suffering from [66].

Nepal is a mountainous area and so because of that it is hard to get around from one place to another. There is minimal public transport to begin with and due to the current pandemic, public transport is not available. Therefore, women can’t go and get assistance from the hospitals, as private transportation can be expensive [66].  If a woman were to make it to a hospital, or a healthcare facility, medical staff would be overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases which was deemed more important, thus not being able to get any help [66].

Figure 10. Image by Aasawari Kulkarni portraying women protesting to Stop Gender Based Violence

Furthermore, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, everything is being shifted online and because of that, online GBV has increased. Women’s photos are being shared, without consent, taken from their social media sites [70]. Women are being abused, with strangers posting demeaning comments under their photos on various groups on social media [70]. The groups have also posted abusive images, like “child sexual abuse and depictions of sexual violence” [70] on their groups.

Solutions to aid with GBV

GBV has long-term effects on the women who suffer from the violence and so Nepal should be working on how to prevent the violence from happening in the first place. The people of Nepal need to be educated about GBV, and the consequences that come with it. As it can be seen in Figure 10, a group known as ‘Feminism in India’ is urging the media to use the stock images like this one to raise awareness, instead of pictures ‘depicting women as cowering away from looming hands” [71]. The pandemic has definitely made it harder, and increased the number of cases for GBV. For starters, the government of Nepal should have a law that addresses online GBV, as currently it doesn’t and to provide the victims with therapy and legal assistance [70]. Nepal has also been training community volunteers who can help reach the GBV survivors to help them. The medical staff is also trained to identify victims of abuse and treat them even if they have COVID-19 symptoms or are tested positive for COVID-19 [66].

Impacts of the Pandemic on Development in Nepal

By: Sam Pynn

With the introduction of the coronavirus, COVID-19, at the beginning of this year, every community and country worldwide has encountered situationally different implications dependent on their location. Specifically, the landlocked country of Nepal has endured the detrimental impacts of the pandemic on the development in both rural and urban communities, as well as,  travel restrictions for workers that aid in keeping Nepal’s economy afloat. Along with the pandemic, Nepali people have also been faced with the external stresses of earthquakes and the monsoon season as a reoccurring annual issue causing floods that further endanger the welfare of individuals in rural communities due to the lack of infrastructure to withstand the elements. With all of these factors hitting Nepal at once, the nation’s developmental growth and economy has been stunted leading to an increase in humanitarian efforts.

Humanitarian Aid During a Crisis

In 2015, Nepal was hit with a devastating earthquake and a series of aftershocks a month following that made homes unlivable and left Nepalis displaced and in seek of shelter[72]. On top of earthquakes, Nepal is located in a region heavily affected by monsoon season leading to landslides and large downpours of rain. In regards to the pandemic, this is not the first time Nepal has had to recover from a crisis. Cameron Warner’s et al. work Aftershocked further elaborates on the hardships faced by Nepali communities post natural disaster and the implications for rebuilding through humanitarian aid[72]. Although this article does not specifically focus on the affects of COVID-19 in Nepal, Warner provides insight into developmental growth that occurs in this region regardless of the future disasters Nepal is faced with[72]. After the earthquake, humanitarian efforts aided in the reconstruction of housing and infrastructure but many Nepali individuals had concerns about creating a dependency on foreign funded support by “not attending to sustainable, if less photogenic forms of support, such as the reestablishment of rice planting”[72]. After the earthquake, the attention of international media drew in many donations to aid in Nepal’s recovery but also exacerbated “long standing tensions” between Nepali people and their government’s lack of involvement and planning[72].

In his work Competitive Humanitarianism, Jock Stirrat highlights the competition that can arise when numerous NGO’s, non-government organizations, of various types and from many different countries compete with one another for “ways of spending money in ways which is fitted into a relatively narrow conceptualization of what relief is and which would be easily accepted by the donors back home”[73]. Unfortunately, in some cases this competition for locations and even among agencies is influenced by media attention[73].

Humanitarian efforts to rebuild infrastructure can also produce more employment opportunities and in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, improve the unemployment rates within Nepal due to border restrictions and limitations to migrant workers coming from neighboring countries[74].

Pandemic Influences on Economic and Structural Development

In July of this year, the World Bank Group published an article titled Nepal's Development Update: Post-Pandemic Nepal- Charting a Resilient Recovery and Future Growth Directions[74]. In this work, Ezemenari and others outline plans for rebuilding infrastructure and restructuring Nepal’s economy after the pandemic [74]. Development, whether economical or structural, is necessary for Nepal to have “a resilient recovery” after COVID-19 and the formation of preventative measures when a crisis, of any sort, is encountered again[74]. To limit spikes in the pandemic, Nepal temporarily closed their borders to India and China- two countries that provide employment opportunities for migrant workers[74]. In North America, Canada and the United States do not rely on foreign employment to keep the economy afloat. However, migrant workers continue to benefit our financial systems and in many ways are the foundation to our economic structures present in Westernized society. In Nepal migrant workers substantially influence both economic and structural development. In Nepal faces a crisis as COVID-19 stems the flow of remittances, Ali Akram and Andrew Galizia elaborate on the impacts of border restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic on migrant workers. A remittance, or a transfer of money by a foreign worker to an individual in their home country, represents over a quarter of Nepal’s economic output [75]. The effects of the pandemic mean that migrant workers have had to swap “the risk of death or injury at work with the reality of poverty and homelessness” [75].

Figure 11. Image captured by Gerd Eichmann depicting the Gaddi Baithak palace in Kathmandu after the 2015 earthquakes

The limitations for migrant workers in Nepal has had devastating impacts on their economic development, but even more so, rural and urban structural development has been stunted as there are less employment opportunities available. Urmi Sengupta and Sujeet Sharma published an article in Devex News titled How will COVID-19 impact Nepal’s earthquake-reconstruction efforts? and discuss the decline in developmental efforts after the 2015 earthquakes and implications of limited work due to the pandemic[76]. As Nepal is still dealing with the effects of the catastrophic earthquake from 2015, external factors such as the monsoon season and pandemic has also been influential in stunting both rural and urban development. Sengupta explains that because Nepal’s economy is remittance-dependent much of the restoration and rebuilding work has been suspended as “construction workers and artisans are out of work and possibly out of income, as the lockdown forces everyone to stay home”[76]. As shown in Figure 11, the Gaddi Baithak palace in Kathmandu Durbar Square, along with six other World Heritage Sites in Nepal, remain in a state of disrepair after the 2015 earthquake and continue to deteriorate with the pandemic underway as there is a deficiency in migrant workers and craftsmen to restore and develop these areas beginning with historical monuments[76].

Future Hopes for Nepal’s Recovery Post-Pandemic

In another article from the Aftershocked series, Can Nepal’s Youth Build Back Better and Differently?, Hindman and Poudel discuss the prevalence of Nepali youth service when recovering from a disaster and bring these ideas to the forefront in a contextual, hopeful sense for Nepal’s future[77]. Jobs overseas often require low level skills and are undesirable to Nepal’s youth and educated individuals, but very few will still find “viable job opportunities locally” [77]. As a result, many youth have turned to youth organizations within Nepal that can further provide work, the development of new skills, and connections with other organizations that lead to new opportunities[77]. This is incredibly important when recovering from a crisis that displaced families and put the welfare of many Nepali communities at risk and is a concept that can be similarly utilized after the COVID-19 pandemic. With the aid of Nepali youth organizations, there will be less of a dependency on foreign humanitarian aid, the increase in employment opportunities will benefit the economy tremendously, devastated areas can be rebuilt in a timely matter rather than having to rely on skilled migrant workers all while providing a new set of skills to youth that will evolve to be the backbone of Nepal[77].

In the work written by Joshi Ezemenari he creates a framework consisting of three stages for Nepal’s recovery after the pandemic: relief, restructuring, and resilient recovery[74]. The priority of the relief stage is to reduce vulnerability by addressing the immediate health impacts of the pandemic in Nepal and further provide support for individuals who were affected[74]. The second stage, restructuring, strengthens health systems and prioritizes domestic employment[74]. This stage will decrease unemployment rates and begin improving the economy by providing more work opportunities for Nepalis. Another important factor of the restructuring stage is to begin digitizing more economic factors so that Nepalis can have access to updated information regarding the pandemic, natural disasters, and important governmental notices[74]. The final stage for a resilient recovery focusses on the new opportunities to “invest and reform to promote more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient growth in a post-COVID world” [74]. By implementing these stages, Nepali people will have better access to healthcare, developmental aid and overall undertake a transformation into a “greener, more digital economy”[74].

Nepal’s rehabilitation after COVID-19 will not happen overnight. It is important to consider every other disrupting factor that is keeping Nepal from flourishing such as natural disasters, caste/class disputes, gender based violence, and stunted development in both the economic and structural sectors. With help from non-governmental organizations, youth groups passionate about learning new skills through the reconstruction of devastated areas, and a well thought out economic plan with the welfare of the people as a top priority, Nepal can make a full recovery and work on reconstructing and bettering underdeveloped communities.

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