Nepal Battles with Layers of Crisis
Nepal has been struggling to mitigate the crisis created by the COVID-19 virus but in combination with the chaos unleashed by the onset of monsoon, it has posed a considerably higher multi-risk situation. As the country continues to reel under the virus, districts like Palpa, Manang, Pyuthan, Syangja, Lamjung, and Bajura have been hit hard by rains. Sindhupalchok district appears to be the most affected, with hundreds of houses under water as the Melamchi River gushed into markets and settlements, destroying houses, displacing thousands of people, with several missing and some possibly dead. The areas affected by floods are also mostly the same areas affected by the 2015 earthquakes. Before the rains, Nepal had seen its worst wildfire season with nearly 2,000 raging fires.
While floods are categorized as a natural disaster, such disasters are exacerbated when areas are plundered for resources and houses and road are built along fragile slopes. Furthermore, mountainous districts such as Manang receiving heavy rainfall and floods, despite being a dry region is worrisome say meteorologists. According to them, the rainfall patterns during the pre-monsoon months of March to May need to be analyzed to understand the cause. However, there is little effort in recognizing these hazards that may arise from a system or its environment, documenting their unwanted consequences, and analyzing their potential causes. Therefore, the loss of life and property is also a display of the government’s failure to plan responses to such disasters despite Nepal being a country highly vulnerable to such geophysical calamities.
Nepal’s daily tally of new infections has been steadily going down after lockdown like prohibitory measures were implemented in the Kathmandu valley and districts showing high levels of infections. However, the highly infectious new AY.1 variant of Covid-19 has also been detected in swabs of infected individuals collected by The National Public Health Laboratory from various places across the country. Earlier in May, highly infectious sub-lineages B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.1 were confirmed in Nepal and found responsible for a new surge in the infection. Public health experts called for scaling up tests especially in rural areas where the outbreaks have been alarming. Experts have also said that infections, severity and deaths should be viewed simultaneously and tests must be scaled up, stressing that while declining number of infections and deaths could be a sign of recovery, when viewed in isolation, these numbers can also be misleading when assessing the overall impact of the virus. However, the government’s plan to conduct mass antigen tests across Nepal to identify clusters and hotspots, failed to receive support from the public. Analysts suggested that, prohibitory orders, fear and lack of awareness among the public is responsible for the poor public participation in the antigen testing campaign.
Experts in India and the UK have suggested that the third wave of the pandemic which can hit its peak between October-November is underway, adding that the threat of new strains emerging and causing infections to spread faster also looms large. Such news comes as a major concern for Nepal, given low vaccination coverage, the government’s lack of efforts to diversify sources of vaccines, the complacency of the general public, and extending the lockdown no longer viable. The country is still struggling to contain the second wave of the pandemic and authorities are unprepared in the face of the threat of a third wave. Despite there being many lessons to be learnt from the first wave of the pandemic, the Nepali government resorted to politicking, delayed responses, mixed and false messaging, denial, and lack of serious intent to consider the advice of experts.
The double hazard situation that Nepal is currently in has hit the community as health and emergency systems are under more pressure. This situation also runs the risk of an increase in the infections among displaced individuals. As Nepali politicians continue to engage in one upmanship, the Covid-19 pandemic and an unforgiving monsoon continue to wreak havoc in the country, making it difficult to keep an optimistic view of the future for Nepal.