The Impact of COVID-19 on Households in Nepal: Fifth round of mVAM Household Livelihoods, Food Security and Vulnerability Survey 2021 (October 2021)

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I. Highlights

The findings from the fifth round of the survey show an improvement in the overall food security situation, compared to 2020 and June 2021. In October 2021, 14.1 percent of households had inadequate food consumption and nearly 1 percent of households had poor dietary diversity. In comparison, in April and December 2020 and June 2021, 23.2,16.8 and 15.4 percent of households had inadequate diet, respectively. Food insecurity prevalence has also returned to the pre-COVID-19 levels, when in 2016, 14.9 percent of Nepalese households ate inadequate diets1 . Similarly, 7.2, 1.7 and 1 percent of households had poor dietary diversity in the April and December 2020, and June 2021 surveys, respectively. The nutrition situation of children between 6-23 months of age, measured by minimum dietary diversity, while slightly improved compared to 2020, deteriorated in October 2021 compared to June 2021. The proportion of children not meeting the minimum recommended dietary diversity rose to 40.4 percent from 38.5 percent in June 2021 but declined from 45.9 and 42.7 in April and December 2020 respectively.

Similarly, proportion of households reporting lack of food to meet the needs of their family members dropped to 2 percent in October 2021 from 7 percent in June 2021.
Current levels are comparable to the results of the December 2020 survey, when 2.5 percent of households reported food insufficiency.

The findings further highlight distinct regional disparities and large differences in food insecurity across different provinces. Food insecurity remained high in Karnali and Sudurpaschim provinces, with 19.5 and 18.8 percent of households consuming inadequate diet, respectively, while in Bagmati province 11.0 percent of households had inadequate food consumption. Household-level food insufficiency was more pronounced in Karnali, as reported by 4.6 percent, followed by Province 2 (3.2 percent). Bagmati and Gandaki had the lowest prevalence—both with 1.1 percent of households reporting lack of food to meet their needs. The relatively lower insufficiency for household food stock indicates that people often purchase food commodities in advance during festivals, together with harvesting season at the time of survey which normally increase the household food stock.

An upward trend in reliance on market purchase for household-level food sourcing was found, with more than 67 percent of households purchasing food from market, while nearly 33 percent of food source for household consumption was from their own production. The gradual increase in the reliance on markets for household food consumption could be an increasing trend of urbanization, contributed by increased road access and ease of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown as well as the festival seasons when people normally purchase food commodities from the market.

Despite the improvement in food security status, the survey findings continue to show the persistent adverse impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent widespread disruptions on livelihoods of Nepalese households. In October 2021, 33.2 percent of households reported a reduction in income and 5.4 percent job loss attributed to the COVID-19 pandemics. While this is an improvement compared to June 2021, when 13.5 percent of households reported a job loss and 44.6 percent a reduction in income, this is nearly 60 percent more than job loss and income reduction observed in December 2020.

Job loss was relatively more prevalent in Province 1 (8.9 percent), followed by Province 2 (7.9 percent) and Karnali province (5.3 percent). Income reduction was the highest in Province 2 (54.9 percent), followed by Sudurpaschim (38.9 percent) and Province 1 (36.3 percent). Moreover, nearly 3 percent of households adopted a negative coping behaviour to address food shortages, with coping strategies chiefly aimed at income generation.
This is a sharp decline compared to June 2021 and December 2020, when 10.9 and 7.4 percent of households adopted negative coping strategies respectively.

COVID-19 pandemic has had a more severe impact on certain types of livelihoods. The findings demonstrate that loss of income source caused by the COVID-19 crisis was found to be relatively more prevalent for livelihoods dependant on tourism, cereal-based agriculture and remittance, followed by daily wage in both off-farm and farm sectors. The most severe income reduction was experienced by livestock farming, tourism, daily wage labourers in the farm sector, followed by medium- and small-size businesses. Likewise, relatively higher proportion of job loss and income reduction was found among households having persons with disability and chronic illness.

Food insecurity was found to be more prevalent among certain types of income sources, primarily those relying on daily wage labour in off-farm and farm sectors and cash and high value crops, cereal based agriculture, and households depending on tourism sector.

Similar to the findings from previous rounds, the same socio-economic characteristics were found to be associated with food insecurity: households with low education levels, vulnerable households having persons with disability, and households living in rural areas were relatively more food insecure. Similarly, higher prevalence of inadequate food consumption was found among households in the lowest wealth quintile, compared to the higher ones, as measured by household assets.

The continued impact on job loss and reduction in income, as the proportion of households reporting job loss and income reduction were consistent and significantly associated with the impact of COVID-19 crisis over the period, again led to worsening of food security: inadequate food consumption and food insufficiency were more common among households that reported job loss and income reduction, compared to those that did not experience it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many spheres of the society. The findings show that increase in food prices was the major concern during the COVID-19 pandemics as reported by 25.8 percent of respondents, followed by reduction in income (14.5 percent) and disruption of education institutions (13.5 percent). The primary medical impact of COVID-19 pandemic—getting sick—was reported by 13.5 percent. This clearly highlights the secondary impacts of COVID-19 are of a greater concern for the Nepalese households than the primary medical ones. Additionally, more than 22 percent of respondents suffered from psychological stress due to both primary and secondary impacts of the pandemic. Nearly 2 percent of respondents raised safety concerns for women and girls when accessing hospital/health centres, markets and workplace.

Assistance to address the adverse effects of the COVID-19 was received by nearly 7 percent of respondents, either from government or non-government organizations. The most common form of assistance was food, followed by non-food items.

Regarding the primary health situation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey found that more than 23 percent of respondents reported to have at least one family member sick since the start of the second wave of COVID-19, of which 25.8 percent had a COVID19 test. Of these, 39.2 percent were found positive. However, the results show a sharp increase in the number of people getting COVID-19 vaccine. Out of a total of 85.6 percent households receiving vaccination, 41.7 percent of respondents reported all eligible family members vaccinated, while 43.7 percent of respondents reported having only some of the family members vaccinated. In contrast to this, nearly 15 percent of respondents did not receive COVID vaccine at all.

Though the survey findings indicate an improvement in food security situation, a significant proportion of population still remains food insecure, their livelihoods threatened by COVID-19 , and chronically vulnerable areas have high prevalence of food insecurity. The observed improvements in food security status can also be partially attributed to seasonality, as the festival season and summer crops harvest coincided with the time of survey. The survey findings also give palpable evidence of a significant proportion of Nepalese households being unrelentingly pressurized by COVID-19. While lower than in the first half of 2021, still a large proportion of population is exposed to income cuts and job loss. With dominant reliance of market purchase for food sourcing, negative coping predominantly aimed at income generation, this raises concerns about households’ ability to access food, and their overall capacity to withstand further shocks and precarious conditions.
Likewise, the findings from these surveys clearly indicate that the same types of households have consistently experienced more food insecurity since the beginning of the COVID-19 As a result, the above-mentioned socio-economic characteristic and livelihood types may be considered as predictors of food insecurity and livelihood stress, with the expected further worsening if presented with shocks. The volatile economy and slow growth rate, together with partial loss of summer crop caused by the unseasonal flooding during the peak crop season, will likely continue to pressure livelihoods and income generation beyond the most vulnerable groups. Ultimately, this may lead to deepening of pre-existing vulnerabilities, as well as further broadening of exposure to other parts of the population that would be normally less vulnerable.
Measures aimed at economic recovery, income generation and smooth access to food will be critical for mitigation of the adverse effects of COVID-19 on overall vulnerability of Nepalese households, deepening of vulnerabilities and creating newly vulnerable groups.