Dr. GEETA KOCHHAR JAISWAL, New Delhi, 25 march,2020. With Nepal facing the greater risk of Coronavirus, there is tension, panic and fear among its
citizens. As a 19 year old girl returning from France is confirmed of carrying the virus, the government resorted to strict measures to stop all international flights, close borders with both India and China, and called for national lockdown. However, there is a wave of unhappiness among the masses with some even resorting to protests and rumours flow high.
In a situation where both its neighboring countries — India and China, have been affected by the Coronavirus disease, the small state is burdened with dual responsibility: one, of protecting its citizens within its borders and making arrangements for returning nationals without the spread of
the disease in Nepal; two, to find solutions for the healthcare of those infected though having limited resources and facilities. Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi has clearly articulated China’s support, both moral and material, to assist Nepal; while Indian PM has called upon all SAARC countries to join hands with its USD 10 million fund commitment. Yet, the larger issue remains as to what needs to be done for the long term stability of the state and protection of
individuals in Nepal. China’s dealing with the national epidemic, especially in its minority nationality areas, provides lessons for Nepal.
Small State: Challenges of Healthcare and Human Security
In small States with minimal resources, public health care issues are always a challenging task. The State neither has ample facilities, nor able to deal with any epidemic or disaster on its own. When the demand for healthcare is accentuated with external factors of trans-border transmission of diseases, States find it hard to cope up as there is greater dependency of resources on other big powers. The survival of these states therefore is directly proportional to the aid and assistance
provided by other big powers, especially if their own economy is not strong and self-sufficient. There is high risk of loosing the internal stability of the State and possible surrender of State power into the hands of outside forces, if the country is already fragile and lacks strong leadership to dissolve issues on its own. On a larger frame, this also means that the State becomes vulnerable to loose its sovereignty and control over its resources if the issues at home are not dealt with caution.
In case of Nepal, it has high degree of reliance on India for its medical needs, whereby many of its citizens travel to India for major diseases. In fact, few years back, many of the doctors in Nepal were trained in India. In recent years though, other countries, especially China is also a popular destination for medical students and Nepal looks at China for all its financial needs. However, the
global pandemics, especially spreading in India and China, poses greater risks for Nepal, which has a huge population traveling, working, and living in both India and China for various reasons. Over the years, this dependency has created an asymmetrical relationship of Nepal with its neighboring powers, whereby Nepal has tried to maintain the tricky balance between the two strong
neighboring powers – India and China – for all its existential threats. The problems in Nepal are multiplied due to a large presence of communities having deeper ties with Indian state on the one hand; and on the other an equally large numbers of Tibetans residing in Nepali territory. This creates a space of internal disharmony within the state that is already dissatisfied with the state power over various unequal treatments and additional demands for citizens’ rights.
As the news of greater turmoil spreads across globe, Nepal had to take some serious steps to restrict the inflow and outflow of the populace, though it was all prepared to launch the Visit Nepal 2020 activities on a large scale, which was designed to attract nearly 2 million tourist to boost its economy along with plans to invite foreign direct investments to create a business friendly environment. Tourism is one of the most important industry fetching high revenue for Nepal, with more than 250 thousand tourists from India and nearly 170 thousand tourists from China in 2019. By the first week of March, Nepal halted all trade, tourism and personnel exchanges between Nepal
and bordering region of Tibet.
As the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced on March 11 that Coronavirus, technically called Covid-19, has reached alarming levels of ‘spread and severity’ requiring governments to take urgent and aggressive actions, a meeting of the Cabinet Ministers chaired by Prime Minister K P
Sharma Oli decided to close both the international borders from March 23 onwards. This was accompanied by the government decision to send a list of mobile ambulances, testing kits, ventilators, monitors to both India and China as Nepal has a shortage of equipments and resources;
while announcing a nationwide lockdown. With Nepal’s measures in place, there were equally strong measures in India with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for 21 days National lockdown where already 30 states and Union Territories were on lockdown; while China had already restricted the inflow of people to China. However, such measures of States has resulted in a surge of Nepali citizens returning back for fear of the virus outbreak blowing out of proportions, especially from India. The closure of India-Nepal border has left many in a mayhem at the border to the extent that many are stranded at the border and some even protested at the Gauriphanta border crossing in Kailali. There are issues of human rights concerns and international laws that guarantee protection of citizens, whereby many Nepalese are questioning the responsibility of the state. Even though international human rights law guarantees each and every individual the right to the highest attainable standard of health care and obligates governments to take preventive steps to safeguard the public health, Nepal is faced with the issues of which citizens are its priority? Human
rights law also recognizes that in case of public emergencies posing danger to the nation, restrictions on certain rights is justified for limited duration without being arbitrary or discriminatory and respectful of human dignity. However, as Nepal disregards and restricts its own citizens entry into their motherland, people are questioning the very basis of human rights law for a Nation that is part of the International human rights convention.
The issue then is whether Nepal places human security of individuals at the heart of human rights or violates these norms under the pretext of pandemics. The issue is also of certain class of populace being devoid of these rights as most of the returnees are low class labour or temporary workers that often cross border in search of livelihood. This is conflated with discrimination against certain
communities and regions that are devoid of reasonable healthcare facilities, though Nepal lacks infrastructure and resources for the current pandemics.
China Model: Stability of Minority Nationalities and Regions As Priority
Nepal is often seen as learning or adopting Indian policies and actions, and or in recent years implementing Chinese ways. For a pandemics of grave nature, India is also learning from other countries’ experiences; while making indigenous action plans. However, as China has undergone a critical phase in dealing with the Covid-19, especially in limiting the spread of the virus to minority nationality areas without threatening its stability, there are lessons for Nepal and other countries.
Interestingly, Tibet only had one confirmed case of Covid-19 and that too was reported cured. Similarly, Qinghai had 18 cases and Gansu seven cases, all of these were reported as cured. Now the issue is why there was so less mortality rate in these areas? And how did the State control the spread of virus to other minority nationality areas?
If we see the actions taken by the Chinese government, it is clear that since January onwards, the government came into active action mode. There was rapid action on segregating the populace and restrict the areas of mobility of the populace, especially in Tibet area. Alongside, large pool of medical workers were employed with good amount of equipments to ensure the health of ethnic
population. The government also provided free medical facilities for the poor; while there was timely and proper dissemination of information.
Interestingly, Chinese government used collective mobilization strategy to deal with the situation. According to a report on March 5 published by Zhao Erzhao on Tibet Network, the Information Office of the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in its sixth press conference announced that Tibet received donations of above 200 million yuan in cash and kind
along with government funds, which included nearly 1.07 million masks of various types, more than 11,000 pieces of protective clothing, 34 sets of infrared thermal thermometers, nearly 3700 handheld infrared thermometers, 2300 goggles, nearly 210 thousand disposable gloves, nearly
17,000 liters of medical alcohol, and more than 33,000 liters of disinfectant. The mobilization of resources were both from the province and outside the province, with Tibet internally generating more than 120 million RMB of donations through Red Cross society of TAR, Youth Foundation of TAR, and various committees and offices of the municipalities of TAR. Stability of the minority regions is always the top priority of the Chinese leadership as it poses the
threat to integration of the Chinese state. In order to contain the trickling effect of unhappiness and dissatisfaction of the masses on the pretext of survival threat, the local and provincial government mobilized human resources to strengthen the awareness of the disease and raise the consciousness of the masses. State invested large sums in healthcare equipments and provided essential goods
including food, milk, medicine etc. There was also psychological support by keeping a check on extreme reactions and feelings of estrangement; while opening official channels of reporting and curbing the spread of rumours.
Nepal is the 19th largest receiver of remittances with reported 784 billion NPR in the last fiscal year from both skilled and unskilled workers. It can also generate resources by mobilizing the communities within and outside of Nepal. However, if Nepal is unable to provide for the welfare of its own citizens, this will have a spilling over effect on the long term. If Nepal wants to come out as
a winner in the fight against the pandemics without loosing its democratic structure, it has to show commitment for the welfare of the masses with a human touch. Strict provisions that hamper the daily lives of the ordinary masses, especially isolating and excluding certain communities or regions, especially Terai region, will only weaken the central powers and pose challenges to the legitimacy of the government in power.
By:- Dr. GEETA KOCHHAR JAISWAL
Jawaharlal Nehru University