By Trijya Kafle
Along the banks of Tamakoshi lies a village called Bhatterchaur, home to hardworking and resilient Nepalis. Their lives are not equipped with fancy clothes and wealthy accessories, but they are happy in their own little world.
Every day the children of Bhatterchaur get excited to go to Amar Madhyamik Vidyalaya, a local school that educates about 150 children. Their love for the school stems more from the delicious food that it serves everyday (as free mid-day meals) rather than from the lectures.
Now that the school is shut keeping in mind the possible spread of COVID-19, these 150 kids are deprived of the healthy meal that they got to enjoy once a day, an indirect effect of the global pandemic.
Discussions emerging from the global pandemic have gradually started to shift towards global recession. With restaurants and air services being shut, Nepal has already begun to discern the aftermath of the pandemic through the rise in temporary unemployment.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli recently addressed the citizens where he acknowledged the global pandemic and communicated the government’s strategies to contain the virus. However, out of all the reactionary measures being undertaken, one key aspect that the Government of Nepal has failed to consider is the ramifications that Nepalis living at the bottom of the pyramid have to face due to this pandemic.
Although the pandemic has not engulfed Nepalis as of yet, a data reveals that Nepali citizens are living in a vulnerable sanitation situation. According to the report published by UNICEF, 3.5 million people do not have access to basic water services. These data are already daunting to begin with and coupled with the global crisis that we are currently facing, the situation demands urgent intervention from the government.
The idea that the global pandemic affects everyone equally does not hold true. This pandemic is going to inordinately hurt the poor. The labor force survey published by the Central Department of Statistics on 2017/18 identifies 31,338 people as forced laborers out of which 17 percent are children.
These workers are already weakened by the government’s inattention as well as sluggish economy. The situation is alarming as out of the total working population, only 17.2 percent of the labor force is entitled to paid sick leave and only 12.9 percent of them can work from home.
In a country where 18.7 percent of the population lives below poverty line and 41.5 percent of the labor force receives payment on a daily basis, it is unreasonable to expect them to self-isolate if and when things go south. The fear of their loved ones starving is more frightening to these workers than the virus itself.
Of late, Nepal government has drastically increased its strategies to address the global pandemic if and when it is to emerge in the country. Though washing hands and maintaining social distance are keys to prevent the spread of COVID-19, our data show that not many people can afford to do the same.
The situation demands a similar approach that the government took in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake. For example, basic foods and survival kits were rationed and provided to those in need. Fulfilling basic needs of the most vulnerable strata should be prioritized so that they can focus on curbing the virus’s spread rather than their daily jobs.
Government needs to realize that trivializing is not an option and basic needs of citizens residing in Bhatterchaur are equally important to those of the valley.