Saturday, 16 January, 2021

Fighting COVID-19 At The Local Levels

Mukti Rijal


Nepal’s fight against coronavirus appears to be successful going by the count of the people infected, isolated, treated and recovered. The number of those found infected has been 41 so far with reportedly milder symptoms. Four of those diagnosed as infected have been tested negative which means that they have survived fight against the deadly virus. Though the number of the infected may increase in the days to come, combat against the virus is being managed successfully. The success in containing the virus and preventing it from making an invasive foray into larger rural communities has been appreciated from all quarters.
The people did reportedly face hunger and harassment while commuting for many days along the way to cover long distance. In fact, sub-national entities especially local government, civil society and media have witnessed and brought to fore sufferings and the pains of the people returning to their home to unite with their families at this time of difficulty. These agencies prevailed upon the central authorities to humanise, relax and liberalise blanket approach executed to enforce lockdown. Following cautious and selective relaxation of lockdown provisions specifically targeted to salvage the stranded people, local governments have come forward to extend support to the people to fetch them to their destinations by arranging meals, accommodation and transportation.
Local governments have made appeals and supported the people in need to avail the provisions of support made available on their behalf in their respective jurisdictions to ease their difficulties though some of them are yet to be connected. Some municipalities like Bardaghat (Parasi district), Butwal, Sainamaina (Rupendehi district) and Banganga (Kapilvastu) through which the Eas-West Highway runs to connect western end of Nepal to the east have been very active to trace the stranded commuters to arrange meals and reach them to their respective home towns and villages. In fact, thousands of people from far western remote hills and plains of Nepal do migrate to the central and eastern part of Nepal including the capital city Kathmandu for seasonal and regular employment. Since these wage earners and seasonal labourers have been retrenched or laid off due to lockdown coupled with the shutting off the vehicular movement, they have been bound to trudge along the roads and highways that pass through these municipalities.
Their activities have been reportedly coordinated by member of state Parliament (Pradesh Sabha), especially Bishnu Panthi who represents Kapilvastu district constituency in Pradesh-5, one of the centrally located and relatively prosperous federal units in Nepal. Likewise, Mayors forum, a network of municipalities in Kathmandu, has been active to support the vulnerable people through different service arrangement. Municipalities in Kathmandu valley have identified and extended support to urban poor who are rendered bereft of any income for their subsistence due to halt in development activities. Local governments whether they are in far off hills or the urban areas have risen to the occasion to respond to the challenge of corona crisis. They are actively working in close coordination with federal and state (Pradesh) governments to respond to calling of the emergency situation to head off the crisis.
News reports do indicate that the local governments are jolted tempestuously into action in reaching out support to vulnerable individuals – the elderly, children, wage earners and frontline health workers disproportionately impacted due to economic consequences of the lockdown. Executive Director of the National Association of Rural Municipalities in Nepal (NARMIN) Bimal Pokharel recounts that the local governments especially in remote western hills of Nepal have supported in tracing, contacting and bringing the people coming from outside in quarantine facilities which is making the tasks of rapid diagnostic test easier and effective. Though some of the facilities may not satisfy the standards set by the central health agencies, creating such facilities extensively in the remote terrains using local resources, community halls and schools has not been a mean task. Local governments have created corona relief fund and mobilised support from different quarters to strengthen their vault to meet the expenses.
Though demographic size and capacity of 753 local governments in Nepal vary from one to the other, most of them have demonstrated their motivation and determination to serve their constituents in time of crisis, says Pokharel.
Balkrishna Acharya, chairman of the Malarani Rural Municipality concurs with Pokharel and articulates that we are committed to ensure that the people in communities are thoroughly protected. We have launched mass education campaign to practice essential preventive measures such as social distancing, hand washing, and coughing/sneezing etiquettes and so on. This has made everyone in the communities aware of the norms related with personal hygiene to avoid contamination. According to chairman Acharya, his rural municipality has set up quarantine facilities almost in every ward and those coming from outside are required to stay in them.
Relief support is also provided to those groups of people who are identified as vulnerable. Malarani Rural Municipalility has its own cororna relief fund to meet the expenses to fight the disease. Agreeing with Acharya, chief administrative officer Bishnu Gharti says that the rural municipality has made arrangement for rapid diagnostic tests for suspected people in its own jurisdiction.
Behind the success of Nepal’s fight against Covid-19, credit should definitely go to the active role of local governments- recognised and entrenched as important sphere in the constitution of Nepal at par with state (Pradesh) and federal government. However, there is a need to strengthen them to address their institutional, technical and administrative capacity deficits to make them more functional and effective pursuant to the transformative promise of the federal constitution.

(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. 

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