By Yoko Okura, Sajan Neupane, Bikram Rana
COVID-19 is a serious risk for flood vulnerable communities in Nepal as the monsoon season begins in earnest. Confirmed cases have doubled in a week to total over 1,000. Although the number is yet relatively small, the country is at high risk of an outbreak due to the international movement of Nepali migrant workers. As the pandemic impacts jobs globally, up to 600,000 migrant workers are predicted to return to Nepal in the near future. In March alone, close to half a million workers returned from India without any screening. Asymptomatic cases are also prevalent, and only one percent of confirmed cases displayed symptoms at the time of diagnosis. As cases rapidly rise, Nepal’s health system is not equipped to deal with an emergency. The country ranks 111th in the Global Health Index and has only three beds per 1,000 people.
COVID-19 has devastated the country’s economy reliant on remittances and tourism. Remittances, which contributed to 25 percent of the GDP in FY 2018/2019, are expected to drop drastically as a result of weaker earnings and travel restrictions for Nepalis seeking jobs overseas. The tourism sector has come to a complete halt, leading to significant impacts on jobs. A reduction in economic activity within the country has also severely affected workers of the informal sector who make up more than 70 percent of the total workforce.
In this context, the monsoon season will start. Eighty percent of Nepal is vulnerable to multiple hazards, with flooding one of the most frequent and devastating. Severe flooding in 2017 affected 1.7 million people and caused damages amounting to 585 million USD, equivalent to three percent of Nepal’s GDP. Floods cause people to congregate on higher grounds and seek safety in crowded evacuation shelters. Floods and their resulting impacts, such as loss of housing, damage to critical infrastructure including health facilities, congregated sheltering, and exposure to contaminated water, can further exacerbate socio-economic conditions of communities.
Most of the devastating floods in recent years have occurred during the monsoon season, between June and September. Governments and communities must now prepare considering the additional risks from COVID-19. Mercy Corps and Practical Action, members of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, conducted an assessment of 46 Community Disaster Management Committees (CMDC) across 5 districts to understand the state of flood vulnerable populations and provide recommendations for governments, donors and communities to better prepare for the coming monsoon season and the compound risks caused by COVID-19.