The UK must help NepalThe British Parliament discusses Nepal's Covid crisis after Nepalis organised a petition.
By the end of the first wave of Covid-19, Nepal had lost around a thousand lives. This mortality rate was much lower than that of many other countries worldwide. Some attributed it to chance theory, but many linked it to the immunity of the Nepali people. Even Prime Minister Oli proudly acclaimed the strong Covid resistance of the Nepali population at large. The truth, however, started unfolding to us since the beginning of April when the second wave made its way, raising the death toll to an alarming 6,000-plus.
The wake of the second wave was not devoid of scientific observations either. Addressing the Britain-Nepal Academic Council, Prof Sharad Onta of the People’s Health Movement stressed border management as an important strategy to break the chain of community transmission. Prof Padam Simkhada of Huddersfield University made a timely address to the Society of Nepalese Engineers in the United Kingdom, illustrating Nepal’s infection and death rates as being higher than that of an already in-focus India.
At the community level, the UK Nepali diaspora is consistently communicating with field workers, policymakers, potential donors and various other mechanisms to channelise support to Nepal. Almost all the 300-plus Nepali organisations based in the UK have fundraised remarkably to provide the needed financial push to various beneficiaries across Nepal. The diaspora has supported various local campaigns to build oxygen plants and isolation wards, but more reliable data on geographical priority is always a challenge for remote administration.
In response to the oxygen supply crisis which emerged early on, NRNAUK, in coordination with the Embassy of Nepal in London, is on a mission to turn the distributed effort to a collective one with an aim to deliver a bigger impact. All these efforts are quite welcome. However, what we are lacking so far is the UK government’s concrete plans to help Nepal with the more deadly second wave.
Regardless of their wealth, everyone in the world should be vaccinated to be safe from Covid-19. It is a no-brainer that by helping to control the virus anywhere else in the world, we are stopping the disease to make a potential impact in our immediate surroundings too. This pandemic is an answer to why global alliance is the only way forward to save humanity across borders and beyond regions. Steered by Gavi, the vaccine alliance, COVAX is the only facility that has been established by the World Health Organisation towards this cause, to which, one of the major donors is the UK.
COVAX aims at delivering 2 billion doses worldwide by the end of 2021, out of which, Nepal is allocated a mere 1 percent. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), out of the 1,920,000 allocated doses of COVISHIELD, an initial consignment of 348,000 doses were received by Nepal on March 7. Nepal has already administered two-thirds of the received vaccines, but those receiving full dose are still under 2 percent of the population. At the current rate, Nepal will be needing the remaining consignment of 157,000 doses by mid-June, which, even when delivered in full, nearly 94 percent of the Nepali population will be deprived of full immunisation. As such, the existing provision through the global alliance is almost negligible, at least for Nepal.
As the second wave is nothing sort of any end to this pandemic, vaccination for the long term and oxygen supplies for the current surge are of the highest priority. All eyes are hence set on every little progress at the diplomatic level. Now is the time for the 200-year-old Britain-Nepal relations to advance to the next stage. This often-celebrated history can translate into a promising future for Nepal before its Covid death count surpasses that of the 2015 earthquake.
Throughout the month of May, Nepal, climbing the peak of its second wave, triggered an unusual movement among the UK Nepali diaspora. Asking the UK Parliament to initiate debate on Nepal’s Covid crisis, at least two different online petitions gained momentum. One of them neared 10,000 signatories including the likes of popular actress Joanna Lumley and actor Michael Palin. Desperate signatories penned messages on the petition emphasising the dire need for the UK to support Nepal immediately. Many organisations wrote to the state secretary and mobilised their members to write to their local Members of Parliament individually, highlighting the situation in Nepal and why it's high time the UK offered some help.
From May 19 onwards, the representatives of each constituency replied to most of these letters individually with proper acknowledgement and further promises of consideration. Eventually, May 20 saw the House of Lords in the UK Parliament stirring with active debate by Lord Lancaster, Lord Ahmad, Lord Campbell-Savors and Lord Popat which concluded with a commitment to send an assessment team to Nepal early next week. Some local British media later hinted that this team would comprise the Gurkha battalion.
Friends of Nepal
Friends of Nepal in the UK are just not happy yet. Prof David Gellner of Oxford University says, 'Seeing all the aid for Nepal arriving from Spain, the USA, and elsewhere, I am very disappointed that the UK government has not stepped up and done more.'
Prof Surya Subedi of Leeds University says, 'The situation in Nepal is very dire with infections spreading rapidly in the rural areas. I strongly appeal to the community to do their utmost to assist Nepal by supplying Covid vaccines without much delay.'
Prof Michael Hutt of SOAS University says, 'Helping Nepal—the only country, I think, whose citizens fight and die for Britain—is the very least the UK should be doing internationally.'
The Covid Alliance for Nepal in the UK, an informal collective of UK-based Nepalis and Brits, is particularly concerned about the time the UK has taken to respond to the situation in Nepal, whereas the same has not been the case with India. Representatives of the UK government, both in Nepal and the UK, have listed the UK’s contribution towards the oxygen generator at Nepal Police Hospital and overall COVAX distribution. Besides being wrongly timed, these responses are not even specific to the current surge. An aeroplane full of emergency testing and treatment equipment and vaccines is what Nepal desperately needs without any delay.