Monthly Analysis: March 2021

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MONTHLY ANALYSIS

March 2021

Table of contents:

A. Domestic Politics: Mahesh Kushwhaa
B. Governance: Shaleen Shah
C. Federalism: Phiroj Chaudhary
D. International and Foreign Affairs: Ajaya Bhadra Khanal
E: National Security and Climate Change: Shuvangi Poudyal.

A. DOMESTIC POLITICS 

1. Timeline of Important Political Events in March, 2021

1.1 The Communist Party(ies):

Dates and events:
March 3:
Nepal Communist Party (NCP)’s central committee meeting decides to remove Subash Nembang from the party’s standing committee.
March 5:
Dahal-Nepal faction’s parliamentary party meeting chooses Dahal as the leader.
March 7:
The SC decision in Rishiram Kattel’s favors revives CPN–UML and CPN–MC, scrapping up their merger.
March 12:
PM Oli faction’s meeting unilaterally stripped off all party positions and responsibilities of Madhav Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal faction’s leaders.
March 15:
PM Oli meets Khanal and Nepal, meeting ends in confrontation.
March 16:
PM Oli calls Dahal over phone, proposes an in-person meeting.
March 17:
The Khanal–Nepal group calls for a national convention of its party workers; the convention decides to launch an internal struggle against PM Oli.
March 18:
PM Oli calls a parliamentary party meeting, establishes a 27-member parliamentary board, decides to amend the parliamentary party statute; Khanal and Nepal do not attend the meeting.
March 20:
PM Oli-led central committee meeting of the CPN–UML asks explanation from Madhav Nepal, Bhim Rawal, Surendra Pandey, Ghana Shyam Bhusal, and Ram Kumari Jhakri for working against the party; the meeting passes the amendment to its parliamentary party statute, making the party chief all powerful in appointing/removing leaders and lawmakers.
March 29:
PM Oli suspends leaders Madhav Nepal and Bhim Rawal from CPN–UML’s general membership for six months.
March 30:
Khanal and Nepal issue a joint statement accusing Oli of conspiring to end the Communist movement overall; PM Oli issues a party directive requesting all to play their roles in expanding, strengthening, and improving the party without being involved in factional politics.

1.2 The Janata Samajwadi Party Nepal (JSPN):


Dates and events:
March 10:
Dahal meets JSPN leaders to discuss the formation of an alternative government.
March 12:
JSPN holds a meeting with NC and proposes a coalition government of NC, CPN–MC, and JSPN; Deuba stays indecisive.
March 23:
PM Oli meets Mahantha Thakur, Rajendra Mahato, Sarbendra Nath Shukla, and Laxman Lal Karna, signaling a willingness to address JSPN’s demands.  
March 29:
The government forms a dialogue team to address the party’s demands, which includes Resham Chaudhary’s release.
March 30:
The government starts official dialogues with the Tharu Welfare Society, sidelining JSPN.

1.3 Miscellaneous:

Dates and events:
March 4:
Nepal government–Biplab’s three point agreement.
March 6:
Deuba claims he is not in the race to be the PM.
March 7:
The Lower House of the Federal Parliament convenes for the first time after the House reinstatement.
March 16:
President Bhandari calls an all-party meeting; PM Oli hints at dissolving the parliament again

2. Analysis

In a recent interview, a local ward chairperson shared his frustration about the ongoing crisis in his party, “I am from Madhav Nepal’s faction of the CPN–UML, and I will continue to support him. But if he chooses to go with the CPN–Maoist Centre and Prachanda, I will support KP Oli.” This statement of the local communist leader reflects the most basic flaw of the communist unification and the reason why the merger went down the drain so soon. The CPN–UML and CPN–MC had merged neither with a full preparation and confidence of their lower level committees nor according to an ideological convergence of the parties. Instead, a select few top leaders had made the decision based on their whims and personal political interests. However, the Supreme Court’s decision to revive CPN–UML and CPN–MC and the former’s ongoing factional politics has given rise to an interesting polarization till the lowest levels of the party committees; like the ward chief quoted above, several others identify themselves with the CPN–UML and its party ideology of ‘Multi-Party Democracy.” The communist merger was shoved down their throat, and they were forced to work alongside their Maoist rivals; in some cases, they had to compromise with their power and leadership. To such leaders, this ‘split’ must feel like a relief. However, the party’s factional politics is not. While they may be aware of PM Oli’s unilateral and undemocratic moves and his attempt to hijack the party, they are not in the favor of siding with Dahal or even forming a new clueless party in Nepal’s leadership. 

CPM–UML leader Madhav Nepal is aware of this conundrum and understands his current position in the party. The SC’s March 7 decision put Nepal in a precarious position by destroying an anti-Oli Dahal-Nepal alliance that had gained considerable strength, leading a paranoid Oli to dissolve the parliament. Now that the parliament is reinstated and the NCP is split into CPN–UML and CPN–MC, the Nepal faction can neither break away from the Oli-led CPN–UML nor side with Dahal, who now leads the third largest party in the parliament. While splitting the party will cost him his beloved party’s name and electoral symbol, siding with Dahal without a party split no more remains an option. Helplessly, therefore, he continues to launch internal struggle campaigns against PM Oli, who has not only tightened his grip on the party but has also ‘punished’ Nepal and his loyalists. 

In early March, in the aftermath of the parliamentary reinstatement, the NCP’s Dahal-Nepal faction was making decisive moves to remove Oli from the prime minister; the faction had registered a no-confidence motion in the parliament, chosen Pushpa Kamal Dahal as the new parliamentary leader by removing Oli, and removed Subash Nembang from the party’s standing committee. However, the supreme court shattered their dreams when it decided to take the NCP to its pre-merger state. Some even saw the SC’s move as influenced by Oli, for it elevated the prime minister’s position in the party and the parliament. After the NCP’s split and a resulting breakdown of the Dahal–Nepal alliance, Oli suddenly had a majority within the parliamentary party and its central committee. The disgruntled leaders from his rivals factions were limited to forming parallel committees and holding factional meetings, without any clear outcome in their favor. Instead, PM Oli went ahead and suspended some of them, including Madhav Nepal, from the party for six months. 

Besides its internal politics and power struggle, CPN–UML’s role as the ruling party is in a precarious position as well. With the party intact, it has 121 members in the parliament, 17 sort of a simple majority to form (or save) the government. Despite Dahal’s disapproval of Oli, though, the CPN–MC with 53 MPs has not withdrawn the support yet. After the SC’s March 7 decision, therefore, the current government is constitutionally a coalition between the CPN–UML and CPN–MC. 

It would not be far-fetched to claim that almost all rival political parties and leaders, including CPN–UML’s Nepal and Khanal, want to bring down Oli. However, the road to that end does not seem as easy as the numerical calculation might suggest. While they all might want to bring Oli down, they have their own factional rifts and other implications preventing them from making a clear stance. For instance, the main opposition Nepali Congress, until recently, had not made a position about whether the party would like to form an alternative government. The Janata Samajwadi Party Nepal (JSPN) is riddled with its own factional divide, with one willing to join the government conditionally, while the other is steadfast about not joining Oli’s government at any cost. The CPN–MC has its own concern, discouraging the party to withdraw from the government. 

Why the CPN–MC has not withdrawn its support from the government yet begs a question first. But to understand that, one needs to look into the possible consequences of Maoist Centre’s withdrawal from the government. If Dahal’s party does withdraw its support to Oli, Oli will have to seek a vote of confidence or will face a no confidence motion. If he does not get the confidence, he will try to dissolve the parliament again and go for early elections, as he has already hinted. It is also likely that Oli may get confidence from the JSPN, the Madhes-based party he has been courting lately. Dahal is neither willing to lose to Oli in this tussle nor prepared to go to early elections in June-July, as he lost some of his prominent leaders, including Ram Bahadur Thapa, to Oli. Therefore, Dahal seems to be waiting for a certainty from other parties that a vote of no confidence against Oli can be launched successfully. 

Nepali Congress showed little interest in making its intentions or strategies clear in the beginning. NC president Deuba was criticized for being indecisive, while his rival faction led by Ram Chandra Poudel was fixated on bringing Oli down. Some speculated that Deuba was working in close coordination with Oli, in favor of early elections. Deuba’s intentions were evident, as he moved ahead with the understanding that early elections, while its rival communists are divided, would prove favorable for Nepali Congress. The move, however, is not all that altruistic; through a good electoral performance under his leadership, Deuba wants to change his tarnished image in the party and go down as a successful president. In the most recent turn of events, though, the NC has finally made its position clear—to lead a coalition government with the support of CPN–MC and JSPN. 

Will the JSPN be able to overcome its factional differences and decide to accept NC’s leadership? The JSPN has two factions: one with leaders of leftist/communist background and the other with those of democratic background. These factions also roughly represent their pre-merger party allegiances—the Samajwadi party led by Upendra Yadav and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and the Rashtriya Janata Party led by Mahanth Thakur and Rajendra Mahato, respectively. While the former is adamant on bringing Oli down, the latter is willing to extend support to Oli in exchange of their demands being met. In fact, PM Oli claims to have made progress in the government’s talk with the JSPN leaders. A faction of the JSPN leaders see their current ‘kingmaker’ role as an opportunity to get their demands addressed, one of which includes their lawmaker Resham Chaudhary’s release. A divided party and the leaders’ differing priorities means the JSPN could even split, but 16 lawmakers of the Mahanth Thakur faction will be enough to save PM Oli. 

Given the JSPN’s uncertainty, forming an alternative government in NC’s leadership is difficult. An Oli–JSPN alliance is not easy either. If JSPN splits and brings Oli the number to save his government, he could still face internal challenges from the Khanal–Nepal faction. Most parties and leaders seem to have accepted that an early election is the only way out of this political mess. However, a road to early elections is not that clear and easy either. The current parliament would have to be dissolved for that. In order to dissolve the parliament, though, PM Oli needs to be in minority and all other ways to form an alternative government would have to be shut. The parties’ and leaders’ games, trickeries, and mere indecision indicate that the political drama will be dragged for some time. 

B. GOVERNANCE 

The Impact of the Maoist Centre–UML Dispute on Governance

In the 2017 elections, the UML had won 121 seats whereas the Maoist Centre had won 53 seats. The two parties had merged to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in February 2018. However, on March 7, 2021, a supreme court decision ruled the merger decision of 2018 as illegitimate, citing Clause 6(e) of the Political Parties Act-2017, which says that a new party cannot be registered if its name and emblem resemble those of another party. Hence, the Maoist Centre and UML returned to their pre-merger states. The Election Commission had given a chance for UML and Maoist Centre to merge within 15 days. However, neither party showed interest, and the deadline elapsed.

The Election Commission needs to decide which party members represent in the federal parliament. However, the federal parliament can only recognize either UML or Maoist Centre candidates but not the merged Nepal Communist Party (NCP).

In three years, since the 2017 elections till Oli dissolved the House in December 2020, 16 NCP leaders were elected to the upper house and one to the lower house. Since the Maoist Centre’s Central Committee plans to remove those who sided with Oli, incumbent ministers who get removed will also lose their ministerial posts, as their lawmaker status would be stripped off automatically. These ministers would need to be reappointed if Oli wants them to continue. The constitution states that the new minister would need to become a member of the federal parliament within six months.

The CPN–MC’s Central Committee asked 23 of its members, including Minister for Home Affairs Ram Bahadur Thapa, Energy Minister Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, Minister for Industry Lekh Raj Bhatta, Minister for Urban Development Prabhu Sah and Minister for Labour and Employment Gauri Shankar Chaudhari, for clarification of their party allegiance. The party plans to remove those who side with Oli. Thus far, none have made any public statements, but Top Bahadur Rayamajhi said that he would continue with UML.

If ministers lose their positions, the respective ministries will be left without the needed leadership before someone is appointed, so the ministries’ functions would be affected. After a new minister is appointed, he/she would need to become a member of the federal parliament within six months as per the constitution, so this is another process that needs to be completed for the ministries to run smoothly.

On March 12, Oli held a Central Committee meeting without inviting Nepal, Khanal, and their supporters. During the meeting, the Central Committee gave Oli powers such as the authority to recall lawmakers elected under the proportional representation system and appoint members to the party’s standing committee.

Factional leaders have argued that this meeting was illegal, as it did not include all the Central Committee members. Article 68 of the party statute states that if 51 percent of the Central Committee is vacant, the Central Committee will automatically be dissolved. If such a situation arises, the remaining members would need to call a national representatives’ council and form a central organization committee within six months.

In this case, Oli tried to avoid Nepal and Khanal in order to usurp power from the Central Committee. Article 68 of the party statute is a barrier against such actions, however, Oli would technically be able to dodge the statute if less than 51 percent of the Central Committee is vacant. In order to prevent state actors from taking advantage of the law based on technicalities, the laws themselves can be revised accordingly.

In conclusion, smooth governance is being affected, or will be affected, because of the Maoist Centre and UML dispute in several ways. Firstly, since the federal parliament can only recognize either UML or Maoist Centre candidates but not the merged Nepal Communist Party (NCP), candidates are confused about which party they represent. Furthermore, if the Central Committee removes those who side with Oli, the removed will also lose their ministerial posts. This will create a lack of leadership in the respective ministries for some time until new ministers are appointed, or if the old ones are re-appointed by Oli. The newly appointed minister will also need to become a member of the federal parliament within six months. Furthermore, Oli holding a Central Committee without inviting Nepal, Khanal, and their supporters may trigger a Central Committee dissolution according to Article 68 of the party statute. If this happens, the party’s functions would be on hold until the remaining members call a national representatives’ council and form a central organization committee within six months.

C. FEDERALISM

Government’s Capital Expenditure Still Sluggish

The three tiers of governments—federal, provincial, and local— have failed to spend sufficient capital budget (development budget) in eight months of the current Fiscal Year (FY) 2020/21. The government’s capital expenditure was not only disappointing but the weakest of the last three years. The latest data of the Office of the Audit General (OAG) revealed that the government has not been able to spend even a 1:4% (25%) capital budget in eight months. The government’s sluggish capital budget expenditure signals that the capital budget will be spent at the end of the FY. In the last two or three FYs, the government was found to have spent 15-20% of the capital budget at the tail end of the FY. 

Budget Implementation at the Federal Level 

According to the OAG, the federal government spent just 38.72% of its budget in the first eight months of the FY. It has spent 22.58% of the capital budget and 48.03% of the recurrent budget. At a point where it should have spent more than 75% of the budget, it has not spent even the half. Instead, as the government failed to spend the targeted sum, the Ministry of Finance reduced 20% of the budget. The Ministry of Finance’s decision shows that it accepted the fact that the government was ineffective in spending the budget. 

Budget Implementation at Provincial and Local Levels

According to the OAG, all seven provinces have failed in effective and timely expenditure of their budgets. Like the federal government, the provincial governments also spent sluggishly on their budgets, which is unfortunate for the country’s development. As reported, among the seven provinces, Karnali Pradesh, with 13.4%, spent the lowest budget–10.86% of capital budget and 16.72% of the recurrent budget. Similarly, Gandaki Pradesh also spent only 24.98% of its budget within the first eight months – 27.78% of capital budget and 20.95% of recurrent budget. Meanwhile, Sudurpaschim Pradesh spent only 20% and Lumbini Pradesh spent 33.35% of their capital budgets.

Rest of the provincial governments have a similar situation in terms of budget expenditure. Moreover, the office of the Chief Minister and Council of Ministers (OCMCMs) in all seven provinces have spent just one or two percent in the eight months. For example, Gandaki Pradesh spends only 1.44%, while Karnali spent just one percent. Only four months remain until the completion of the current FY. However, seeing the  overall expenditure pattern, it can easily be assumed that the local governments have also spent little. As an example, local levels of Kailali spent only 36.6% budget in the first eight months of the current fiscal year. 

Hasty and Unprepared Inauguration of Development Projects

On April 3, Prime Minister (PM) Oli inaugurated 165 road projects without any preparation. According to the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Department of Road, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Detailed Project Report (DPR), and Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) related issues were not complete before the inauguration, which means the government only showed weightless programs. The road division also informed that the DPRs of not even a dozen road projects were complete, when the PM rushed to inaugurate them. Such activities emerge from delayed and unsustainable development, and it can be fatal for a long time in the development sector. 

Moreover, on March 14, the government forwarded blacktop road projects and PM Oli inaugurated the ‘provincial and local roads construction-related program’. The program aimed to connect the municipality-rural municipality’s center to the national road with blacktop. However, out of the 753 local levels, only 470 blacktop roads so far, and the remaining 283 local levels have not accessed the blacktop road.  

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli claimed that Nepali is achieving quick progress in the development sectors. But, the data from the Financial Comptroller General Office (FCGO) show that the country is spending its development budget quite sluggishly. So far, the government has been able to spend only 22.58 percent of the development budget (capital budget) during eight months of the current fiscal year 2020/21. 

As the recent trend and data of budget expenditure demonstrate, it can easily be assumed that development has not picked up as claimed by the PM. Infrastructure experts share that despite high potential in infrastructure development throughout the country, a slow expenditure of the capital budget (development budget) has led to a sluggish development.

It is clear that the governments will again try to haphazardly spend the budget at the tail end of the FY. Due to the lack of a concrete action plan, the government is unable to push forward the development projects efficiently. Besides, there is also a lack of coordination among the three tiers of government, which not only affects development but also leads to an increase in corruption and irregularity.

D. International Relations and Foreign Affairs

1. Nepal’s Foreign Relations

While Nepal’s connectivity plans with China has hit a bottleneck, its regional integration process with BBIN and BIMSTEC appears to be moving ahead. A report released by the World Bank in March claimed that seamless transportation facilitated by BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement has the potential to make the sub-region an economic growth hub. The MVA was signed in Bhutan in 2015 and has been ratified by Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. Current agreement limits Indian trucks to no more than 24 hours in Nepal. Bangladesh has agreed to allow Nepal access to its ports through rail, road, and waterways as it wants to turn into a multimodal connectivity hub for the region, including Nepal. Similarly, BIMSTEC meetings have recommended signing of various legal instruments including the BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. The upcoming summit later this year is expected to sign an agreement on connectivity among others. The ambitious master plan will cover air, sea and land connectivity. Supported by ADB studies since 2007, the Masterplan identifies about 66 seamless multi-mode transport projects that include Kolkata-Birgunj and Kolkata-Kathmandu links.

Nepal’s connectivity with China has suffered bottlenecks. One of the issues with the transit is that the border points have been closed frequently by China and the flow of goods and people has been restricted. As a result, Nepal’s exports to China through the border has almost dried up. Another is with the slowing down of the construction of the dry port in Timure, which has been halted for three months. However, China’s long term interest is to open up an important passageway to South Asia to connect Tibet with it. Therefore, any slowdown in connectivity projects between Nepal and China will be temporary unless geo-strategic interests influence Nepal’s relations with China. India has turned to BBIN and BIMSTEC as regional mechanisms after differences with Pakistan over the SAARC grouping. India’s look east policy is also supported by Japan and the US.

2. South Asian Affairs

2.1 Beijing Olympics and Dalai Lama

A coalition comprising of activists representing Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong, and Chinese democracy campaigners are gearing up efforts to boycott the Beijing 2022 winter Olympics. This may generate pressure on Nepal to crack down on potential protestors as in 2007 and 2008. The US government has stated that China should have no role in the succession of Dalai Lama and is willing to impose sanctions if it does so. The Modi government, meanwhile, is likely to take a stronger stance on the issue compared to the past. The US had signed a law to push for a consulate in Beijing and selection of Dalai Lama’s successor by the Tibetan Buddhist community. India frequently deploys the Special Frontier Forces (SFF), consisting of Tibetan exiles, along its border with China.

2.2 India and China Relations

India and China have disengaged at the north and south banks of Pangong Lake, easing tensions.  China is insisting on “peaceful negotiations” to resolve the “historical problem.” There were indications that India was easing restrictions on Chinese companies (eg, suppliers of telecom equipment of 5G networks). Similarly, India and Pakistan have agreed to cease-fire starting from February 24/25. Meanwhile, Chinese PLA’s Xinjiang Military Command has commissioned a new type of amphibious armored rescue vehicle for operation in high altitude plateaus like the Galwan Valley. China perceives that India is growing closer to the US since the Doklam standoff.

In 2020, India imported goods worth $58.71 billion from China. “From 2016 to 2019, China’s start-up investments in India jumped from $381 million to more than $4.6 billion.” Relations between India and Pakistan appeared to have improved with Pakistan easing restrictions on imports from India and communication between the two Prime Ministers. A Goldman Sachs-backed cyber-intelligence firm, Cyfirma, told Reuters that a Chinese hacking group APT10, also known as Stone Panda, had targeted two Indian vaccine makers: Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India (SII). China refuted the report.

2.3 Pakistan and Afghanistan

Pakistan and China celebrated 70 years of diplomatic relationship in March 2021. Major elements of the Sino-Pak relationship is symbolized by the CPEC flagship project. About $25 billion have already been spent and another $40 billion is in pipeline. Like Nepal, Pakistan has supported China on critical issues like Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Countries like Uzbekistan find Pakistan’s Gwadar port an attractive option. Meanwhile, US withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan lessens its dependence on Pakistan (ie, maintaining presence in Afghanistan required cooperation with Pakistan).

3. International Relations and Strategic Affairs

3.1 The Quad

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s visit to Asia, including India, gave a powerful message to China about the US priorities. However, Chinese experts felt that India did not complicate Indo-China relations as it tried to “avoid taking sides.” The first leaders-level meeting of Quad was held in March 2021. The Quad has negatively affected India’s relations with China and Russia. The Financial Times reported that the US was working with Quad members (Japan, Australia and India) to develop a plan to distribute vaccine in Asia, intended as an effort to counter China’s influence. The Quad was upgraded to the leaders’ level after Biden became the US president.

There have been discussions about a military alliance between the US and India, which will have a significant impact on regional security. Thaw in US relations with China will also have an impact on India-China relations, as India’s role in the US strategy to contain China may be reduced.

China describes the Quad as Asian NATO, a reference to the Cold War security mentality. China has perceived “more frequent exchanges” between India and US lately; it wants to dissuade India from taking sides with the US. As a response to potential US threats, “the PLA is now increasing the frequency and intensity of its military exercises.”

3.2 China’s Strategic Responses

The Biden administration is rebuilding alliances and creating a united front against China. The US has continued a tough stance by punishing officials in Hong Kong. US efforts to bolster cyber security are linked to Russia and China’s progress in emerging technologies like 5G, blockchain technology, and digital currency. The UK published a security review in March 2021 outlining plans to expand influence in the Indo-Pacific in order to counter China’s potential threat. Chinese experts dismissed the review as a “fantasy” and a mere “war of words.”

China has responded in multiple ways—increasing defense spending, bolstering defense, controlling rare earth, intensifying diplomacy, and building alliance with Russia

China is likely to maintain a “steady” increase in defense spending as it is likely to be supported by robust economic growth. As the US considers China as a strategic threat, China is also enhancing its combat readiness. Its technological advancements include a new type of training system, a much advanced third aircraft carrier, H-20 long-range stealth bomber, warship-mounted electromagnetic rail guns, Type 09V nuclear-powered attack submarines, and Type 09VI nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.

China’s contribution to global supply of rare earth dwindled down to 58 percent in 2020. However, as global competition for rare earth intensifies, China has instituted new measures to protect and tighten regulation of rare earth production. Similarly, Chinese embassies in 20 countries announced special visa considerations for people taking Chinese vaccines.

A major agenda during Russia’s relations with China is how to counter US sanctions, which “weaponizes” the power of the US dollar. The two countries are interested in building broader alliances (eg, BRICS) that can push forward a process of “de-dollarization.” The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to China in March highlighted another major agenda: the role of Russia in offsetting the Quad.

E. National Security and Climate Change

Covid-19 and Air Pollution

Haze engulfed the Kathmandu valley as a result of forest fires occurring across the country during a dry and thus fire-dangerous season, making Kathmandu the most polluted city in the world on the afternoon of March 25. As the air quality reached hazardous levels, people began complaining about experiencing symptoms such as burning eyes, itchy throat, and breathing difficulties. 

Nepal has been experiencing hot and dry conditions, receiving only 25 percent of normal rainfall in the season, which create drought like conditions and give rise to severe cases of wildfires. The situation became so dire that the government of Nepal shut down all educational institutions, forcing millions of students to stay at home. Although the move was a clear acknowledgement of the severe impact of pollution on health, it is a reactive short-term solution which does not sufficiently address the environmental and health crisis, thus displaying failed public health and environmental governance.

The environmental catastrophe comes amidst rising number of Covid-19 infections, adding to the existing challenges of the Nepali government. The government’s handling of the pandemic so far paints a grim picture. Health experts have suggested that the rise in number of cases has been exacerbated by the depleting air quality in the valley, as air pollution is known to cause respiratory diseases and the virus also specifically targets respiratory organs. Air pollution is known to raise risks of diseases such as cancer, asthma, stroke, and high blood pressure, making the current conditions more worrisome for a health system that is already buckling under the pressures of a pandemic. 

Forest fires cause colossal damage to ecological systems and landscapes that support diverse array of livelihoods. The livelihoods of over three-quarters of all Nepalis are based on agriculture and forest resources, and almost 65 percent of agriculture is rain-fed. Yet only 21 % of Nepal’s area is cultivable, and the irrigable agriculture depends on the types of local surface sources, most likely to be affected by erratic rainfall. Climate change has a direct impact on Nepal’s ability to produce food for its population. Lack of surveillance mechanisms has escalated the threat of wildfires and other natural disasters that result in colossal loss of life, habitat, and property. 

Although climate change is a global issue, the varied and long-term impacts on countries like Nepal are largely unknown because of the limited number of studies conducted in the region. While wildfires have become more intense and frequent in recent years, the response to tackle the disaster remains insignificant. Responses to climate change impacts require plural institutions, and approaches must pursue incremental solutions at local, regional, and national scales. Climate change has become a problem we can no longer ignore; designing and implementing effective strategies to adapt to short term and long term climate change impacts is the need of the hour. Nepali authorities need to pay close attention to warnings, and put in place monitoring mechanisms based on extensive scientific advice that would allow for planned responses. 

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