Pandemic offers rare opportunities for sustainable transformation, a study report saysWhile the Covid-19 pandemic affected people and pushed back achievements of the past, the crisis also offered lessons for the future.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought the entire world to a halt like never before in recent history. Countries sealed their borders for outsiders and enforced lockdowns, confining people to their homes for months.
The disease, which has so far sickened over 100 million people and killed more than 2.31 million worldwide, also brought economic hardship—many businesses were forced to fold up and millions of people lost their jobs. The situation was no different in Nepal, where more than 2,000 people have already lost their lives to Covid-19
Tens of thousands of Nepalis lost their jobs at home and abroad. The economic ramifications of the pandemic have been particularly hard for a country like Nepal.
But it is not all doom and gloom, according to a recent study report.
Despite all of its negative consequences on social, economic, and environmental systems, including Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the report suggests the pandemic has come up with silver linings for countries like Nepal.
The report points out that while the pandemic put a halt to everyday life worldwide, it also opened new avenues for sustainable transformation for the future.
“The Covid-19 pandemic should not be seen merely as a crisis. It can also be an opportunity, just like the 2015 earthquake worked as a stimulus for the promulgation of the constitution,” said Prajal Pradhan, the coordinator of the study. “The pandemic made us rethink our approach to development and reflect on our development practices.”
The researchers of the study have concluded that five key impending factors—lockdowns, underemployment and unemployment, closure of facilities and institutions, diluted focus and funds for non-pandemic issues, and anticipated reduced development support—behind the negative impacts of the pandemic for Nepal.
The findings of the study suggest that the Covid-19 pandemic left negative impacts on most of the SDGs, but it also offered a rare opportunity for rethinking development practices, preparing for future crises like the pandemic and building back better for future.
“The crisis not only brings challenges but can be an opportunity as well—the opportunity of working together for producing evidence to support policymaking, like this study where everyone took part voluntarily,” Pradhan, a senior scientist with Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told the Post over the phone from Potsdam, Germany.
For the study, nearly 400 Nepali researchers had come together to assess the pandemic’s impacts on SDGs for Nepal. Experts with various professional backgrounds were asked to take part in the study.
“Everyone talked about challenges that have come with the pandemic. But the pandemic can work as a positive impetus for inspiring behavioural changes,” said Raju Pandit Chhetri, another co-author of the report. “The pandemic has also shown some good outcomes for the environment, wildlife, land, food security and other sectors. Environment and wildlife experienced much-needed relief when there were no public movement and tourism activities.”
A UN Policy Brief in August last year said the pandemic has left devastating impacts on all the 17 SDGs and threatens all the achievements made in many areas in the past.
Even before the pandemic, the world had been making progress—albeit uneven—towards the global Goals, and required accelerated actions in most areas. The world was off track to fulfil the SDGs and then the Covid-19 pandemic further threatened to reverse progress made on SDGs.
The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020 concluded that no area has been spared the effects of the pandemic and called for more firm commitments from countries.
“Impacts of Covid-19 pandemic were seen in Nepal, especially on the economy. But there were also positive impacts on the food security, agriculture and environment sectors,” said Chhetri, a climate change activist and executive director of Prakriti Resources Centre, an NGO that works for sustainable development and environmental justice.
“The public learned the value of food, stopped wasting, started kitchen gardening. People even went back to villages and started farming on barren lands. The pollution level was down with closure of vehicular movement and industries.”
The study suggests that the pandemic offered transformative opportunities in the form of lessons learned for planning and actions; socio-economic recovery plan; increased use of information and communication technologies and impetus to the digital economy; reverse migration and ‘brain gain'; and local governments’ exercising authorities.
“The general public was buying less from outside and relying more on locally produced items. We also saw the people were taking up vegetable farming and tilling their uncultivated farmland. The government also increased the budget for the health, agriculture and employment sectors,” said Chhetri. “There were also stories of people helping each other. There was also the realisation that resources like food, water, clean air and others should not be wasted and agricultural land should not be left untilled.”
Tens of thousands migrant workers returning home could be an opportunity for absorbing the labour force for available opportunities within the country, according to the researchers. Likewise, they say improved air quality during the lockdown months should work as motivation for keeping the air clean throughout the year
According to Pradhan and Chhetri, one of the most important takeaways for Nepal during the pandemic has been the role of local-level governments in dealing with crises like the Covid-19.
“If not all, some local governments had taken successful initiatives,” said Pradhan. “It shows that if federalism is implemented efficiently and the capacity of the local governments is strengthened, they can play a crucial role in dealing with similar crises in the future.”
However, the study has cautioned that the window of opportunity for sustainable transformation is short-lived and will only get narrower over time.
“The realisation of becoming self-sufficient for resources have come to the public after the pandemic. The pandemic taught us some harsh lessons. The main thing is we should build up on these lessons, so we remain prepared for something similar in future,” said Chhetri.
According to the researchers, associated with the study, the stakeholders must be attentive in capitalising on the transformative opportunities for recovering from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic before rebounds occur.
“For example, if the public has learnt hand-washing, then the state must ensure everybody has access to enough water. For catching up these new opportunities in the wake of the pandemic, there have to be policy interventions for institutionalising them,” said Pradhan. “If we can utilise these opportunities, then our future will be transformed more sustainably and we can build back better.”
Nepal showed an impressive record in achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Now, the Covid-19 has pushed back several accomplishments and there is a risk of Nepal lagging further behind if urgent actions are not taken before rebounds occur following past development trajectories, according to the study.
“If we do not start now, the country will not be able to meet Agenda 2030, as one-third of the time for achieving the SDGs has already passed,” said Pradhan. “If we do not step up now, then the remaining ten years will not be adequate to meet these global goals. The time is to act now.”