The coronavirus COVID -19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time. Cases are rising daily in Africa, the Americas, and Europe. It also has the potential to create devastating social, economic, and political crises that will leave deep scars around the world. Nepal is starting to suffer the most abrupt and widespread cessation of economic activity. The impact has already started and will only worsen in the coming days.
Impact on tourism
Tourism is one of the biggest and fastest-growing sectors in Nepal. However, it would be unwise to discount its vulnerability. This sector depends on the psychology of the people and regaining people’s trust to travel again after the pandemic. Everyone was excited about Visit Nepal 2020, and the country was hoping to attract two million tourists. But things turned out to be very different.
Tourist destinations like Pokhara, Kathmandu, Lumbini, Chitwan have become shadows of themselves, and countries have issued travel restrictions. Travel agencies, hotels, airport taxi drivers, restaurants, and tourism events will all be shuttered. Concerned tourism authorities need to come up with initiatives to help the tourism sector recuperate swiftly after the pandemic. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, arrival of international tourists could decline anywhere between 20 to 30 percent globally.
Remittance is Nepal's lifeline
In the last FY 2018-2019, remittance contributed 29 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The country received a total of US$ 6.4 billion in remittances from as many as 189 countries in FY 2018-2019, an increase of US$ 65.4 millions. About 78.9 percent of the total remittances are spent in daily consumption, and 7.1 percent in repaying loans, 4.5 percent in household property, 3.5 percent in education, and 2.4 percent in capital formation. According to official estimates, around 4.5 million Nepalis are migrants; with their loved ones relying on them for financial aid.
India, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, UAE, Romania, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait are some of Nepal’s major labor destinations. Most of them employ Nepali workers, but now with lockdown in place, businesses are shuttered. Their joblessness hits out consumption patterns hard.
Impact on migrant workers and employment
Thousands of the poorest are now desperate for money and food. Sending the migrant workers back to their home countries might be a temporary solution but larger challenges are yet to come. How will the jobless workers survive after this pandemic? We need to accept the abnormality of the challenge and the government should make sure cash and food are provided to the poorest? The workers are in a fear that “hunger might kill them before the virus does”.
Impact on Nepali students
A majority of the universities and educational institutes have adapted a new medium of teaching. The use of video conferencing apps like Zoom, Google meet are in effect. Service of learning is in continuation, even if examinations and projects are on hold. But our case in Nepal is different. Students from rural areas have no alternatives to classroom learning, therefore halting their learning processes.
Another impact will be on Nepali students who are studying abroad. An official document from Nepal’s education ministry states that more than 300,000 students are studying in various universities around the world. A lot of these students partly earn from small jobs and the rest of the expenses are borne by their parents back home. And both of these sources are in crisis.
In order to flatten the curve of infection, a majority of the host nations are under lockdown, and universities and colleges have been shut down. Non-essential businesses are shuttered and employment opportunities for essential businesses are rare, small day-to-day jobs are out of hand causing limited employment opportunities for the students. Nepali students are seeking their government’s help in deferring payment of tuition fees and rent and raising the ceiling on the amount their parents can send them.
The education ministry has asked the Nepali students studying abroad to contact the concerned embassies. But the financial aid request to the host government has to be initiated by the Nepal government. Relief programs or the option of returning home should be taken into consideration.
It is time to unite and show solidarity and cooperation. We can only make a stronger nation if we all help each other during these unusual times.