Thursday, April 30, 2020

Japan to support ADB developing member countries' response to Covid-19 challenges

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has provided several targeted interventions to support its developing member countries (DMCs) in combating the effects of the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic from its early stages. In support of ADB’s effort, the Government of Japan is committed to providing emergency support of $150 million through the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR) and the Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund (APDRF) to help DMCs strengthen their capacity to contain the spread of Covid-19.
“While ADB is collaborating with UN agencies and other development partners to provide rapid support to DMCs to quickly prepare for Covid-19, this funding from Japan will also help to strengthen country systems and ensure sustainability in the response to pandemics,” said director general of ADB’s Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department Woochong Um. “Strong health systems are needed to ensure robust disease surveillance, well trained and equipped health workforces, targeted evidence-based interventions, and sound clinical care.”
Following a $6.5 billion initial package, ADB announced on April 13 to triple the size of its response by adding $13.5 billion in resources to help its DMCs counter the severe macroeconomic and health impacts caused by Covid-19. The $20 billion package includes about $2.5 billion in concessional and grant resources. Japan’s contribution is on top of the package.
ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members, 49 from the region.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Nepal seeks immediate assistance from ADB

Nepal has requested Asian Development Bank (ADB) to provide immediate assistance amounting to $250 million.
Finance Minister Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada – talking on phone – requested ADB president Masatsugu Asakawa today to support Nepal in its fight against the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic. Asakawa, on the occasion, commended Nepal’s decisive actions to control the spread of the virus and manage its impact on public health and the national economy, particularly through the government’s $1.26 billion comprehensive National Relief Programme.
Nepal’s response aims at strengthening the medical system capacity, lessening the economic strain on individuals, especially the poor and vulnerable, and supporting businesses, which have been severely affected by the economic slowdown, claimed the Finance Ministry that has directed the enterprises to pay the salary to the employees – also during the lockdown – of last month and waive rent of the tenets without understanding the ground reality. Most of the employers have borrowed to operate the business, whereas most of the house-owners have also borrowed to buy or construct their house.
“ADB is committed to supporting the government’s needs in these most challenging times,” Asakawa has been quoted in the press note of the Finance Ministry. “We are accelerating the processing of a quick budget support loan with affordable terms and conditions to respond to the government’s request for assistance in strengthening the health system and mitigating the economic and social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Thanking ADB for its support, Khatiwada reiterated the Nepal’s strong commitment to carry out immediate containment measures, social protection for the poor and vulnerable, and economic support for the affected sectors of the economy. The government has imposed lock down since last 36 days to contain the spread of pandemic that is causing disruptions in industry and services. Nepal is losing all the sources of foreign exchange as tourism has been hit hard due to suspension of international flights, remittance inflow has decelerated due to lock down in host countries and falling exports due to closure of industries and transportation have been hit hard.
ADB has a strong track record of responding rapidly to support Nepal in times of emergencies and has already provided a $300,000 grant to procure medical supplies, in close collaboration with UNICEF. The grant will finance urgently needed and critical personal protective equipment to enable medical personnel to safely treat infected patients. Additional grant resources are being explored for expanding supply of essential medical goods to combat the outbreak.
In close collaboration with other development partners, ADB is accelerating its efforts in providing further support to Nepal from the expanded Covid-19 response package of $20 billion announced on April 13, with approved measures to streamline its operations for quicker and more flexible delivery of assistance, the press note reads.
ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members, 49 from the region.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

New UNFPA projections predict calamitous impact on women’s health as Covid -19 pandemic continues

As the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, the number of women unable to access family planning, facing unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence and other harmful practices could skyrocket by millions of cases in the months ahead, according to data released today by UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency.
The research reveals the enormous scale of the impact Covid-19 is having on women as health systems become overloaded, facilities close or only provide a limited set of services to women and girls, and many choose to skip important medical checkups through fear of contracting the virus. Global supply chain disruptions may also lead to significant shortages of contraceptives and gender-based violence is expected to soar as women are trapped at home for prolonged periods.
“This new data shows the catastrophic impact that Covid-19 could soon have on women and girls globally,” UNFPA executive director Dr Natalia Kanem said, adding that the pandemic is deepening inequalities, and millions more women and girls now risk losing the ability to plan their families and protect their bodies and their health. “Women’s reproductive health and rights must be safeguarded at all costs. The services must continue; the supplies must be delivered; and the vulnerable must be protected and supported.”
Some 47 million women in 114 low- and middle-income countries may not be able to access modern contraceptives and 7 million unintended pregnancies are expected to occur, if the lock down carries on for 6 months and there are major disruptions to health services. For every 3 months the lock down continues, up to an additional 2 million women may be unable to use modern contraceptives, it said, adding that some 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence can be expected to occur, if the lock down continues for at least 6 months. “For every 3 months the lock down continues, an
Additional 15 million extra cases of gender-based violence are expected.”
Likewise, due to the disruption of programmes to prevent female genital mutilation in response to Covid-19, 2 million female genital mutilation cases may occur over the next decade that
could have been averted, and Covid-19 will disrupt efforts to end child marriage, potentially resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages taking place between 2020 and 2030 that could otherwise have been averted, said the UNFPA that is working with governments and partners to prioritise the needs of women and girls of reproductive age and to respond urgently during the challenging public health emergency. “Our priorities are focusing on strengthening health systems, procuring and delivering essential supplies to protect health workers, ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services, and promoting risk communication and community engagement.”
The research was conducted by UNFPA, with contributions from Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University (USA) and Victoria University (Australia). Its projections were based upon recent UNFPA research into what will be required to achieve the organisation’s goals by 2030. For each estimate, researchers projected the direct impact of Covid-19 on the issue in question and combined it with the disruption to global prevention programmes caused by the pandemic.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Global e-commerce hits $25.6 trillion: UNCTAD

E-commerce sales hit $25.6 trillion globally in 2018, up by 8 per cent from 2017, according to the latest available estimates released today by the UN’s trade and development body, UNCTAD, at the start of its UNCTAD eWeek event.
The online event will explore digital solutions and policies to help the world recover from the coronavirus crisis. It runs from April 27 to May 1 and features dialogues among ministers, heads of international organisations, business executives and civil society representatives.
According to the UNCTAD analysis, the estimated 2018 e-commerce sales value, which includes business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, was equivalent to 30 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) that year.
"The coronavirus crisis has accelerated the uptake of digital solutions, tools and services, but the overall impact on the value of e-commerce in 2020 is still hard to predict,” said UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics Shamika Sirimanne.
The 2017 value of global e-commerce was estimated at $23.8 trillion, based on a revised methodology.
The value of global B2B e-commerce in 2018 was $21 trillion, representing 83 per cent of all e-commerce, comprising both sales on online market platforms and electronic data interchange transactions. “B2C e-commerce was valued at $4.4 trillion, up by 16 per cent from 2017,” it reads, adding that cross-border B2C e-commerce sales amounted to $404 billion in 2018, representing an increase of 7 per cent over 2017. “The United States continued to dominate the overall e-commerce market as it remained among the top three countries by B2C e-commerce sales, alongside China and the United Kingdom.”
The leading B2C e-commerce companies are based mostly in China and the United States. The world’s top 10 B2C companies in 2018 generated almost $2 trillion in gross merchandise value (GMV), according to the report.
Alibaba (China) was far ahead with a GMV of $866 billion in 2018, followed by Amazon (United States) with $277 billion. However, in terms of revenue, (China) and Amazon were ahead of Alibaba.
Developing and transition economies accounted for about half of the top 20 economies by B2C e-commerce sales. In relation to GDP, B2C e-commerce in these economies was the largest in Hong Kong (China), China and the United Kingdom, and smallest in India, Brazil and Russia.
Among the top 20 economies, the extent to which Internet users engage in online purchases varies considerably. For example, in 2018, 87 per cent of Internet users in the United Kingdom shopped online, compared with only 14 per cent in Thailand and 11 per cent in India. “More than 1.4 billion people shopped online and more bought from abroad,” it reads.
UNCTAD estimates that 1.45 billion people, or one quarter of the world’s population aged 15 and older, made purchases online in 2018, which is 9 per cent higher than in 2017. China had the largest number of online shoppers at 610 million, according to the report. While the bulk of online shoppers mainly bought from domestic suppliers, some 330 million online shoppers made cross-border purchases in 2018, a little more than one in five of all online shoppers.
The interest in buying from foreign suppliers continued to expand. The share of cross-border online shoppers to all online shoppers rose from 17 per cent in 2016 to 23 per cent in 2018.
“Still the number of online shoppers, while huge, is an indication of the scale of the digital divide and the future market potential of e-commerce, both of which need to be addressed,” Sirimanne added.
Today only half of the world’s 7.7 billion people are connected to the internet and its benefits. This limits the ability of many developing countries to use digital solutions to cope with the current health and economic crisis.

EU offers Rs 9.8 billion aid package to fight coronavirus

The European Union (EU) has announced an aid package of Rs 9.8 billion (Euro 75 million) for Nepal to tackle the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and mitigate its impact.
The support combines redirected existing commitments with new funds, granted in the form of budget support to allow the government direct and swift access to this financing, according to a press note issued by the EU Delegation to Nepal.
“In difficult times, the European Union is a reliable friend and partner for Nepal,” it reads, adding that the EU hopes that its contribution will support the efforts of the government to respond effectively to this crisis so that the impact on the most vulnerable is reduced. “International cooperation and solidarity are now more important than ever,” EU ambassador to Nepal Veronica Cody said.
Across the world, the EU is ensuring that partner countries are able to fight the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences. By combining resources from the EU, its member states, and European financial institutions, the EU has put together a ‘Team Europe’ package totaling more than Euro 20 billion to support its partners’ immediate health responses to the coronavirus, as well as their economic recovery, according to the press note.
In Nepal, the EU is mobilising Rs 9.8 billion (Euro 75 million), of which Rs 7.2 billion (Euro 55 million), is a reorientation of the existing funds and Rs 2.6 billion (Euro 20 million) represents a new commitment. “The EU’s support will be directed at two areas: assisting the Nepali authorities to respond to the immediate health crisis and boosting the country’s economic response and recovery," the press note further reads.
The EU will give Rs 1.6 billion (Euro 12 million) to support the government’s health and preparedness plan. These funds are being made available either by topping up resources for already existing projects focussing on the health sector or by reorienting resources to other projects that would integrate health-related activities and crisis response, including tackling gender-based violence. Similarly, Rs 8.2 billion (Euro 62.6 million) will support the government’s response to the social and economic consequences of the pandemic.
The press note also reads that although the government’s strict measures to trace, isolate and treat the virus have so far helped to contain the health crisis, such measures will, as in all countries worldwide, have a negative economic impact. “By stimulating the economy and labour demand, through support to people’s incomes, employment retention, and the extension of social protection programmes that assist the most vulnerable, the European Union (EU) hopes to assist the government’s economic recovery plan," the press note adds.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Government extends lock down till May 7

Though economy is battered due to more than a month long lock down, the cabinet today decided to extend – for the fourth time – the nationwide lock down until May 7, as recommended by the High Level Coordination Committee for the Prevention and Control of Covid-19.
Yesterday, the Health Ministry had proposed to either extend the lock down by a week or to recommend the provincial governments to take individual decisions on measures to tackle the coronavirus crisis but the cabinet today extended the lock down by 10 more days.
The government decided to extend the lock down in view of the new Covid-19 cases reported across the country, informed spokesperson for the government and minister for information and communications Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada.
Likewise, the cabinet has also decided to close border crossing points till May 13, while the international flights will also remain suspended till May 13.
The government had started lock down from March 23 – which has been extended twice as the last extension meeting its deadline on April 27 – to stop the spread of corona virus (Covid-19).
The cabinet meeting – held at the Prime Minister's official residence in Baluwatar – also concluded that the lock down has been very effective to prevent the spread of coronavirus across the country.
Nepal has 52 coronavirus cases including 16 cases of recovery as of today, according to Health Ministry.
On Sunday, the ministry confirmed three more cases of Covid-19, two in Parsa and one in Jhapa.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Flights suspension extended till May 15

The government has decided to halt the operation of international and domestic flights till May 15 as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19).
A meeting of the High-Level Coordination Committee for the Prevention and Control of Covid-19 – led by committee chair deputy prime minister and defence minister Ishwar Pokharel – held at Singhadurbar this morning – decided to extend suspension of the international and domestic fights until May 15.
Earlier on April 7, the high-level committee had decided to suspend all international flights to Nepal until April 30. Before that, the government on March 20 had decided to suspend all international flights from March 22 to March 31. The suspension was later extended until April 15.
The meeting – that took place at the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers – has also proposed to extend the lock down by a week, according to a member at the committee.
However, secretary at the Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers Narayan Prasad Bidari claimed that the meeting did not make any decision regarding the extension or easing of the lock down. “The meeting, however, evaluated all the efforts made to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Nepal,” he said adding that the cabinet meeting – tomorrow – will take the necessary decisions on extension of lock down.
The government had extended lock down – for the third time on April 14 – that will end on Monday, if not extended.
Since lock down in India has been declared until May 3, there is high chance that Nepal too will extend lock down at least for a week, also due to 1,800-km-long porous border between the two countries, which could be a gateway for the coronavirus to enter to Nepal.
Nepal, as of today, has reported 49 Covid-19 cases, though 11 patients have been discharged after recovering.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Training on digital marketing concludes

Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) has asked the tourism fraternity to remain strong and utilize this period for better future in Nepal’s tourism.
Addressing a live conference on Search Engine Optimisation and Digital Marketing in tourism industry organised by TAAN, here today, TAAN president Khum Bahadur Subedi requested tourism fraternity to remain strong and utilize this period for better future in Nepal’s tourism, though the COVID -19 pandemic is adversely affecting tourism industry.
Welcoming all the participants, Subedi said that the motive behind holding the online session during the period of lockdown is to facilitate tourism entrepreneurs by creating favourable environment to learn something new and productive. On the occasion, he also informed that news regarding 5000,000 bank guarantee required for registering trekking and travel company is untrue after he had spoke with concerned bodies.
A total of 96 participants from different member agencies of TAAN participated in the live session which was conducted by Founder of SEO Company in Nepal Prakash Khatiwada, SEO expert Prakash Humagain and Digital Marketing manager of SEO Company in Nepal Akash Karki.
The session started with introduction of SEO and its benefits in tourism industry. Khatiwada, on the occasion, briefly explained on page optimisation and benefits of organic SEO in tourism business. He also discussed upon components of SEO and on page SEO checklist.
Likewise, Humagain, on the other session, explaining importance of OFF page SEO, said that however after the control of Covid-19, there is high chance of getting boom market in tourism. Requesting to start practicing earlier to reach internationally through digital marketing, he suggested trekking companies to mention basic things needed to travel Nepal for example: vaccine must to be taken while visiting Nepal, visa process and insurance; so that the information in the website would be more educational. Furthermore, he explained about local SEO, email marketing, content marketing, social media marketing and optimisation.
Likewise, Karki explained the benefits of digital marketing through engaging the customers to uplift the tourism business. He also acknowledged TAAN for organising such productive session and assure member companies that their team is always ready to provide free counseling regarding SEO and digital marketing.

Children are at risk of net addiction: Survey

Children and young people could be at a higher risk of internet addiction, gaming addiction and exposure to adult contents, according to a survey.
They could also be at a higher risk of online sexual abuse and exploitation, the ‘Survey on Changed Online Behaviour During Covid-19 Lock down in Nepal,’ conducted by ChildSafeNet reads.
Although the government banned pornographic sites in Nepal, more than 41 per cent respondents, including children and young people said they had visited such sites, the survey result reads, recommending addressing issues like this. “Detailed and thematic researches are required to develop in-depth knowledgebase to address the issue of online safety of children and young people during and after the lock down period.”
They surf youtube most of the time and facebook seconds the most searched sites, according to the survey that has also recommended conducting cyber safety awareness sessions for children, young people and parents through online and virtual awareness activities through social media and video conferencing sessions. “Video conferencing workshops on 'Parenting in the Digital Age' can help to equip parents with knowledge and skills to keep children and young people safe online,” it recommends, adding that the workshops will help to provide guidance to parents on reducing their own screen time, learn about cyber safety and lead by example to protect children and young people from online harms. “Educate children, young people and parents on the positive use of the internet and provide them information on sites and apps suitable for children.”
It also recommends to inform about useful and suitable sites according to their age and requirements. Asking to develop simple and easy cyber safety resources in Nepali and local languages for dissemination through online media, including, but not limited to social media, it has also suggested to operate a dedicated online helpline to provide tips, advice and support to people who experience online harms or at risk; refer to support services - police, psychologists, lawyers, social workers. “Strengthen law enforcement to report online abuses and make reporting accessible throughout the country.”
ChildSafeNet – a non-governmental organisation, established with a mission to make the digital technology safer for children and young people – also recommends advocating for more financial and technical resources from the government, ICT companies and other duty-bearers to make the internet safer for children, young people and everyone.
According to the president of ChildSafeNet Anil Raghuvanshi, the ‘Survey on Changed Online Behaviour During Covid-19 Lockdown in Nepal’, was conducted in all provinces of the country using online Google forms, distributed through social media platforms. The survey, self-administered by respondents started on April 17, 2020 till April 21, 2020. The survey was conducted with young children, young people and adults. Since the behaviour of adults may affect children in many ways, the survey also collected information on adults' online behaviour. “A total of 1,228 respondents – some 648 male, 576 and 4 other – had participated in the survey.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government imposed a country-wide lockdown in Nepal from March 24, 2020. As a result, schools, colleges and offices are closed, and people are staying at home spending a longer time using internet, which has increased the risk of online abuse and exploitation, particularly to children and young people as child online groomers and online sex predators may contact them for abuse and exploitation.
According to Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA), some 72.16 per cent people have access to broadband internet and 55.30 per cent use mobile broadband internet. Facebook is the most used social media platform in Nepal with 11 million active, it reads, adding that the number of Facebook users, particularly among young age groups declined globally and in Nepal. “However, the number of Facebook users increased by 600,000 from November 2019 to April 2020.”

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Asia Pacific visitor numbers likely to reduce by 32 per cent

Under the newly updated forecasts from the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), the most likely scenario for international visitor arrivals into and across Asia Pacific in 2020 is that visitor numbers are likely to reduce by 32 per cent year-on-year, also due to reduction of 31 per cent arrivals in South Asia.
Taking into account the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, the volume of arrivals is now expected to reduce to fewer than 500 million this year. That effectively takes visitor volume back to levels last seen in 2012. At this stage, growth is expected to resume in 2021, returning to forecast levels by 2023, the association forecasts. “Much of course, depends on how quickly and completely the Covid-19 pandemic is contained and controlled.”
A more optimistic scenario suggests arrivals still falling in 2020 but by 16 per cent year-on-year while a pessimistic narrative predicts a reduction of approximately 44 per cent, it adds.
The impacts are expected to be most severe in Asia, especially Northeast Asia, which is now predicted to lose almost 51 per cent of its visitor volume between 2019 and 2020 – most likely scenario – followed by South Asia with a reduction of 31 per cent, and then Southeast Asia with a 22 per cent drop in visitor arrivals. West Asia is projected to lose almost six percent in visitor arrivals, followed by the Pacific with a projected contraction of 18 per cent, and the Americas with a loss of a little under 12 per cent.
Recovery rates relative to 2019 are expected to occur in most destination regions, sub-regions in 2020, however, Northeast Asia is likely to take a little longer and exceed the 2019 volume of arrivals in 2022. The same is essentially true for visitor receipts as well as they are expected to drop by 27 per cent between 2019 and 2020 under the most likely scenario, reducing to $594 billion, significantly below the original 2020 forecast of $811 billion, the association press note reads, adding that Asia is expected to lose more than $170 billion (-36 per cent), with Northeast Asia predicted to lose more than $123 billion (-48 per cent) under this most likely scenario, followed by South Asia with a $13.3 billion loss (-33 per cent) and Southeast Asia with a $34.6 billion shortfall (-20 per cent). “The Americas is projected to lose more than $35 billion (-13 per cent) and the Pacific $18 billion (-18 per cent).”
The recovery at the annual level is expected to return more quickly across most regions, sub-regions, with perhaps the Pacific taking a little longer to return to 2019 levels.
“This is first and foremost an unfolding human tragedy, with a dire loss of life and for millions more, a loss of income while businesses are closed, and many remain in self-quarantine or follow social distancing guidelines,” PATA chief executive officer Dr Mario Hardy said, adding that they can only hope that this pandemic is brought under absolute control quickly and effectively, enabling the global travel and tourism industry to get back on its feet, re-employ the millions of people, who lost their positions and create even more employment opportunities both directly and for the upstream and downstream sectors that rely on it. “While there are obvious reductions in arrivals, there still remains a significant volume of visitors expected into Asia Pacific through 2020, with just under half-a-billion such travellers still generating almost $600 billion, with each visitor still requiring and expecting the attention and service that this region has become famous for delivering.”
“Nevertheless, perceptions are difficult to change so recovery might take longer in the minds of many potential travelers,” he said, adding that it however gives them time to reconsider the position they had created up to 2019, if numbers return only slowly, the obvious imperative will be to offer travellers such incentives that they remain in the destination longer and see more of what it has to offer. “The metric should therefore shift from the numbers of arrivals, to time spent in any one destination and the dispersion across it.”

WTO report finds growing number of export restrictions in response to Covid-19 crisis

Eighty countries and customs territories so far have introduced export prohibitions or restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report by the WTO Secretariat.
The report, which is based on information from official sources and news outlets, draws attention to the current lack of transparency at the multilateral level and long-term risks that export restrictions pose to global supply chains and public welfare. The new export prohibitions and restrictions mostly cover medical supplies such as face masks, pharmaceuticals, ventilators and other medical equipment, the report finds. Some of the measures have extended the controls to other products such as food and toilet paper, it reads.
However, only 13 WTO members – or 39, if EU member states are counted individually – have submitted information on these new measures in line with WTO rules for quantitative restrictions. Three of them have notified export restrictions on foodstuffs pursuant to the WTO Agriculture Agreement. The report also notes the harms and delays that insufficient information inflicts on countries seeking to procure materials to fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and provides guidance on how WTO members can notify their measures. “Only a handful of notifications were submitted in March 2020 and these have since increased in April,” it adds.
While the report acknowledges exceptions in WTO rules for export prohibitions or restrictions, it also highlights costs that both importing and exporting economies will face in the long run, particularly in terms of lower supply and higher prices for much-needed products.
The Covid-19 pandemic presents the world with an unprecedented public health challenge, it reads, adding that measures to curb the spread of the disease have shut down large swathes of the world economy. “Worldwide demand for medical products to fight the pandemic is unprecedented.”
All countries depend on international trade and global value chains to source these products. This is challenging in light of ongoing disruptions to international transport, particularly air cargo, which often goes together with passenger travel. “Likewise, an additional complicating factor is the growing number of export prohibitions and restrictions, which some WTO members have introduced to mitigate critical shortages at the national level.”
Responding to Covid-19 urgently requires sharp increases in global production of essential medical supplies. Well-functioning value chains can help quickly ramp up production while containing cost increases, the report reads, adding that as new production becomes available, trade will be essential to move supplies from where they are abundant to where they are lacking, especially as the disease peaks at different times in different locations. “However, a lack of international cooperation risks hampering the urgently required supply response.”
The information available thus far suggests that 80 countries and separate customs territories have introduced export prohibitions or restrictions as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, including 46 WTO members – 72, if EU member states are counted individually – and eight non-WTO members. “Most of these have been described as temporary measures,” the report reads, adding that at least two members have already removed some of those restrictions. “The products covered by these new export prohibitions and restrictions vary considerably; most have focused on medical supplies – for example facemasks and shields – pharmaceuticals and medical equipment – for example ventilators – but others have extended the controls to additional products, such as foodstuffs and toilet paper.”
While Article XI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994 broadly prohibits export bans and restrictions, it allows members to apply them temporarily to prevent or relieve critical shortages of foodstuffs or other essential products. “If members move to restrict exports of foodstuffs temporarily, the Agreement on Agriculture requires them to give due consideration to the food security needs of others,” according to the WTO. The WTO rules also contain more general exceptions, which could be used to justify restrictions provided that they do not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries, or a disguised restriction on international trade. “Export prohibitions and restrictions applied by large exporters may in the short run lower domestic prices for the goods in question and increase domestic availability. But the strategy is not costless: the measures reduce the world's supply of the products concerned and importing countries without the capacity to manufacture these products suffer. And exporters also risk losing out in the long run. On the one hand, lower domestic prices will reduce the incentive to produce the good domestically, and the higher foreign price creates an incentive to smuggle it out of the country, both of which may reduce domestic availability of the product. On the other hand, restrictions initiated by one country may end-up triggering a domino effect. If trade does not provide secure, predictable access to essential goods, countries may feel they have to close themselves from imports and pursue domestic production instead, even at much higher prices. Such a scenario would likely result in lower supply and higher prices for much-needed merchandise. The long-term effects could be significant.
The report has also suggested possible actions to improve transparency in this area include, ensuring that the new measures are adequately published at the national level and, when possible, making them available in the website(s) of the relevant national authorities. “Notifying as soon as possible any new export restriction to the WTO pursuant to the QR Decision; in case these restrictions affect foodstuffs, notifying them to the Committee on Agriculture as well,” it suggests, adding that updating as necessary the information under the ‘transparency notification’ of Article 1.4 of the Agreement on Trade Facilitation, including the relevant enquiry points. “Endeavouring to provide additional information to other members beyond that required by the notifications, whenever possible.”

UN Agency proposes global debt deal

The UN trade and development body today set out urgent measures needed to head off a looming debt disaster in developing countries reeling from the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
UNCTAD released a report that calls for a global debt deal for the developing world. It underlines the vital need for decisive action to provide substantive debt relief to developing countries to free up sorely needed resources to respond to the raging pandemic.
On March 30, UNCTAD called for a $2.5 trillion coronavirus crisis package for developing countries. Even prior to the Covid-19 crisis, many of these countries faced high and rising shares of their government revenues going to debt repayments, squeezing health and social expenditures. “The international community should urgently take more steps to relieve the mounting financial pressure that debt payments are exerting on developing countries as they get to grips with the economic shock of Covid-19,” said UNCTAD secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi.
The coronavirus pandemic hits developing economies at a time when they had already been struggling with unsustainable debt burdens for many years, as well as with rising health and economic needs.
According to the report, developing countries now face a wall of debt service repayments throughout the 2020s. In 2020 and 2021 alone, repayments on their public external debt are estimated at nearly $3.4 trillion – between $2 trillion and $2.3 trillion in high-income developing countries and between $666 billion and $1.06 trillion in middle- and low-income countries.
The financial turmoil from the crisis has triggered record portfolio capital outflows from emerging economies and sharp currency devaluations in developing countries, making servicing their debts more onerous. “Recent calls for international solidarity point in the right direction,” said director of UNCTAD’s globalisation division, Richard Kozul-Wright, who produced the report, “but have so far delivered little tangible support for developing countries as they tackle the immediate impacts of the pandemic and its economic repercussions.”
UNCTAD outlines three key steps to translate the calls into action:
Step 1: Automatic temporary standstills: Such standstills would provide macroeconomic ‘breathing space’ for all crisis-stricken developing countries requesting forbearance to free up resources, normally dedicated to servicing external sovereign debt. The standstills, if long and comprehensive enough, would facilitate an effective response to the Covid-19 shock through increased health and social expenditure in the immediate future and allow for post-crisis economic recovery along sustainable growth, fiscal and trade balance trajectories.
Step 2: Debt relief and restructuring programmes : The programmes would ensure the ‘breathing space’ gained under the first step is used to reassess longer-term developing country debt sustainability, on a case-by-case basis.
On April 13, the IMF cancelled debt repayments due to it by the 25 poorest developing economies for the next six months. This debt cancellation is estimated at around $215 million.
On 15 April, leaders of the Group of 20 leading economies (G20) announced the suspension of debt service payments for 73 of the poorest countries from May to the end of this year.
However, more systematic, transparent and coordinated measures towards writing off developing country debt across the board are urgently needed, the report says, suggesting that a trillion dollar write-off would be closer to the figure needed to prevent economic disaster across the developing world.
Step 3: An international developing country debt authority : To take the first two steps forward, the UNCTAD report proposes the establishment of an International Developing Country Debt Authority (IDCDA) to oversee their implementation and lay the institutional and regulatory foundations for a more permanent international framework to guide sovereign debt restructurings in future.
This could follow the path of setting up an autonomous international organisation by way of an international treaty between concerned states. Essential to any such international agreement would be the swift establishment of an advisory body of experts with entire independence of any creditor or debtor interests.

Hoteliers seek government support to sustain

Since the hotels across the country have invested billions as Nepal was observing Visit Nepal Year 2020 (VNY2020), they are about to collapse due to restriction on movement because of Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic that has hit almost all the countries around the world.
Thus, Hotel Association Nepal (HAN) – issuing a press note today – has asked the government to immediately bring special policies and relief package to help prevent the hotel sector from collapsing.
The association also said that hotels across the country cannot sustain workers, pay rental charge and electricity tariffs, pay bank loans and different other taxes to the government as they have been shut down since long. “In such a difficult situation, where hotels are fighting for their existence, the government should immediately introduce a special policy to help share liabilities until the situation turns normal,” the press note reads, adding that the tourism sector across the globe has been affected and is not going to be normal until the next few years. “Hotel business relies on tourists and normal international flights are expected only from next January forcing the hotels to be closed until then.
The association has asked the government to focus on special measures to sustain hotel businesses and the workers, instead of continuing with the current tax and labour policies.
As hotels are the backbone of tourism and the tourism sector is the driving force behind Nepal’s economy, the government should immediately introduce special relief measures for hoteliers,” the press note of association reads.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

World Bank predicts sharpest decline of remittances

Global remittances are projected to decline sharply by about 20 per cent in 2020 due to the economic crisis induced by the Covid-19 pandemic and shutdown.
The projected fall, which would be the sharpest decline in recent history, is largely due to a fall in the wages and employment of migrant workers, who tend to be more vulnerable to loss of employment and wages during an economic crisis in a host country. Remittances to low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are projected to fall by 19.7 per cent to $445 billion, representing a loss of a crucial financing lifeline for many vulnerable households.
Studies show that remittances alleviate poverty in lower- and middle-income countries, improve nutritional outcomes, are associated with higher spending on education, and reduce child labour in disadvantaged households. A fall in remittances affect families’ ability to spend on these areas as more of their finances will be directed to solve food shortages and immediate livelihoods needs.
“Remittances are a vital source of income for developing countries,” World Bank Group president David Malpass said, adding that the ongoing economic recession caused by Covid-19 is taking a severe toll on the ability to send money home and makes it all the more vital that we shorten the time to recovery for advanced economies. “Remittances help families afford food, healthcare, and basic needs.”
As the World Bank Group implements fast, broad action to support countries, we are working to keep remittance channels open and safeguard the poorest communities’ access to these most basic needs, he adds.
The World Bank is assisting member states in monitoring the flow of remittances through various channels, the costs and convenience of sending money, and regulations to protect financial integrity that affect remittance flows. It is working with the G20 countries and the global community to reduce remittance costs and improve financial inclusion for the poor.
Remittance flows are expected to fall across all World Bank Group regions, most notably in Europe and Central Asia (27.5 per cent), followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (23.1 per cent), South Asia (22.1 per cent), the Middle East and North Africa (19.6 per cent), Latin America and the Caribbean (19.3 per cent), and East Asia and the Pacific (13 per cent).
The large decline in remittances flows in 2020 comes after remittances to LMICs reached a record $554 billion in 2019. Even with the decline, remittance flows are expected to become even more important as a source of external financing for LMICs as the fall in foreign direct investment is expected to be larger (more than 35 per cent). In 2019, remittance flows to LMICs became larger than FDI, an important milestone for monitoring resource flows to developing countries.
In 2021, the World Bank estimates that remittances to LMICs will recover and rise by 5.6 per cent to $470 billion. The outlook for remittance remains as uncertain as the impact of Covid-19 on the outlook for global growth and on the measures to restrain the spread of the disease. In the past, remittances have been counter-cyclical, where workers send more money home in times of crisis and hardship back home. This time, however, the pandemic has affected all countries, creating additional uncertainties.
“Effective social protection systems are crucial to safeguarding the poor and vulnerable during this crisis in both developing countries as well as advanced countries,” global director of the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice at the World Bank Michal Rutkowski said. “In host countries, social protection interventions should also support migrant populations.”
The global average cost of sending $200 remains high at 6.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, only slightly below the previous year. Sub-Saharan Africa continued to have the highest average cost, at about 9 per cent, yet intra-regional migrants in Sub-Saharan Africa comprise over two-thirds of all international migration from the region.
“Quick actions that make it easier to send and receive remittances can provide much-needed support to the lives of migrants and their families,” lead author of the Brief and head of KNOMAD Dilip Ratha said, adding that these include treating remittance services as essential and making them more accessible to migrants.
Remittance flows to the East Asia and Pacific region grew by 2.6 per cent to $147 billion in 2019, about 4.3 percentage points lower than the growth rate in 2018. In 2020, remittance flows are expected to decline by 13 per cent. The slowdown is expected to be driven by declining inflows from the United States, the largest source of remittances to the region. Several remittance-dependent countries such as those in the Pacific Islands could see households at risk as remittance incomes decline over this period. A recovery of 7.5 per cent growth for the region is anticipated in 2021.
Likewise, the average cost of sending $200 to the East Asia and Pacific region dropped to 7.13 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, compared to the same quarter in 2019. The five lowest cost corridors in the region averaged 2.6 per cent while the five highest cost corridors averaged 15.4 per cent as of 2019 fourth quarter.
Remittances to countries in Europe and Central Asia remained strong in 2019, growing by about 6 per cent to $65 billion in 2019. Ukraine remained the largest recipient of remittances in the region, receiving a record high of nearly $16 billion in 2019. Smaller remittance-dependent economies in the region, such as Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, particularly benefited from rebound of economic activity in Russia. In 2020, remittances are estimated to fall by about 28 per cent due to the combined effect of the global coronavirus pandemic and lower oil prices.
Similarly the average cost of sending $200 to the ECA region declined modestly to 6.48 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 from 6.67 per cent a year earlier. The differences in costs across corridors in the region are substantial; the highest costs for sending remittances were from Turkey to Bulgaria, while the lowest costs for sending remittances were from Russia to Azerbaijan.
Remittances to South Asia are projected to decline by 22 per cent to $109 billion in 2020, following the growth of 6.1 per cent in 2019. The deceleration in remittances to the South Asian region in 2020 is driven by the global economic slowdown due to the coronavirus outbreak as well as oil price declines. The economic slowdown is likely to directly affect remittance outflows from the United States, the United Kingdom, and EU countries to South Asia. Falling oil prices will affect remittance outflows from GCC countries and Malaysia. Remittance costs: South Asia had the lowest average remittance costs of any region, at 4.95 per cent. Some of the lowest-cost corridors had costs below the 3 per cent SDG target. This is probably due to high volumes, competitive markets, and deployment of technology. But costs are well over 10 per cent in the highest-cost corridors due to low volumes, little competition, and regulatory concerns. Banking regulations related to AML/CFT raise the risk profile of remittance service providers and thereby increase costs for some receiving countries such as Afghanistan and sending countries such as Pakistan.

Asia Corporation tops the list of emerging startups in Nepal

Asia Corporation Private Limited topped the list of emerging startups in Nepal.
India’s leading Business magazine – CEO Insights – has published the list of ‘Top 10 Emerging Startups in Nepal-2020’, where Asia Corporation is placed in number one.
The Kathmandu based company – founded by Sunil KC, who leads a think tank -Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs (AIDIA) – is providing large scale goods and commodities to public and private companies since its inception in 2017. Its services include industrial paper, photocopy paper, animal feeds, mosquito nets, chemical fertilizer, overhauled and maintenance services for helicopters and AI-related products, reads a press note from the magazine. “The company is also moving into technology-related products.”
“The Editorial board of CEO Insights has scrutinised the list via frequent deliberations by a renowned panel of industry’s topmost CEOs, directors, VCs, and industry analysts, throughout the year,” the magazine further writes, adding that evaluating the scenarios in versatile perceptions has brought CEO Insights to shortlist the startups which are creating a name for themselves through innovative business ideas, cutting-edge offerings, and unconditional customer support.
The magazine also writes that its objective behind publishing the list is to bring emerging startups in limelight and to guide individuals and businesses to partner with the Indian Companies as Indian companies are the major investors in Nepal and India’s first choice is Nepal for the investment destination.

Top 10 Emerging Startups in Nepal - 2020
1. Asia Corporation
2. Hamro Technology
3. Himalayan Wonders
4. JATA Digital
5. Mapleyak
6. Mero Network
7. My Careers HR Solutions
8. Palm Mind
9. Sarvanam Software
10. Vidinterest

World Bank likely to exempt loan

The World Bank (WB) is likely to give a surprise gift – most probably by exempting loan – for the low income country including Nepal.
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) is going to give a ‘surprise’ at the end of the ongoing spring meeting, according to World Bank country manager Faris Hadad-Zervos.
The government has requested the development partners – including World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), International Monetary Fund (IMF), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) – to either waive or differ the interest and loan payment schedule. The development partners have neither denied nor accepted Nepal’s proposal. However, the IMF-WB spring meeting is expected to take some decision on the matter.
Speaking to the journalists today, through a video conference, organised by the Society of Economic Journalists Nepal (Sejon), Faris said that the impact of coronavirus pandemic in the global economy is going to be unfortunate for the next few years.
“The World, South Asia and Nepal are going to see significant drop in GDP growth in the ongoing and upcoming few years as per him,” he said, adding that the GDP in South Asia – before the pandemic – was expected to grow at 6.3 per cent. “But as the result of the Covid-19, the region is likely to see GDP growth between 1.8 per cent and 2.8 percent in the current fiscal year, which the worst growth rate in last 40 years.”
The GDP growth in South Asia is expected to remain moderate in 2021 fiscal year at 3.7 per cent to 4.2 per cent, according to the World Bank. Though Nepal is located between two big neighbours and neighbours themselves have witnessed reduction in growth, this will also leave an impact on Nepal and its growth, he said, adding that the recession that we are going through this coronavirus pandemic is different than other. “It is not just recession but a different type of recession.”
Usually recessions impact investment and demand for goods. Normally, recessions are demand-driven while the current recession due to coronavirus is supply-driven. “We are currently facing supply-short rather than demand short, Faris said, adding that understanding this recession differently will help economies use different new and unique tools to revive economy and growth. “Understanding this panic differently will also help countries to bring out necessary stimulus package in unlocking supply side constraints.”
According to the World Bank's projection, the GDP in Nepal is expected to grow between 1.5 per cent and 2.8 per cent in the current fiscal year, while the growth would be roughly 3 per cent in the next fiscal year 2021-22.
Remittance hit will directly affect foreign exchange, Faris said, adding that employment and migration, trade and tourism sector will be directly hit in Nepal. “We expect that Nepal's inflation will go above six per cent in the current fiscal year due to the supply shock while both fiscal deficit and the current account deficit are expected to be widened.”
He also informed that the World Bank is working with the government to support Nepal tackle the pandemic and recover the economy. “World Bank believes that a lot has to be done next year on priority basis,” he said, adding that the first priority should be the immediate health response and the government is already doing it. “The second is immediate social assistance and jobs as many overseas Nepalis will be returning home which demands huge number of jobs. The Prime Minister Employment Programme (PMEP) and other such programmes should be focused.”
As it is a supply shock, thirdly we need to focus on the real sector by making sure that production of goods are continued, boosted and small and medium scale industries are focused, he added. “Similarly, supply chain should be made intact, and the fourth priority should be macroeconomic stability as the spending is going to be huge, there needs to be prioritisation of spending.”
To help Nepal prioritise the on the focus sectors, the Work Bank is moving 18 per cent of its portfolio from our existing portfolio projects towards Covid-19 response, he added.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Don’t let children be the hidden victims of Covid-19 pandemic: UNICEF

Not only are children and young people contracting Covid-19, they are also among its most severely impacted victims. Unless nations act now to address the pandemic’s impacts on children, the echoes of Covid-19 will permanently damage our shared future.
According to the UNICEF, some 99 per cent of children and young people under 18 worldwide (2.34 billion) live in one of the 186 countries with some form of movement restrictions in place due to Covid-19. “60 per cent of all children live in one of the 82 countries with a full (7 per cent) or partial (53 per cent) lockdown – accounting for 1.4 billion young lives, a press note from the UNICEF reads.
 “We know that, in any crisis, the young and the most vulnerable suffer disproportionately,” it reads, adding that the pandemic is no different. “It is our responsibility to prevent suffering, save lives and protect the health of every child and we must also ensure that risk-informed decisions on Covid-19 control measures are made based on the best available evidence in order to minimize and prevent any collateral damage, and to provide mitigation measures so the damage is not lasting.”
It starts with resisting the temptation, in times of potential global recession, to deprioritise investment in our future, it adds. “Increased investments now in education, child protection, health and nutrition, and water and sanitation will help the world reduce the damage caused by this crisis and avoid future crises.”
The world will open up again, and when that happens, the resilience of the weakest health systems will be the gauge of how well we will do against future threats, it hopes.
Countries and communities around the world must work together to address this crisis. “As we have learned painfully in the past two months, until there is a vaccine, coronavirus anywhere is a threat to people everywhere, the UN arm said, adding that they need to act now to strengthen health systems, as well as other child-focused social services, to keep track with global development priorities, in every country around the world.
This week, UNICEF is launching its global agenda for action to protect the most vulnerable children from harm. The agenda has six pillars, Keep children healthy; Reach vulnerable children with water, sanitation and hygiene; Keep children learning; Support families to cover their needs and care for their children; Protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse; and Protect refugee and migrant children, and those affected by conflict.
Without urgent action, this health crisis risks becoming a child rights crisis, it adds. “Only by working together, can we keep millions of girls and boys healthy, safe and learning.”
In health, Covid-19 has the potential to overwhelm fragile health systems in low- and middle-income countries and undermine many of the gains made in child survival, health, nutrition and development over the last several decades. “But too many national healthcare systems were already struggling. Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, 32 per cent of children worldwide with pneumonia symptoms were not being taken to a health provider,” it states. “What will happen when Covid-19 hits in full force? We’re already seeing disruptions in immunisation services, threatening outbreaks of diseases for which there already exists a vaccine, such as polio, measles and cholera.”
Many more newborns, children, young people and pregnant mothers could be lost to non-coronavirus related causes if national healthcare systems, already under great strain, become completely overwhelmed. Likewise, many nutrition programmes are disrupted or suspended, as are community programmes for the early detection and treatment of undernourished children. “We need to act now to preserve and strengthen health and food systems in every country around the world,” the UNICEF adds.
Likewise, protecting ourselves and others through proper handwashing and hygiene practices has never been more important. But for many children, basic water, sanitation and hygiene facilities remain out of reach. Globally, 40 per cent of the population – some 3 billion people – still lack a basic handwashing facility with soap and water available at home, and this is as high as nearly three quarters of the population of the least developed countries (LDCs).
The UNICEF has also urged to ensure that every household, school, and health care facility has the means to a hygienic and healthy environment.
In education, an entire generation of children have seen their education interrupted. Nationwide school closures have disrupted the education of more than 1.57 billion students – 91 per cent – worldwide. The closure of schools also eliminates access to school-based nutrition programmes, driving malnutrition rates upwards. An entire generation of students could suffer damage to their learning and potential. “The socio-economic impact of Covid-19 will be felt hardest by the world’s most vulnerable children,” it adds.
Many already live in poverty, and the consequences of Covid-19 response measures risk plunging them further into hardship. As millions of parents struggle to maintain their livelihoods and income, governments must scale up social protection measures – providing social safety nets and cash transfers, protecting jobs, working with employers to support working parents, and prioritising policies that connect families to life-saving health care, nutrition and education.
The UN secretary-general has launched a Global Humanitarian Response Plan for Covid-19. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

AI charges Qatar for illegally expelling migrant workers

After Qatari authorities rounded up and expelled dozens of migrant workers after telling them they were being taken to be tested for Covid-19, Amnesty International (AI) has called on to ensure that any worker detained and threatened with expulsion is informed of the reasons and allowed to challenge them. “Qatar should also ensure effective remedy and reparation for any worker, whose rights have been violated,” the AI press note recommends, adding that the Qatari authorities must also ensure all migrant workers’ right to health is fully protected during the Covid-19 crisis.
The AI interviewed 20 men from Nepal, who were apprehended by Qatari police, alongside hundreds of others, in March, the press note reads, adding that the police told most of the men that they were going to be tested for Covid-19 and will be returned to their accommodation afterwards. “Instead, they were taken to detention centres and held in appalling conditions for several days, before being sent to Nepal.”
“None of the men we spoke to had received any explanation for why they were treated this way, nor were they able to challenge their detention or expulsion,” Amnesty International’s (AI) deputy director of Global Issues Steve Cockburn said, adding that after spending days in inhumane detention conditions, many were not even given the chance to collect their belongings before they were put on planes to Nepal. “It is disturbing that the Qatari authorities appear to have used the pandemic as a smokescreen for further abuses against migrant workers, many of whom feel police misled them by saying that they were to be ‘tested’.”
Covid-19 is no excuse for arbitrarily rounding people up, he added.
“The authorities must provide reparations for the way that these men have been treated, and consider allowing those who have been expelled to return to Qatar if they so wish,” he said, “The men’s employers must also urgently pay the salary and employment benefits they are owed.”
On March 12-13, hundreds of migrant workers were rounded up and detained by police in parts of Doha including the Industrial Area, Barwa City, and Labour City, the TI press note reads, adding that they were apprehended whilst away from their accommodation, carrying out errands or shopping for groceries.
Some workers said the police specifically told them that they were being taken to be tested for Covid-19, and would be brought back to their accommodation later. Other workers said the police spoke to them in Arabic and the only word they could understand was ‘Corona’.
One man told Amnesty International, “We were asked to stop to test for the virus. Police told us that the doctor would come and check the virus. But they lied to us.”
The men were then crammed on to buses, and taken to a detention facility in the Industrial Area, where their documents and mobile phones were confiscated, before having their photographs and fingerprints taken, the AI press note further reads, adding that the workers were detained in inhumane conditions alongside scores of other people from various countries. “They were held in overcrowded cells without beds or bedding, and not given enough food or water.”
One Nepali man told AI: “The jail was full of people. We were given one piece of bread each day, which was not enough. All the people were fed in a group, with food lying on plastic on the floor. Some were not able to snatch the food because of the crowd.”
Out of the 20 interviewed, only three said they had their temperature checked while they were in the detention facility.
While they were in detention, the men Amnesty International interviewed were told they were being expelled, with some only learning about it while being taken to the airport. Some were expelled on March 15, and others on March 19. None were able to challenge their detention or expulsion.
Some were given just a few minutes to pack their belongings, while others were not given the chance to collect anything at all. One man said, “I was handcuffed and treated like a criminal. I was taken to my camp to collect belongings, but how could I collect and pack the luggage since my hands were chained?”
Most workers said they had their temperatures taken at Hamad International Airport before boarding their flights, and again upon landing in Kathmandu.
Some said the police threatened to bring criminal charges against them and keep them in the detention facility longer if they complained or tried to challenge the situation, the press note reads.
Of the 20 people interviewed, only two said they have been contacted by the companies they worked for, offering to pay their salaries. One man said he was given cash by his company whilst in detention, but a police officer took it for ‘safekeeping’ and failed to return it. The other man said his company asked him to open a bank account to send him his wages.
All of the workers left Qatar without receiving their owed salary and end-of-service benefits, a particular concern as many will have spent huge sums on securing jobs in Qatar and may well be paying back high-interest loans.
One man said, “It is difficult now. My children do not have clothes, it is tough to feed them.” Another said he was being threatened by a moneylender and was struggling to support his five children.
In response to Amnesty International’s evidence, the Qatari government said that while inspecting the Industrial Area as part of the Covid-19 response, “officials uncovered individuals engaged in illegal and illicit activity. This included the manufacture and sale of banned and prohibited substances, along with the sale of dangerous food goods that could seriously threaten the health of people if consumed”.
However, 18 of those interviewed by AI said they were not aware of any charges or accusations brought against them. Two others said that a fellow detainee who spoke Arabic told them that they were accused of supplying alcohol. Neither the police nor any officials informed them of such charges, which they strongly denied to AI.
AI reviewed documents in Arabic that were given to the men, which do not suggest they were charged with any criminal offence. In any event, none of the men interviewed were allowed to challenge the legality of their detention and eventual expulsion, as required under international human rights law.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Nepal to get IMF debt relief

Nepal is going to receive debt relief from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for six months as part of its response to help address the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The global monetary advisor announced the debt service relief for the 25 countries – including Nepal, Afghanistan, Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, DR, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Tajikistan, Togo, and Yemen – today under its revamped Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust. “As of December 2019, Nepal’s outstanding loans to be paid to the international institutions stands at SDR 38.5 million ($52.36 million),” according to the fund's website.
The SDR (Special Drawing Rights) are the units of account, which is like currency and pegged with a basket of important foreign currencies like the US dollar, euro, Chinese yuan and Japanese yen. One SDR is equivalent to $1.36.
Nepal had received loans from the fund after the devastating earthquake in April 2015. “Debt relief for six months means Nepal need not pay installment – including principal and interest – for six months.
The government had however requested IMF to provide debt relief for two years.
During a video conference with senior officials of multilateral development partners including IMF, the World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), finance minister Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada had asked for a deferral of the loan repayment schedule and debt relief from development partners, though Nepal has forex reserve that can pay for the import of goods and services for 8 months.
The IMF provides grants to its poorest and most vulnerable members to cover their debt obligations for an initial phase over the next six months, under the scheme.
“This will help them channel more of their scarce financial resources towards vital emergency medical and other relief efforts,” managing director of the IMF Kristalina Georgieva said, adding that the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust can currently provide about $500 million in grant-based debt service relief, including the recent $185 million pledge by the UK and $100 million provided by Japan as immediately available resources.
“Others, including China and the Netherlands, are also stepping forward with important contributions,” the press note issued by the IMF reads.
Georgieva has also urged the development partners to help it replenish the Trust’s resources and boost further its ability to provide additional debt service relief for a full two years to its poorest member countries.

Monday, April 13, 2020

ADB triples Covid-19 response package to $20 billion

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) today tripled the size of its response to the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic to $20 billion and approved measures to streamline its operations for quicker and more flexible delivery of assistance.
The package expands ADB’s $6.5 billion initial response announced on March 18, adding $13.5 billion in resources to help ADB’s developing member countries counter the severe macroeconomic and health impacts caused by Covid-19. The $20 billion package includes about $2.5 billion in concessional and grant resources, according to a press note issued by the ADB headquarters in Philippines.
“This pandemic threatens to severely set back economic, social, and development gains in Asia and the Pacific, reverse progress on poverty reduction, and throw economies into recession,” said ADB president Masatsugu Asakawa. “Our expanded and comprehensive package of assistance, made possible with the strong support of our Board, will be delivered more quickly, flexibly, and forcefully to the governments and the private sector in our developing member countries to help them address the urgent challenges in tackling the pandemic and economic downturn,” he added.
ADB’s most recent assessment, released on April 3, estimates the global impact of the pandemic at between 2.3 per cent and 4.8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Regional growth is forecast to decline from 5.2 per cent last year to 2.2 per cent in 2020.
The new package includes the establishment of a Covid-19 Pandemic Response Option under ADB’s Countercyclical Support Facility, the press note reads, adding, “Up to $13 billion will be provided through this new option to help governments of developing member countries implement effective countercyclical expenditure programs to mitigate impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a particular focus on the poor and the vulnerable. “Grant resources will continue to be deployed quickly for providing medical and personal protective equipment and supplies from expanded procurement sources.
Some $2 billion from the $20 billion package will be made available for the private sector. Loans and guarantees will be provided to financial institutions to rejuvenate trade and supply chains. Enhanced microfinance loan and guarantee support and a facility to help liquidity-starved small and medium-sized enterprises, including those run by female entrepreneurs, will be implemented alongside direct financing of companies responding to, or impacted by, Covid-19.
The response package includes a number of adjustments to policies and business processes that will allow ADB to respond more rapidly and flexibly to the crisis. These include measures to streamline internal business processes, widen the eligibility and scope of various support facilities, and make the terms and conditions of lending more tailoured.
All support under the expanded package will be provided in close collaboration with international organisations, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank Group (WBG), World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, and other UN agencies, and the broader global community.
ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty, according to the press note. “Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members, 49 from the region.”

Health Ministry confirms two more corona cases today

Health Ministry today confirmed two new cases of the coronavirus infection, taking Nepal’s total number of Covid-19 cases to 14, and live cases to 13, as one has returned after being treated in January.
Spokesperson of the Ministry of Health and Population Dr Bikash Devkota – during the regular press briefing today – has confirmed two more cases and informed that a 19-year-old male from Rautahat and 65-year-old female from Kailali tested positive for the deadly virus.
“One of those infected is a 65-year-old woman in Kailali,” he said, adding that the woman, who tested negative on Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) after a 15-day quarantine, has now been detected with coronavirus infection. Initially, the woman had tested negative on Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) during the14-day quarantine.  Her throat swab and blood sample were collected and sent to Kathmandu for further tests. The result of her sample tested at the National Public Health Laboratory in Kathmandu has come out positive,” he added.
The sexagenarian was put in a quarantine facility at Lamki Multiple Campus in Lamkichuha Municipality-1 of Kailali district over 15 days ago, after she reached there from Birgunj in Parsa district in a group of seventeen. She is presently receiving treatment at Seti Provincial Hospital in Dhangadhi. The government is investigating and tracing contract, he added. “The woman used to run a tea-shop in Birgunj along the Nepal-India border.”
Likewise, a 19-year-old boy in Rautahat district has tested positive for Covid-19, taking the total number of infected in the country to 14. Like the earlier case, the result of his test conducted at the National Public Health Laboratory came out positive, Devkota said, adding that the teenager was also in quarantine earlier. “He has now been shifted to a hospital for treatment.”
With the new addition, there are five active cases of Covid-19 at Dhangadhi based Seti Zonal Hospital, three in Birgunj, two in Baglung, two in Kathmandu, and one in Rautahat.
The new Covid-19 cases were reported two days after three Indian nationals residing in Birgunj were confirmed to have the coronavirus. On Saturday, three Indian nationals residing in a mosque in Birgunj tested positive for the virus.

Coronavirus to eat 3 to 4 per cent of economy

The coronavirus forced lockdown is going to damage our economy by 2 per cent to 4 per cent of the GDP, according to the Prime Minister.
“The adequate attention of the government has been drawn to the analyses of various subject experts that the damage to our GDP shall be to the tune of 2 per cent to 4 per cent due to this pandemic,” said the premier addressing the nation today morning on the occasion of New Year 2077 BS.
“Relevant agencies of the government have already been tasked to estimate post-epidemic damages,” he said, adding that as the speed of the pandemic will be predictable within the coming week, broader evaluation process will be conclusive only after that. “Apart from the social and psychological cost of this pandemic, the consequent global economic recession is going to inflict profound impact on the emerging economies such as ours.”
The PM also vowed to bring plans to revive the country's economy which has hit hard by the deadly virus. According to various studies, the country is losing some Rs 5 billion everyday due to lockdown. The government had imposed lockdown from March 24 to contain the spread of Covid-19 – popularly known as coronavirus – as maintaining the physical distancing is key to contain the deadly pandemic that has already claimed over 100,000 lives across the globe.
Talking about the $29 million cooperation agreement that has been concluded with the World Bank as emergency support for prevention of coronavirus infection, along with, some $1,563 million on different headings, arranged from various development partners including the World Bank, the Prime Minister assured that policy to implement the employment programme targeting those youths on overseas employment, who are at the risk of losing job due to the possible global economic slowdown, and those unemployed youths within the country will be dealt and promoting agro-based, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), concrete plan will be put in place in collaboration with the relevant entrepreneurs, experts and youths themselves to explore the potential new areas of self-employment.
The pandemic has hit hard the daily wages workers, and unorganised sector employees as the lockdown has snatched their jobs, and livelihood.
As the government has been charged of neglecting the people of lower strata, and also those around the poverty line, the premier claimed to announce an 'economic recovery package' through its policy and programme and budget to connect the missing link with the broken production-relation and how to run again the obstructed production system. “Once we flatten the curve of this pandemic, we will surely adopt the policy of 'investment, investment and, again investment' in order to enhance economic activities,” he said, adding that currently the government study and survey is focused on 'how to connect the missing link with the broken production-relation' and 'how to run again the obstructed production system'. “Based on the findings and recommendations of the study, the government will announce an 'economic recovery package' through its policy and programme and budget.”
“With the end of this pandemic, a dialogue needs to be initiated about human-centred new world order,” he added.
PM Oli also to not get his salary, which will go to the government established fund, until the pandemic ends.
Reciting his wish list, the premier said that it was government’s plan to inaugurate Ranipokhari – in the first half of the first month (Baishakh) of the New Year 2077 BS –damaged by the devastating earthquake of 2015. “It was contemplated that the Dharahara would be rising not only up to the 10th floor but beyond that,” he said, adding that awarding of contract would have been concluded for the Sunkoshi-Marin Diversion project. “A new programme would have been announced on public transport.”
However, due to the epidemic, the country has arrived at a juncture that requires postponement of a number of projects, creates obvious delays in construction works and makes it necessary for the transfer of budgets to another headings and the rearrangement of the priority sectors, Oli said, adding that the highest and only priority today, as we all know, is the health and safety of all the citizens. “The most important development and reconstruction activity at present is to ensure the prevention of the infection from spreading.”

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Economy to grow between 1.5 per cent and 2.8 per cent

The economic growth is expected to fall to a range between 1.5 per cent and 2.8 per cent in the current fiscal year 2019-20 reflecting lower remittances, trade and tourism, and broader disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak, according to the World Bank.
The government – despite lowering the budget during the mid-term budgetary review – was still targeting to achieve 8.5 per cent economic growth, despite its failure in capital budget spending, and meeting the revenue mobilisation target. The corona pandemic has become a face saver to the majority government led by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli that has not only failed to expedite economic growth but also create business environment in the country.
Likewise, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) – last week – also slashed its own growth forecast for Nepal to 5.3 per cent for the current fiscal year, a sharp decrease from last year's 7.1 per cent growth.
Releasing its twice-a-year-regional update, the Washington-based multilateral development partner said that the prolonged outbreak of Covid-19 would impact growth significantly with a further deceleration or contraction in services and industrial production. “Economic growth during fiscal year 2020-21 is also likely to remain subdued due to the lingering effects of the pandemic with some recovery expected in the fiscal year 2021-22,” the report reads, adding that the Covid-19 shock will likely reinforce inequality in South Asia. “Nepal’s economy will grow by 1.4 per cent to 2.9 per cent in the fiscal year 2020-21, followed by 2.7 per cent to 3.6 per cent in the fiscal year 2021-22.”
According to World Bank country manager for Nepal Faris Hadad-Zervos, the World Bank is closely monitoring how the Covid-19 pandemic is evolving across Nepal. “Our immediate priority is to coordinate our action with the government, private sector and international development partners to ensure that health supplies and equipment are readily available and that a comprehensive recovery package is in place to support the poor and most vulnerable," he said.
The impact of the pandemic will hit low-income people hard, especially informal workers in the hospitality, retail trade, and transport sectors who have limited or no access to healthcare or social safety nets.
“As played out across the region, the sudden and large-scale loss of low paid work has driven a mass exodus of migrant workers from cities to rural areas, spiking fear that many of them will fall back into poverty,” the report reads, adding that there are no signs yet of widespread food shortages but a protracted Covid-19 crisis may threaten food security, especially for the most vulnerable.
In the short term, the report recommends preparing weak healthcare systems for greater Covid-19 impacts, as well as providing safety nets and securing access to food, medical supplies, and necessities for the most vulnerable. The report calls for establishing temporary work programmes for unemployed migrant workers, enacting debt relief measures for businesses and individuals, and easing inter-regional customs clearance to speed up import and export of essential goods, to minimise short-term economic pain.
Amid the mounting human toll and global economic fallout triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, South Asian governments must ramp up action to curb the health emergency, protect their people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, and set the stage now for fast economic recovery, the World Bank said.
In its South Asia Economic Focus, the WB anticipated a sharp economic slump in each of the region’s eight countries, caused by halting economic activity, collapsing trade, and greater stress in the financial and banking sectors.
In this fast-changing and uncertain context, the report has presented a range forecast, estimating that regional growth will fall to a range between 1.8 and 2.8 per cent in the current fiscal year 2019-20, down from 6.3 per cent projected six months ago. “That would be the region’s worst performance in the last 40 years, with temporary contractions in all South Asian countries,” it reads. In case of prolonged and broad national lockdowns, the report warns of a worst-case scenario in which the entire region would experience a negative growth rate this year.
The deteriorated forecast will linger in the fiscal year 2020-21, with growth projected to hover between 3.1 per cent and 4 per cent, down from the previous 6.7 per cent estimate.
Once lockdown restrictions are loosened, South Asian governments should adopt expansionary fiscal policies combined with monetary stimulus to keep credit flowing in their economies, the report suggests, adding that many South Asian countries have limited fiscal space, these policies should target people worst hit by the freeze on economic activity. The report urges governments to adopt temporary spending measures and coordinate with international financial partners to avoid unsustainable long-term debt levels and fiscal deficits.
“After tackling the immediate Covid-19 threat, South Asian countries must keep their sovereign debt sustainable through fiscal prudence and debt relief initiatives,” said World Bank chief economist for the South Asia Region Hans Timmer. “And looking beyond the present crisis, lie great opportunities to expand digital technologies for payment systems and distant learning to unlock remote areas in South Asia.”
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, economic circumstances within countries and regions are fluid and change on a day-by-day basis, and the World Bank Group is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response, increase disease surveillance, improve public health interventions, and help the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs, the press release reads, adding that it is deploying up to $160 billion in financial support over the next 15 months to help countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery.
Nepal has been under lockdown since March 24, effectively shutting down the entire country.
The economy has lost more than Rs 100 billion in Chaitra (mid-March to mid-April) alone.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Lockdown not to end anytime soon

Though, the country is losing more than Rs 2 billion a day due to lockdown, the government is mulling to contain the pandemic Covid19 – popularly known as coronavirus – by extending the shutdown.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli – in the video conference held today with the chief ministers of the seven provinces – said that the lockdown measures will not be lifted immediately unless the situation goes back to normal in India.
Discussing issues related to prevention of Covid19 and effective implementation of lockdown with the chief ministers, the Prime Minister also informed that that border security will be tightened further, PM Oli’s press advisor Surya Thapa said quoting the PM. “It is insignificant to open the borders now as infections are increasing in India lately,” he is said to be quoted. “There is no better mechanism right now than what the government has adopted.”
Though, the Prime Minister did not disclose how long the extension would be for, it seems far-fetched as India has witnessed rising coronavirus cases lately. “There is no point in becoming emotional about lifting the lockdown,” said the Prime Minister also requesting the chief ministers to regulate the functions properly, in the time of crisis.
In the process of containing the virus, the country will have accomplished outstanding progress in the fields of health, treatment, laboratory, equipment and health supplies, as well as skilled human resource management, he added. Nepal has the poorest public health system and the countries with better public health system are also falling prey to the deadly virus.
PM Oli, on the occasion, also stressed the need to step up strong coordination between the federal government and the provincial governments to contain the novel coronavirus in the days to come.
On the occasion, the chief ministers briefed the Premier about the ongoing efforts in their provinces to prevent and control the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, Nepal has nine coronavirus cases, of which one has already returned home after being treated. There has been not a single case of coronavirus in last one week, according to the Health Ministry. However, Nepal has entered into second phase as one case has been identified with local transmission, though all the seven cases were the migrants, who had returned from abroad.
The chief ministers of Province 1 Sher Dhan Rai, Province 2 Lal Babu Raut, Bagmat Province Dormani Poudel, Gandaki Province Prithvi Subba Gurung, Province 5 Shanker Pokharel, Karnali Province Mahendra Shahi and Sudurpaschim Province Trilochan Bhatta briefed the prime minister they have been doing to contain the deadly virus. The four-hour-long conference witnessed experience sharing on controlling the virus, necessary treatments, and efforts made of each province.
Province 2 chief minister Lal Babu Raut, after the video conference, said that the Province 2 is more conscious about the deadly virus as it has the largest number of migrants and also the only province to share border with India.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Women hit harder by socio-economic impacts of coronavirus: UN Women report

Gender and social inequalities that underpinned societies in Asia and the Pacific before the novel corona virus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic are now exacerbated, making bad situations for women and girls even worse, warns a new report by UN Women.
The report, “The First 100 Days of the Covid-19 Outbreak in Asia and the Pacific: A Gender Lens,” presents a snapshot of the gender dimensions of the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic and captures promising practices for integrating gender in preparedness and response planning while proposing potential and entry points to mitigate the socio-economic impacts for women and girls in the region.
The publication highlights the immediate needs of women in the context of the pandemic, including those of female health-care workers and survivours of gender-based violence, as well as direct impacts related to women and girls’ unpaid care work, sexual and reproductive health and rights, interrupted access to education and unequal access to information.
“Asia and the Pacific continues to be the region most prone to natural disasters in the world,” UN Women Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific Mohammad Naciri said, adding that the gendered impacts of additional disasters within the context of Covid-19 can be anticipated: A Mekong drought, for example, combined with the increased need for hygiene practices like handwashing in the context of the pandemic, will likely result in significant increases to the unpaid care work burden of women, who are primarily responsible for collection of water for household use. “Response and recovery efforts must place the needs of women and girls at the centre and be grounded in the socio-economic realities that they face.”
The ‘100 Days’ gender report discusses the impacts and the potential way forward on issues including women, peace and security, gender and disaster risk reduction, ending violence against women and women’s economic empowerment, while stressing the specific needs of marginalised and underserved groups, including refugees, women with disabilities, LGBTQI persons and women living with HIV.
The report also brings to light that a gender lens on this crisis enables us to leverage existing work and expertise – from rebuilding in disasters to rebuilding peace – to ensure that the world post-COVID is built on principles of human rights and gender equality.