What Nepal’s policymakers and government must consider

By Milan Katuwal, University of Louisiana Monroe
12 April 2020

In a fast-changing world, we must learn and adapt to the changes taking place around us so that we can survive and sustain in the face of the unknown. This is somewhat like the popular phrase, “survival of the fittest,” derived from the Darwin’s theory of evolution that describes the mechanism of natural selection. According to the theory, the survival and continuity of life are determined by its capabilities to compete, adapt, and grow. Life itself is a process of continuous learning. It is therefore important for humankind to constantly expand knowledge and skillsets in response to the ever-changing world.

The same notion holds true with political leadership as well.

In a world filled with problems and challenges, we need a leadership that is capable of formulating clear solutions and navigating through the darkest of days. Leadership in today’s world shouldn’t be about two elderly party leaders claiming superiority over each other based on their personal sacrifices for the political party. Rather, it should be about their problem-solving and management skills.

Political leaders play a central role in contemporary democracies. Clearly, leaders are not only viewed as key decision-makers who develop and amend policies and shape government strategies, but also as key integrators, prominent public communicators of government action and the main repositories of public faith. In this light, we must altogether analyse the jobs done or not done by Nepal’s top political leaders – prime minister, health minister, finance minister, lawmakers and party leaders.

Nepalese government’s weak command and response

Nepal has been in complete lockdown since March 23rd. As the lockdown rolls into its third week, everyday life has undergone drastic changes as people remain confined to their homes. The original purpose of lockdown was to limit the spread of coronavirus and focus on ramping up our testing capabilities, identifying people with symptoms, isolating them and treating them. However, Nepal has not taken full advantage of the lockdown, and delays in testing have set back the country’s response to the increasing coronavirus threat.

Nepal’s parliament has been put off amid government’s efforts to fight the COVID-19 spread. As such, the MPs have lost their forum to voice their opinions and concerns to the government. In such a scenario, the government should run a ‘digital or virtual parliament’ and conduct committee hearings for effective communication and consolidated response.

In the meantime, there has been a controversy about the Nepalese government’s decision to purchase essential medical equipment from China through Omni Business Corporate International without any competitive bidding. There were also serious concerns over the price and standard of the materials. Lack of transparency, hint of irregularities and above all, PM’s reluctance to probe into the matter is infuriating as well as it is concerning.

Risk Management Institution

When disasters hit, our normal operations are jeopardized. Therefore, there is a need for an alternative mechanism and service structure that is tested, regulated and is on always standby so that any emergency situations are better tackled. In the US for instance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under the Department of Homeland Security coordinates the federal government’s role in preparedness, prevention, mitigation, response and recovery in all domestic disasters – whether natural or man-made such as acts of terrorism. Amid the ongoing coronavirus spread, FEMA has been working under the directions of the Whitehouse Coronavirus Task Force, alongside the US Department of Health and Human Services and other federal partners to coordinate with state and local governments. Together, they execute a national response to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Nepal also needs such institutions ready to serve, rescue, and protect its citizens in the time of need.

Nepal ranks among the top 20 nations that are the most vulnerable to natural and human-induced hazards. To be specific, Nepal ranks 4th in global comparison in terms of climate risks, 11th in terms of earthquake occurrence and 30th in terms of flood occurrence. The policymakers and the government for sure haven’t investigated much into these matters. If they had, our nation would have institutionalised a National Council on Disaster Risk and Management a long time ago.

Nepal enacted the Disaster Risk and Management Act in 2017 that repealed and replaced the Natural Calamity Relief Act of 1982. The act aims to protect public life, property, cultural sites and heritages and minimize loss during a disaster by facilitating the cooperation of national and local authorities.

It is a matter of both shame and disbelief that a nation with such a fragile geography doesn’t have solid plans and policies to keep its economy and people safe in the event of major disasters. It clearly manifests lack of political will and competence of Nepalese leaders.

If we already had a national institution for risk management in place, we would have been better prepared to fight the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. We could act more efficiently and simultaneously mobilise non-governmental and private sectors for a coordinated national effort. The institution could effectively formulate disaster medical assistance teams comprising of nurses, veterinary, pharmacists, doctors, forensic services among other medical experts. The council could support a search and rescue committee to mobilize volunteers at local levels and conduct mass testing in larger volumes. The institution could have trained concerned personnel and first responders for trying times such as this.

Relief on the most vulnerable

Nepal should primarily focus on helping the most vulnerable citizens in these difficult times. The government must take care of the poor communities first and send relief to remote settlements. Everyone needs help during crisis, but it is the isolated families that suffer the most. Everyday workers whose earnings have come to a grinding halt due to the necessary lockdown need instant relief packages.

At some point, the government must focus on engineering action plans to face the oncoming economic downturn – as all countries across the world already are. The closure of international borders and travel bans may not be lifted immediately even after the pandemic is over. The tourism sector along with the aviation industry, mountaineers and hospitality businesses are sure to be hit hard for an indefinite period of time. The government needs to promptly formulate strategies in order to subsidise investors, small business owners and entrepreneurs and protect them from possible bankruptcies that often follow major disasters of this magnitude.

(Originally from Nepal, the author is a student at the University of Louisiana Monroe. He is pursuing his degree in Construction Management, majoring in Risk Management and Insurance.)

Author is solely responsible for facts, figures and opinions presented in this article – Editor.

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