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[Our experts have the floor] Interview with Shalav Rana, Karuna Shechen’s country director in Nepal.
Shalav Rana is the country director of Karuna-Shechen in Nepal. He hasover 15 years of experience working in a non-profit sector in Nepal, and has two master’s degrees in Sociology and Communications from Nepal and the UK. He has travelled around the world and extensively within Nepal and has worked with people from many backgrounds.
On April 25th and May 12th 2015, two earthquakes ravaged Nepal, killing more than 9,000 people in the country.. The destruction of their homes resulted in the internal displacement of more than two million people seeking shelter, food and medical supplies to help the injured. This 12th of May marks the fifth anniversary of the disaster that caused so much damage. Much remains to be done to succeed in fully rebuilding what was destroyed and some populations are still in distress. It is in these painful circumstances that Covid-19 appeared, leaving the country in great uncertainty. In many ways, the covid crisis will similarly impact Nepal as the 2015 earthquakes did, explains Shalav Rana.
“The two crisis are different in nature, but both are unwelcome and will be damaging. The earthquake forced us out of our houses. We were living in tents, together with our neighbors, and in open spaces for up to 2 months as we continued to have powerful aftershocks that really shook our houses, and created tremendous mental torture. COVID has forced us indoors. Kept us away from talking to our neighbors as we locked ourselves up in our homes. I think long term, economically at least, COVID might really cripple Nepal. ”
We have to prepare ourselves for a difficult deconfinement regarding both health and food security :
“In the earthquake, 10,000 lives were lost instantly. So far, no one has died of COVID in Nepal. However, people will suffer from both mental and physical conditions in the lockdown as we stay in the same place. There have been cases of abuse filed by wives, and physical violence. As the whole family is indoors, it’s women who end up working more as they do most of the house work. Every time a crisis like this hits, it’s mostly women, elderly, and people who are economically challenged that suffer the most“.
The year 2015 was also an economic disaster for the country. In addition to the redirection of funds towards the reconstruction of the country, Nepal had faced a white tourist season: the sector did not turn at all that year. The tourism sector is particularly important in Nepal, in 2017 it represented 7.8% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. The government had put in place a big plan to restore tourism and was to launch the “Visit Nepal 2020” program. This was without counting on the arrival of Covid-19 in the country and the containment that followed it. Nepal is now facing a second white season with the closing of Mount Everest, and the blocking of international flights.
“Regarding the economy, it will suffer very badly. More than 5 million Nepalese work abroad. They send remittance home, and 25% of Nepal’s economy is dependent on it. But with COVID crisis, this will largely diminish. In other aspects, like trade, manufacturing, and expansion of physical infrastructure, Nepal will suffer very much like the rest of the world. ”
In addition to the economic danger due to the complete stop of tourism, many people have lost their jobs with the temporary closures of all businesses. At the moment the government is distributing food, only to permanent residents however, thus excluding all internal migrants who are among the most in need of this aid.
“In big cities like Kathmandu, people who are poor have suffered a great deal from the lockdown. They are what we call – daily wage laborers. They depend on going to work every day, and eking out a living. As there is no economic activity during the lockdown, they basically don’t have any money and nothing to eat. Many of these laborers have returned to their villages, where hopefully, they have a house and a small amount of land to farm.“.
Indeed, after the announcement of the confinement, Nepal has faced migration to the countryside similar to India (See article migrations in India).
Over the past 5 years, Karuna-Shechen has implemented many actions to respond to the distress of the most destitute inhabitants in the face of earthquakes. We have set up a quick and efficient response to help 58 mountain villages for their reconstruction. More than 210 000 people have benefitted from our help in 2015, and still to this day, we are committed to maintaining our support and relationship with them. In 2019 we have distributed 2800 flyers about disaster preparedness and trained 649 people to first aid in Nepal. Through different rehabilitation projects, we have insured education, food and sanitary security, installed solar electricity and implemented disaster preparedness programs.
“In the earthquake, we reached the remotest of the villages and connected with people we had not seen and heard from before. In fact, the whole of Nepal was united. We learnt to work from our hearts and selflessly. Everyone suffered, and we all cried together. We promised to build together and build back better.“.
Our activities being stopped since the 23rd of March, we are preparing the opening as soon as the lockdown is finished
We are aware of the problems on the ground and we are already preparing for the future. Our actions will be implemented as soon as we are authorized to resume our activities when the deconfinement is announced.
“We have to kick start our activities immediately. But at the same time, we have to be careful about how active we become bearing in mind the spread of the virus, and how villagers are careful and cautious about it. So we really need to plan this carefully. In the first week [of deconfinement the 18th of May], we will re-evaluate all the program, re-plan, and see how much we can achieve this year. […] We will be looking to see how and where we can help people affected by the virus.“
In these difficult times, we have to look to the future and decide which kind of the world we want to build after this worldwide crisis. It is time to change, evolve and think in a more altruistic way.
“In this current era we are confronted with many challenges. One of our main consists of reconciling the demands of the economy, the search for happiness, and respect for the environment. These imperatives correspond to three time scales – short, middle, and long term – on which three types of interests are superimposed: ours, the interests of those close to us, and those of all sentient beings” ~ Matthieu Ricard, Plea for altruism
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