Friday, May 29, 2020

UN condemns Dalit killings, calls for independent investigation

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed shock today at the killing of five men by opponents of an inter-caste relationship in Nepal last weekend, as well as several other incidents of caste-based discrimination and violence that have taken place during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is distressing that caste-based prejudices remain deeply entrenched in our world in the 21st century, and I am filled with sadness for these two young people who held high hopes of building a life together despite the obstacles presented by their accident of birth,” Bachelet said, adding that caste-based discrimination remains widespread, not only in Nepal but other countries, and often leads to serious harm and, as in this case, even loss of life. “Ending caste-based discrimination is fundamental to the sustainable development vision of leaving no one behind.”
On May 23, a 21-year-old Dalit man Nawaraj BK and a group of his friends from Jajarkot district travelled to Western Rukum district in Karnali province, the home of Nawaraj’s girlfriend, who belonged to a so-called ‘dominant’ higher caste group. They intended to escort the young woman back to their home district, allegedly at her request, but were attacked and chased into a river. Five men, four of whom including Nawaraj were Dalits, were later found dead while another person is still missing.
Extremely disturbing reports are also emerging about a 12-year-old Dalit girl, who was killed in a separate attack in Devdaha village of Rupandehi district. She is said to have been forcibly married to her alleged rapist from a dominant caste. The girl’s body was reportedly discovered hanging from a tree on May 23.
Bachelet called for an independent investigation into the attacks. She stressed that the victims and their families have the right to justice, truth and reparations.
Dalits are seen to be on the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy in Nepali society, traditionally discriminated against as ‘untouchables’.
The honour killings of Dalit youths in Rukum –the birthplace of Maoists insurgency that claimed to change the caste-based society order – has been raised in the Parliament also. The killings have sparked outrage in Nepal, prompting the Federal Ministry of Home Affairs to establish a five-member ‘high-level investigation committee’ to look into the incident. On May 26, police filed a complaint against 20 alleged perpetrators.
“Despite constitutional guarantees, impunity for caste-based discrimination and violence remains high in Nepal,” the UN human rights chief said, adding that Nepal has taken big strides to address this scourge, but so much more can and must be done to eradicate this blight on society. “This is especially the case when the Covid-19 pandemic has increased their vulnerability.”
Since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, Dalit activists and journalists have reported several cases of caste-based discrimination, incidents of rape, assault, denial of funeral rites and discrimination at quarantine sites.
On May 25, the Parliament’s Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to investigate all incidents of caste-based discrimination and violence during the Covid-19 lockdown. The parliamentary committee asked authorities to immediately investigate two cases of gang-rape of Dalit women, as well as other caste-based cases involving murder, enforced disappearances and forced abortion.
Nepal is a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, one of the core international human rights treaties. After its last review in May 2018, the Committee tasked with monitoring the treaty observed that despite the abolition of ‘untouchability’ in Nepal, Dalits continue to face deep-rooted discrimination. It also raised several concerns about issues around inter-caste marriages.
Dalits in Nepal and other countries experience discrimination at every level of their daily lives, limiting their employment and educational opportunities, the places where they can collect water or worship, and their choice of who to marry. Structural barriers and discrimination force Dalits to continue low-income and dehumanising employment, such as manual scavenging, disposing of dead animals, digging graves or making leather products, reads a press note issued by the UN Office in Kathmandu.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

ADB study maps supply chains for key products in Covid-19 response

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has released a landmark study which maps supply chains for critical products in the global response to the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, clearing the way for the identification and removal of blockages in their production and distribution.
The interactive maps will enable banks, investors, governments, and healthcare professionals to pinpoint key companies in the supply of portable ventilators, N95 respirators, face shields, goggles, aprons, surgical masks, and gowns. The maps consider the elements of each product down to its component metals and fabrics.
“To fix any supply chain problems, we need an in-depth description of what goes into these products and which companies are involved,” said ADB’s head of Trade and Supply Chain Finance Steven Beck. “Mapping these supply chains means that if help is needed, banks, investors, and governments can use the data to quickly relieve bottlenecks and ramp up supplies.”
The mapping project feeds data that already exists from many sources into an algorithm that sorts the information by applying various industry and product codes. Until now, that data has existed in multiple forms on a variety of separate databases, but never brought together in a user-friendly format. A future phase of this initiative will look at blockages at ports, tariff requirements, and other impediments to the efficient functioning of supply chains for these critical goods.
ADB announced on April 13 a tripling in the size of its response to the pandemic to $20 billion. The package expands on the $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.
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, May 26, 2020

ADB approves $250 million support for Nepal's Covid-19 response

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) today approved a $250 million concessional loan to help Nepal fund its response to the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, which includes measures to strengthen the country’s public health systems and mitigate the adverse economic and social impacts of the pandemic, particularly on the poor.
“ADB is strongly committed to supporting Nepal at this crucial time,” ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa said, adding that this concessional loan will enable the government to continue its containment measures, extend its social protection program for the poor and vulnerable, and set the stage for an early economic recovery. “The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be a serious public health issue and will significantly impact Nepal’s overall social and economic development.”
ADB will work closely with the government and other development partners to help ensure a coordinated and effective response, he added.
The Covid-19 Active Response and Expenditure Support (CARES) Programme is funded through the Covid-19 pandemic response option (CPRO) under ADB’s Countercyclical Support Facility. CPRO was established as part of ADB’s $20 billion expanded assistance for developing member countries’ Covid-19 response, which was announced on April 13.
The CARES Programme will support the government in scaling up its testing capacity to at least 3,000 tests per day and establishing quarantine facilities for at least 200,000 people with separate wards for women and men in all seven provinces. Incentives will be provided for medical and other frontline personnel responding to Covid-19.
ADB’s financing will also support the government in extending its social protection programme to include distribution of food assistance to the poorest and vulnerable households, provision of employment support to the unemployed poor, especially women, and returning migrant workers. Subsidised lending will be extended to affected micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises, of which at least 30 per cent are women-led, with at least half of them from disadvantaged groups.
ADB has already provided Nepal a $300,000 grant to procure medical supplies, in close collaboration with UNICEF. This grant has funded urgently needed and critical personal protective equipment to enable medical personnel to safely treat infected patients. ADB is working closely with the government and development partners to provide policy advice and develop measures to deal with the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.
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.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Japanese grant for Implementation of Development of Digital Elevation Model and Orthophoto

The Government of Japan has extended grant assistance of up to Rs 1.32 billion (¥1,170,000,000) to Nepal for the Development of Digital Elevation Model and Orthophoto.
Japanese ambassador to Nepal Saigo Masamichi, and finance secretary Sishir Kumar Dhungana signed notes to this effect at the Finance Ministry here today, according to a press note issued by the Japanese Embassy in Kathmandu.
Another set of grant agreements for implementing the programme was also signed by chief representative of JICA Nepal Asakuma Yumiko, and joint secretary at the the International Economic Cooperation and Coordination Division of the Finance Ministry Shreekrishna Nepal, the press note reads, adding that Nepal, as same as Japan, is a country prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, landslides and floods. “In particular, floods during the monsoon in the Terai region cause loss of human lives and damage a number of properties every year.”
There were incidents of large-scale inundations in 2017 and in 2019. In this regard, developing and improving of a flood warning and evacuation system has been an urgent issue.
Japanese government will cooperate with the Nepal government as much as possible to enable Nepal to become a disaster-resilient country, the press note reads, adding that the digital elevation model and orthophoto to be developed under the programme is expected to contribute towards flood-risk reduction, especially through non-structural measures. “Both the digital elevation model and the orthophoto enables the preparation of high precision hazard maps, which can identify inundation prone zones in order to assist the preparation of practical evacuation plans.”
The Embassy of Japan – in its press note – showed confident that the objectives envisaged by the project will be achieved, and contribute towards further strengthening the relationship, friendship and cooperation between the peoples of Japan and Nepal.

Friday, May 22, 2020

ADB governors approve corporate financial matters in first virtual annual meeting

The Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) today approved ADB’s financial statements and the allocation of its 2019 net income in its first-ever virtual annual meeting held amid the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
The approval came at the first stage of the 53rd annual meeting of the Board of Governors, a Business Session among the Governors or their designated representatives from 68 members of ADB.
The second stage of the annual meeting, including seminars with Governors and other senior government officials, members of the private sector, representatives of international organisations and civil society organisations, youth, academia, and the media, is currently scheduled for September 18–21 in Incheon of Republic of Korea.
“Our immediate priority is to provide vital support to developing member countries as they confront the Covid-19 pandemic and return their economies to a path of sustainable growth,” said ADB president Masatsugu Asakawa, in his remarks to the meeting. “Your approval today of the financial statements and allocation of net income ensure that we have the tools and financial stability to address the enormous challenges that now affect the lives and economies of millions of people across our region,” he said
“Our choices and efforts today will determine whether it can overcome the current health care and economic crises,” said the chair of the Board of Governors, and deputy prime minister and minister of Economy and Finance of the Republic of Korea Hong Nam-Ki. “The ADB should turn this crisis into an opportunity, while enhancing knowledge sharing on Covid-19 policy responses and expanding support for low-income countries and vulnerable groups.”
The Board of Governors adopted a resolution to allocate $1.069 billion of net income, the highest in the bank’s history, from ADB's 2019 ordinary capital resources. The 2019 net allocable income is higher than the $841.4 million recorded in 2018, due largely to an increase in income from lending operations and liquidity investments, as well as a drop in nonsovereign loan loss provisions.
The allocable net income will be distributed as follows: $615.7 million to the ordinary reserve to support ADB’s capital adequacy and provide an earnings base to generate net income; $259.5 million to the Asian Development Fund (ADF), which provides grants to ADB’s low-income member countries; $130 million to the Technical Assistance Special Fund, which provides a stable and predictable funding source for ADB’s technical assistance, as well as increased support to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic; $30 million to the Regional Cooperation and Integration Fund; $24 million to the Climate Change Fund; and $10 million to the Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund.
Governors also approved the bank’s annual financial statements, according to a press note issued by the multilateral development partner. ADB’s ordinary capital resources’ operating income totaled $1.1 billion in 2019, up from $889 million in 2018. The 2019 net income was $1.554 billion, up from $750 million in 2018.
ADB is actively supporting its members as they address the effects of Covid-19 through its $20 billion response package announced on April 13. ADB has approved a series of measures to streamline its operations for quicker and more flexible delivery of assistance. Visit ADB’s website to learn more about our ongoing response.
ADB said in its press note that it 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.

India elected chair of WHO’s executive board

Indian minister of Health and Family Welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan has been today elected the chair of World Health Organisation’s (WHO) executive board.
“I feel deeply honoured to have the trust and faith of all of you,” Dr Harsh Vardhan said addressing the 147th WHO executive board session as its chair. “India, and my countrymen, too, feel privileged that this honor has been bestowed upon us,” he said, adding that he will work to realise the collective vision of the organisation, to build the collective capacity of all the member nations and to build a heroic collective leadership.
The session was held virtually.
WHO is already providing leadership to the entire world in the sphere of public health, engaging with partners for joint actions, shaping the research agenda and stimulating the dissemination of valuable knowledge. “The need is to catalyse further change,” he said.
Health is central to enhancing human capabilities. Protecting health of those without wealth should be the core philosophy of our close alliance at the WHO, he said.
Congratulating him, regional director for WHO South-East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said, “Dr Harsh Vardhan has assumed this post at a very challenging time. I wish him all the best in steering the Executive Board as it addresses this defining pandemic and other public health issues.”
“Dr Harsh Vardhan has a rich experience in public health,” the regional director said, adding that he is the pioneer of India’s successful pulse polio programme and has been in the forefront in the fight against tobacco and many other issues. “The world can now gain from his expertise and experience.”
WHO’s executive board comprises of 34 members elected for three-year terms. The chair of the executive board is elected by its members on being nominated by the Regional Committees of the six WHO Regions, by rotation.
At the 72nd Regional Committee Session of WHO South-East Asia in September 2019, member states had nominated India to be member of the WHO executive board from the region to replace Sri Lanka whose term expired in May 2020 and also to lead 147th and 148th Sessions of the executive board as chairperson. The other countries from WHO South-East Asia Region in the executive board are Bangladesh (2019-2022) and Indonesia (2018-2021).
The annual Board meeting is held in January when the members agree upon the agenda for the World Health Assembly and the resolutions to be considered by the Health Assembly.  A second shorter meeting takes place in May, as a follow-up to the Health Assembly.
Dr Harsh Vardhan, who took over from Dr Hiroki Nakatani of Japan, will chair the 148th session of the executive board in January 2021. At the executive board meeting in May 2021, he will hand over to the next chair from another WHO Region. However, he will continue to be a member of the executive board till 2023.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Finance Committee recommends to bring Rs 1.7 trillion budget

The Finance Committee – under the Federal Parliament – today recommended government to bring an expansionary budget of Rs 1.7 trillion, though the government has fall short of resources in the current fiscal year and has no means to meet the target in the next fiscal year too.
Despite calls from economists to not increase the size of budget from the current fiscal year’s figure, the Committee said that the the budget ceiling of around Rs 1.7 trillion – for the next fiscal year – has already been fixed before the pandemic. “It is not possible to reduce the size of the budget as the government has to provide relief to the industries, businesses and workers affected by the coronavirus.”
The budget for the current fiscal year stands at Rs 1.5 trillion, though the finance minister Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada has revised it downwards – during the mid-term review – to Rs 1.3 trillion due to its inability in spending and also mobilising the revenue. The government is staring at Rs 300 billion shortfall to the revenue mobilisation target, whereas it has also failed to spend due to inefficiency, and lack of focus, despite having the majority and stable government in the history of the country.
The Committee also suggested finance minister Khatiwada set a target of mobilising Rs 1 trillion revenue without increasing the tax rate, which is going to be the tough task. 
The committee – which has all the former finance minister as its members – has also suggested mobilising bilateral and multilateral foreign aid worth Rs 1 trillion and domestic borrowing equivalent to 6 per cent of the GDP. “The deficit amount should be mobilised through the foreign loan,” it suggested. But the foreign loan and aid also seems not to be increasing because of coronavirus impact on the bilateral and multilateral development partners, and also due to government’s inability in spending. The government’s institutional capacity has been eroding over the years and it has not been able to spend more than 80 per cent of the development budget in previous years too.
The majority government has neither been able to spend not mobilise revenue according to its own target due to its failed vision, mission and goals, rather is promoting crony capitalism, though the government is led by the communist party that claims to create socialism oriented economy.
The parliamentary committee has also requested the government to bring a financial package worth 5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – which comes to around Rs 188 billion – through the budget to mitigate the negative impact of the Covid-19.
The government is going to bring budget for the next fiscal year 2020-21 on May 28, Jestha 15 according to the Bikram Sambat calendar, as is directed by the Constitution.
The livelihoods of thousands of people have been badly hit by the pandemic, particularly the poor and migrant workers, many of whom have lost their jobs. The government has enforced lockdown from March 25 to contain the pandemic from spreading in the society. On Sunday, the government extended the lockdown till June 2, continuing to suspend ground and air travel, shutting down most of the industries, except essential ones.
Due to lockdown the economy has been projected to shrink to 2.27 per cent in the current fiscal year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). The government has targeted to meet 8.5 per cent economic growth in the budget for the current fiscal year 2019-20. Though, the Covid-19 pandemic has been blamed for the lower economic growth, the government was not going to meet the target anyway, according to the economists, who are also claiming that Nepal's economy is also headed for a catastrophe with no end in sight to months-long paralysis as the virus lockdown keeps getting extended. “The economy could grow at 1 per cent or it could go into the negative territory also due to prolonged lockdown,” they claimed.
The prolonged lockdown has also cost millions jobs and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are also feeling the heat. As most of the workers in the industrial and business enterprises have become jobless, the committee has suggested that the government pay one-third of their salaries and one-third by the industries and enterprises.
The Committee has also suggested providing relief and concessions to the most affected hotels, restaurants, tourism businesses and public transport that cannot come into operation immediately.
The parliamentary committee has suggested to give high priority to health and agriculture in the budget. “The three governments – federal, provincial and local – should prepare health infrastructure in a coordinated manner by allocating 10 per cent of their budget for the prevention, control and treatment of coronavirus,” it suggested, asking the government to allocate at least 15 per cent of the total budget for the agriculture sector for its commercialisation and modernisation.

Nepal elected Governing Council member at APCTT

Nepal – along with eight ther member states – has been elected Governing Council member of the Asian and Pacific Centre for Transfer of Technology (APCTT) for three-year term from 2020 to 2023 during the 76th session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) today.
APCTT is a United Nations Regional Institution under the ESCAP, reads a press note issued by Nepal’s Embassy in Bangkok. “APCTT promotes transfer of technology to and from small- and medium-scale enterprises in Asia and the Pacific.”
Nepal's election to the Governing Council member of the APCTT – for the first time after more than six years – confirmed ambassador of Nepal to Thailand and Permanent Representative to the UNESCAP Ganesh Prasad Dhakal, who led the Nepali delegation to the virtual 76th Commission Session. The session adopted two resolutions on ‘Strengthening cooperation to promote the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific’ and the second on ‘Regional cooperation to address the socioeconomic effects of pandemics and crises in Asia and the Pacific’.
While delivering a brief statement in the session, ambassador Dhakal highlighted the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the national economy and underscored the need of enhanced level of support and cooperation to the LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS to strengthen their resilience.
The next year's Commission Session will be held in Bangkok from April 26 to April 30 on the theme of ‘Building back better from crises through regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific’.
The governments of Asia and the Pacific meeting today also agreed to pursue coordinated and decisive actions, as well as reinforce regional and global cooperation in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Endorsing a resolution at the 76th Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (CS76), they declared profound solidarity and vouched to provide unimpeded support and technical assistance to those most affected, particularly in developing countries with weaker health systems and vulnerable populations.
“Governments and leaders are grappling with a wide range of challenges that risk recent progress in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said opening the meeting. “Many countries are charting a solid course toward Covid-19 solutions, but millions in the region remain highly vulnerable and at risk,” he said, adding that the world has an opportunity to build back better on the foundations of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“When addressing the health crisis, countries face an unprecedented dilemma: the need to balance measures to contain the pandemic against those for socio-economic recovery,” United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Armida Alisjahbana said, adding that in order to support countries in building back better, refocusing our work is necessary. She further highlighted three priority areas – supporting economic recovery, protecting people and enhancing resilience, and restoring supply chains and supporting small and medium enterprises, while urging countries to align policies with environmental protection and climate action.
Deliberations this year focused on the theme ‘Promoting economic, social and environmental cooperation on oceans for sustainable development.’ Towards this end, countries endorsed a resolution to conserve and sustainably use oceans and marine resources in the region. The resolution calls for countries to strengthen regional cooperation and redouble efforts to reduce marine pollution, improve ocean data and statistics, and support sustainable maritime connectivity. Countries also agreed to boost public-private and civil society partnerships in the sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism to increase economic benefits for small island developing States and least developed countries.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Government and development partners take stock of SSDP amid Covid-19 impacts

The Budget Review Mission (BRM) of the government’s flagship School Sector Development Programme (SSDP) was completed yesterday under the leadership of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) with joint financing and non-joint financing partners including World Bank, USAID, ADB, Finland, Norway, European Union, JICA, Global Partnership for Education, REACH MDTF and UNICEF, and other stakeholders.
The review assessed progress and achievements of the plan’s fourth year of implementation, annual work plan and budget and allocation of resources for the final year, together with an assessment of the impact of Covid-19 on the SSDP, according to a press note issued by the World Bank (WB).
Prior to the budget review, virtual consultation and information sharing sessions were organised with the provincial and local government leaders, Teachers Union, Association of INGOs, Consortium of Civil Society Organisations and other stakeholders.
“We are looking at new modalities and approaches that ensure children continue to learn and at the same time ensure their wellbeing,” said secretary at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Dr Sanjay Sharma. “We expect that education will be a priority sector in the upcoming budget given the Covid-19 pandemic and will look at means to expedite programmes and coordinate amongst all levels of government and stakeholders on a national framework that guides safe reopening of schools.”
The review appreciated MoEST’s continued effort to pursue and achieve education objectives under the SSDP, implementing reforms to improve access and the quality of education, and some of the immediate responses to the impact of Covid-19 on the education sector including a scenario based contingency plan to respond to immediate impacts and the initiation of remote teaching-learning programs to ensure that children can continue learning while the schools remain closed.
At the same time, it is expected that the shocks to education from the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to increased dropout rates, learning loss and heighten the inequality with the most vulnerable students disproportionately bearing the impact of the shock.
“The Covid-19 pandemic threatens to reverse the progress made to date on Nepal’s education outcomes impacting children and young people, especially the poor and vulnerable,” said World Bank country manager for Nepal Faris Hadad-Zervos. “It is critical to counter these impacts through appropriate policy responses and turn this crisis into an opportunity to build back better.”
“Given the latest development on Covid-19 in Nepal, we will likely see impacts in the education sector for a long time,” USAID acting mission director Adriana Hayes, on the occasion, said, adding that schools will reopen in phases over time. “Similar to many countries globally, it is likely that we will see the need to periodically close schools to protect the health of the population.”
She also urged the ministry to ensure that the fiscal year's education budget and work plan incorporate the activities identified in the Education Cluster Contingency plan so that local governments can receive funds and continue to provide access to education during this unprecedented crisis.
The BRM recommended a set of agreed actions to expedite SSDP implementation in the final year under the broader purview of the immediate, medium and long term impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the education sector in Nepal.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Unprecedented crisis could push up to 60 million into extreme poverty

Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and shutdown of advanced economies could push as many as 60 million people into extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.
“The pandemic and shutdown of advanced economies could push as many as 60 million people into extreme poverty, erasing much of the recent progress made in poverty alleviation,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass. “The World Bank Group has moved quickly and decisively to establish emergency response operations in 100 countries, with mechanisms that allow other development partners to rapidly expand the programmes,” he said, adding that to return to growth, the multilateral agency’s goal must be rapid, flexible responses to tackle the health emergency, provide cash and other expandable support to protect the poor, maintain the private sector, and strengthen economic resilience and recovery.
In line with its rapid response, the World Bank Group today announced its emergency operations to fight Covid-19 (coronavirus) have reached 100 developing countries, home to 70 per cent of the world’s population. Since March, the Group has rapidly delivered record levels of support in order to help countries protect the poor and vulnerable, reinforce health systems, maintain the private sector, and bolster economic recovery, according to a press note issued by the Bank Group.
This assistance, the largest and fastest crisis response in the Bank Group’s history, marks a milestone in implementing the Bank Group’s pledge to make available $160 billion in grants and financial support over a 15-month period to help developing countries respond to the health, social and economic impacts of Covid-19 and the economic shutdown in advanced countries, the press note reads.
Of the 100 countries, some 39 are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly one-third of the total projects are in fragile and conflict-affected situations, such as Afghanistan, Chad, Haiti, and Niger. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) have also fast-tracked support to businesses in developing countries, including trade finance and working capital to maintain private sectors, jobs and livelihoods.
The Bank Group’s support through grants, loans and equity investments will be supplemented by the suspension of bilateral debt service, as endorsed by the Bank’s governors. IDA-eligible countries that request forbearance on their official bilateral debt payments will have more financial resources to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and fund critical, lifesaving emergency responses.
“The bilateral debt-service suspension being offered will free up crucial resources for IDA countries to fund emergency responses to Covid-19,” Malpass said, adding that nations should move quickly to substantially increase the transparency of all their governments’ financial commitments. “This will increase the confidence in the investment climate and encourage more beneficial debt and investment in the future.”
The Bank Group’s operational response will strengthen health systems, support the poorest households, and create supportive conditions to maintain livelihoods and jobs for those hit hardest. Country operations will deliver help to the poorest families through cash transfers and job support; maintain food security, nutrition and continuity of essential services such as clean water and education; target the most vulnerable groups, including women and forcibly displaced communities, who are most likely to be hit hard; and engage communities to support vulnerable households and foster social cohesion. The scale and speed of the Bank Group’s response is critical in helping countries mitigate the adverse impacts of this crisis and prioritise the human capital investments that can accelerate recovery.
The Bank Group’s operations in 100 countries aim to save lives, protect livelihoods, build resilience, and boost recovery by:
•       Strengthening health systems, monitoring, and prevention, particularly in low-income countries and in fragile and conflict-affected situations. The Bank Group’s health response addresses emergency containment and mitigation needs for Covid-19, including strengthening countries’ health systems to treat severe cases and save lives. Establishing and supporting efforts in fragile and conflict-affected situations is a priority, given the rapidly growing number of cases in some of these countries.
•       Scaling up social protection: The Bank Group is leveraging countries’ existing social protection systems to help families and businesses restore income, preserve livelihoods, and compensate for increasing prices and unexpected medical expenses. These safety nets will need to be augmented with safe, direct food distribution, accompanied by key information on nutrition, social distancing, and hygiene.
•       Supporting businesses and preserving jobs: The International Finance Corporation (IFC) continues to implement its $8 billion fast-track financing facility, which aims to keep companies in business and preserve jobs. Close to 300 clients have requested support, and the facility may be oversubscribed. Building on this effort and market demand, IFC aims to provide $47 billion in financing to developing countries over 15 months. Cumulative Covid-19 related commitments under IFC’s Global Trade Finance Program, which supports small and medium-sized enterprises involved in global supply chains, have totaled 1,200 transactions across 33 countries for $1.4 billion, with 51 per cent of this volume in low-income and fragile countries.
•       Procuring medical equipment and supplies: Many developing countries import most, and in some cases all, of the medical supplies critical for fighting Covid-19, leaving them extremely vulnerable to supply disruptions and export restrictions.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Development Partners provide roadmap for safe reopening of schools

Four development partners – UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP and World Bank – have issued new guidelines on the safe reopening of schools amidst ongoing closures affecting nearly 1.3 billion students worldwide.
Warning that the widespread closures of educational facilities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic present an unprecedented risk to children’s education and wellbeing, particularly for the most marginalised children, who rely on school for their education, health, safety and nutrition, the guidelines offer practical advice for national and local authorities on how to keep children safe when they return to school.
“Rising inequality, poor health outcomes, violence, child labour and child marriage are just some of the long-term threats for children who miss out on school,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore. “We know the longer children stay out of school, the less likely they are to ever return,” Fore said, adding that unless we prioritise the reopening of schools – when it is safe to do so – we will likely see a devastating reversal in education gains.
The new guidelines note that while there is not yet enough evidence to measure the impact of school closures on disease transmission rates, the adverse effects of school closures on children’s safety and learning are well documented. Gains made in increasing access to children’s education in recent decades risk being lost and, in the worse cases, reversed completely.
“In the poorest countries, children often rely on schools for their only meal of the day,” WFP executive director David Beasley said, adding that with many schools now closed because of Covid, some 370 million children are missing out on these nutritious meals, which are a lifeline for poor families. “They are also being denied the health support they normally get through school.”
This could do lasting damage, so when schools reopen it is critical that these meal programmes and health services are restored, which can also help to draw the most vulnerable children back to school,” Beasley added.
The best interests of children and overall public health considerations – based on an assessment of the associated benefits and risks to education, public health and socio-economic factors – must be central to national and local authorities’ decisions to reopen schools, the guidelines read.
Schools must look at how they can reopen better – with improved learning and more comprehensive support for children at the school including health, nutrition, psychosocial support and water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
As countries grapple with when to reopen schools, UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP and World Bank – as part of the Global Education Coalition – urge governments to assess the benefits of classroom-based instruction compared to remote learning, and the risk factors related to reopening of schools, noting the inconclusive evidence around the infection risks related to school attendance.
“While many students are falling behind in their learning journey because of prolonged school closures, the decision of when and how to reopen schools, while far from straightforward, should be a priority,” UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay said, adding that once there is a green light on the health front, a whole set of measures will need to be in place to ensure that no student is left behind. “These guidelines provide all-round guidance for governments and partners to facilitate the reopening of schools for students, teachers and families,” Azoulay added. “We share one goal: to protect and advance the right to education for every learner.”

The guidelines include:
Policy reform: Policy implications address all dimensions of the guidelines, including clear policies for school opening and closure during public health emergencies, reforms needed to expand equitable access for marginalised and out of school children as well as strengthen and standardise remote learning practices.
Financing requirements: Address the impact of COVID-19 on education and invest in strengthening education systems for recovery and resilience.
Safe operations: Ensure conditions that reduce disease transmission, safeguard essential services and supplies and promote healthy behaviour. This includes access to soap and clean water for safe handwashing, procedures on when staff or students feel unwell, protocols on social distancing and good hygiene practices.
Compensating learning: Focus on practices that compensate for lost instructional time, strengthen pedagogy and build on hybrid learning models such as integrating approaches in remote and distance education. This must include knowledge on disease transmission and prevention.
Wellness and protection: Expand the focus on students’ well-being and reinforce the protection of children through enhanced referral mechanisms and the provision of essential school-based services including healthcare and school feeding.
Reaching the most marginalised: Adapt school opening policies and practices to expand access to marginalised groups such as previously out-of-school children, displaced and migrant children and minorities. Diversify critical communications and outreach by making them available in relevant languages and in accessible formats.
“Once schools begin to reopen, the priority becomes reintegrating students into school settings safely and in ways that allow learning to pick up again, especially for those who suffered the biggest learning losses,” World Bank global director for Education Jaime Saavedra said, adding that it is a critical moment as it is the launching pad for a new normal that should be more effective and equitable. “To manage reopenings, schools will need to be logistically prepared with the teaching workforce ready.”
And they will need to have plans specifically for supporting learning recovery of the most disadvantaged students, Saavedra said. “The guidelines offer a framework for moving forward that the major UN agencies are aligned around.”

Friday, May 15, 2020

Covid-19 economic impact could reach $8.8 trillion globally: New ADB report

The global economy could suffer between $5.8 trillion and $8.8 trillion in losses – equivalent to 6.4 per cent to 9.7 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) – as a result of the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, says a new report released by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) today.
The report, ‘Updated Assessment of the Potential Economic Impact of Covid-19,’ finds that economic losses in Asia and the Pacific could range from $1.7 trillion under a short containment scenario of 3 months to $2.5 trillion under a long containment scenario of 6 months, with the region accounting for about 30 per cent of the overall decline in global output.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) could suffer losses between $1.1 trillion and $1.6 trillion, it reads, adding that the new analysis updates findings presented in the Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2020 published on April 3, which estimated Covid-19’s global cost to range from $2.0 trillion to $4.1 trillion. “Governments around the world have been quick in responding to the impacts of the pandemic, implementing measures such as fiscal and monetary easing, increased health spending, and direct support to cover losses in incomes and revenues.”
Sustained efforts from governments focused on these measures could soften Covid-19’s economic impact by as much as 30 per cent to 40 per cent, according to the report. “This could reduce global economic losses due to the pandemic to between $4.1 trillion and $5.4 trillion.”
The analysis, which uses a Global Trade Analysis Project-computable general equilibrium model, covers 96 outbreak-affected economies with over 4 million Covid-19 cases. In addition to shocks to tourism, consumption, investment, and trade and production linkages covered in the ADO 2020 estimates, the new report includes transmission channels such as the increase in trade costs affecting mobility, tourism, and other industries; supply-side disruptions that adversely affect output and investment; and government policy responses that mitigate the effects of Covid-19’s global economic impact.
“This new analysis presents a broad picture of the very significant potential economic impact of Covid-19,” said ADB chief economist Yasuyuki Sawada. “It also highlights the important role policy interventions can play to help mitigate damage to economies,” he said, adding that these findings can provide governments with a relevant policy guide as they develop and implement measures to contain and suppress the pandemic, and lessen its impacts on their economies and people. “ADB’s Covid-19 Policy Database provides detailed information on the key economic measures that ADB members are taking to combat the pandemic.”
Under the short and long containment scenarios, the report notes that border closures, travel restrictions, and lockdowns that outbreak-affected economies implemented to arrest the spread of Covid-19 will likely cut global trade by $1.7 trillion to $2.6 trillion. Global employment decline will be between 158 million and 242 million jobs, with Asia and the Pacific comprising 70 per cent of total employment losses. Labour income around the world will decline by $1.2 trillion to $1.8 trillion, 30 per cent of which will be felt by economies in the region, or between $359 billion and $550 billion.
Apart from increasing health spending and strengthening health systems, strong income and employment protection are essential to avoid a more difficult and prolonged economic recovery. Governments should manage supply chain disruptions; support and deepen e-commerce and logistics for the delivery of goods and services; and fund temporary social protection measures, unemployment subsidies, and the distribution of essential commodities – particularly food – to prevent sharper falls in consumption, the report reads. “Since the situation is rapidly evolving, ADB will update its impact assessment considering additional spillover channels as needed.”
ADB is actively supporting its members as they address the effects of Covid-19 through its $20 billion response package announced on April 13. The bank has approved a series of measures to streamline its operations for quicker and more flexible delivery of assistance.
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.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Plug social protection gaps in developing countries to prevent future crises: ILO

The Covid-19 crisis has exposed devastating gaps in social protection coverage in developing countries, and recovery will only be sustained and future crises prevented, if they can transform their ad hoc crisis response measures into comprehensive social protection systems, according to new analysis from the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Two briefing papers released by the ILO warn that the current gaps in social protection could compromise recovery plans, expose millions to poverty, and affect global readiness to cope with similar crises in future.
The papers take a detailed look at the role of social protection measures in addressing the Covid9 outbreak in developing countries, including the provision of sickness benefits during the crisis.
The brief on Social protection responses to the Covid-19 pandemic in developing countries, describes social protection as, “an indispensable mechanism for delivering support to individuals during the crisis”. It examines the response measures some countries have introduced, including removing financial barriers to quality health care, enhancing income security, reaching out to workers in the informal economy, protecting incomes and jobs, and improving the delivery of social protection, employment and other interventions.
“While the virus does not discriminate between rich and poor, its effects are highly uneven”, the brief reads, adding that the ability to access affordable, quality, healthcare has become “a matter of life and death”.
The brief also warns policymakers to avoid a singular focus on Covid-19 because this could reduce the availability of health systems to respond to “other conditions that kill people every day”. It cites the example of how, during the Ebola epidemic, a focus on this virus exacerbated mortality from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
According to data in the brief, 55 per cent of the world’s population – as many as four billion people – are not covered by social insurance or social assistance. Globally, only 20 per cent of unemployed people are covered by unemployment benefits, and in some regions the coverage is much lower.
The other Social Protection Spotlight brief covers Sickness benefits during sick leave and quarantine: Country responses and policy considerations in the context of Covid-19. “While the virus does not discriminate between rich and poor, its effects are highly uneven [...] The ability to access affordable, quality, healthcare has become 'a matter of life and death'.”
It warns that the Covid-19 health crisis has exposed two main adverse effects of gaps in sickness benefit coverage. Firstly, such protection gaps can force people to go to work when they are sick or should self-quarantine, so increasing the risk of infecting others. Secondly, the related loss of income increases the risk of poverty for workers and their families, which could have a lasting impact.
The brief calls for urgent, short-term measures to close sickness benefit coverage and adequacy gaps, pointing out that this would bring a three-fold benefit: support for public health, poverty prevention, and promotion of the human rights to health and social security.
The proposed measures include extending sickness benefit coverage to all, with particular attention given to reaching women and men in non-standard and informal employment, the self-employed, migrants and vulnerable groups. Other recommendations include increasing benefit levels to ensure they provide income security, speeding up benefit delivery, and expanding the scope of benefits to include prevention, diagnosis and treatment measures, as well as time spent in quarantine or on the care of sick dependents.
“The Covid-19 crisis is a wake-up call. It has shown that a lack of social protection affects not just the poor, it exposes the vulnerability of those who have been getting by relatively well, because medical charges and loss of income can easily destroy decades of family work and saving,” said the director of the ILO’s Social Protection Department Shahra Razavi. “The examples from around the world clearly demonstrate once again that countries with robust and comprehensive social protection systems are in a much stronger position to respond to, and recover from, a crisis,” he said, adding that policymakers need to build on the momentum generated by growing public awareness of the importance of social protection and the urgency of investing in it as a society, to ensure preparedness for future crises.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Some 4,000 additional children could die in the next six months in Nepal

An additional 2,400 children could die every day from preventable causes over the next six months in South Asia as the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic continues to weaken health systems and disrupt routine services across the region, UNICEF said today.
The estimate is based on an analysis by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, newly published in The Lancet Global Health journal. Based on the worst of three scenarios in 118 low- and middle-income countries globally, the analysis estimates that an additional 1.2 million under-five deaths could occur in just six months, due to reductions in routine health service coverage levels and an increase in child wasting. The researchers estimate that in the next six months up to 300,000 children could die in India alone; 95,000 in Pakistan, 28,000 in Bangladesh, 13,000 in Afghanistan, and 4,000 in Nepal.
“We fear that the number of children dying before their fifth birthdays is going to increase for the first time in decades,” said UNICEF regional director for South Asia, Jean Gough. “We must protect the mothers, the pregnant women and children in South Asia at all cost,” he said, adding that fighting the pandemic is critical but we cannot lose momentum on the decades of progress we have made in the region to reduce preventable maternal and child deaths.
“It is crucial that childbirth, child health and nutrition services remain available for families during the time of Covid-19,” said UNICEF regional health adviser for South Asia Dr Paul Rutter. “It would be terrible to see a situation in which many thousands of children die, not because of the virus itself but because routine services are disrupted.”
In countries with already weak health systems, Covid-19 is causing disruptions in medical supply chains and straining financial and human resources. Visits to health care centres are declining due to lockdowns, curfews and transport disruptions, and as communities remain fearful of infection. In a commentary to the Lancet report, UNICEF warns these disruptions could result in potentially devastating increases in maternal and child deaths. 
The paper analyses three scenarios for the impact of reductions in lifesaving interventions due to the crisis on child and maternal deaths globally. It warns that in the least severe scenario, where coverage is reduced around 15 per cent, there would be a 9.8 per cent increase in under-five child deaths, or an estimated 1,400 a day globally, and an 8.3 per cent increase in maternal deaths. In the worst-case scenario, where health interventions are reduced by around 45 per cent, there could be as much as a 44.7 per cent increase in under-five child deaths and 38.6 per cent increase in maternal deaths per month. These interventions range from family planning, antenatal and postnatal care, child delivery, vaccinations and preventive and curative services. The estimates show that if, for whatever reason, routine health care is disrupted and access to food is decreased, the increase in child and maternal deaths will be devastating. The greatest number of additional child deaths will be due to an increase in wasting prevalence among children, which includes the potential impact beyond the health system, and reduction in treatment of neonatal sepsis and pneumonia.
According to the modeling, and assuming reductions in coverage in the worst-case scenario, the 10 countries that could potentially have the largest number of additional child deaths are: Bangladesh, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania. The 10 countries that are most likely to witness the highest excess child mortality rates under the worst-case scenario are: Djibouti, Eswatini, Lesotho, Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Somalia. Continued provision of life-saving services is critical in these countries.
In addition to the estimated potential rise in under-five and maternal deaths described in the Lancet Global Health Journal analysis, UNICEF is deeply alarmed by the other knock-on effects of the pandemic on children:
An estimated 77 per cent of children under the age of 18 worldwide – 1.80 billion out of 2.35 billion – were living in one of the 132 countries with stay-at-home policies, as of early May.
Nearly 1.3 billion students – over 72 per cent – are out of school as a result of nationwide school closures in 177 countries. 
40 per cent of the world’s population are not able to wash their hands with soap and water at home.
Nearly 370 million children across 143 countries who normally rely on school meals for a reliable source of daily nutrition must now look to other sources as schools are shuttered.
As of 14 April, over 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out on their measles vaccination as the pandemic causes immunization campaigns to stop to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Covid-19 triggers marked decline in global trade: UNCTAD

The coronavirus pandemic cut global trade values by 3 per cent in the first quarter of this year, according to the latest UNCTAD data published in a joint report by 36 international organisations.
The downturn is expected to accelerate in the second quarter, with global trade projected to record a quarter-on-quarter decline of 27 per cent, according to the report by the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities (CCSA).
The report is a product of cooperation between the international statistics community and national statistical offices and systems around the world, coordinated by UNCTAD.
“Everywhere governments are pressed to make post-Covid-19 recovery decisions with long-lasting consequences,” UNCTAD secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi said, adding that those decisions should be informed by the best available information and data. I’m proud that UNCTAD has played a central role in bringing so many international organisations together to compile valuable facts and figures to support the response to the pandemic.
According to the report, the drop in global trade is accompanied by marked decreases in commodity prices, which have fallen precipitously since December last year.
UNCTAD's free market commodity price index (FMCPI), which measures the price movements of primary commodities exported by developing economies, lost 1.2 per cent of its value in January, 8.5 per cent in February and a whopping 20.4 per cent in March.
Plummeting fuel prices were the main driver of the steep decline, plunging by 33.2 per cent in March, while prices of minerals, ores, metals, food and agricultural raw materials tumbled by less than 4 per cent. The more than 20 per cent fall in commodity prices in March was a record in the history of the FMCPI. By comparison, during the global financial crisis of 2008, the maximum month-on-month decrease was 18.6 per cent.
At that time, the descent lasted six months. Worryingly, the duration and overall strength of the current downward trend in commodity prices and global trade remain uncertain. Before the Covid-19 pandemic sent international commerce into a tailspin, global merchandise trade volumes and values were showing modest signs of recovery since late 2019.
The UNCTAD now casts featured in the report incorporate a wide variety of data sources, capturing diverse determinants and indicators of trade, but the situation is changing rapidly.
“In this time of crisis, we are putting out the facts as we know them today. We’ll continue monitoring the global trade landscape as it evolves,” said UNCTAD's chief statistician, Steve MacFeely.
“I’m delighted the international statistical community could step up, mobilize quickly and publish such a useful and fascinating report. It was a great honour for UNCTAD to lead this endeavour.”
Next, UNCTAD will release a new monthly trade nowcast, which will provide quarterly nowcasts for merchandise trade. It is also revamping its existing Trade-in-Services bulletin that monitors the latest trends in global trade in services. Future editions will include a nowcast for the latest quarter

Monday, May 11, 2020

Lawmakers ask to bring supplementary budget before regular budget

Lawmakers today demanded the government to bring supplementary budget – to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus – before the regular budget for the next fiscal year.
Commenting on the ‘Principals and Priorities of the Budget for the next fiscal year’ – presented by the finance minister Dr Yub Raj Khatiwada at the house yesterday – they asked the government to first bring immediate relief measures, through supplementary budget, as the economy has suffered a lot due to one-and-a-half month lockdown clamped to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The parliamentarians, on the occasion, also demanded the government to prioritise four sectors—employment generation, agriculture, health and the education—in the federal budget for the next fiscal year 2020-21.
They also said that as the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is taking away jobs from thousands of Nepalis within the country and out in different labour destinations, the primary focus of the new budget should be creating jobs. “The government to hold adequate discussions within the House and outside before presenting the budget,” they said, adding that
The finance minister has to present the budget every year on Jesth 15, which falls on May 28 this year.
Dr Khatiwada will present the budget for next fiscal year 2020-21 in the Parliament on May 28, though the budget session has started late due to coronavirus pandemic. The government has escaped the pre-budget discussions, and holding the discussion from today before programmes and Policies to be presented by the president on May 15.
The lawmakers – of almost all the political parties in the House – has a unanimous view that the government should not set ambitious targets and be realistic in its budget focusing on resolving the problems created by the pandemic. The government has as always like in the normal times has targeted to get double digit growth, which it has failed to achieve in the last fiscal year and fiscal year too, and of course seems not possible in the next fiscal year also.
The incumbent government and finance minister – who is going to present the budget for the third year in the row – has repeatedly failed to not only achieve the growth target but also crack whip on inflation, and also create investment friendly environment. “The private sector that has already been under threat from the government and its machinery that have been directly involved in the extortion, has not been able to operate business but the government has ordered to pay the complete salary of last month and thus month too,” said an entrepreneur, who did not wanted to be named due to fear from the finance minister and the incumbent government that does not like to hear criticism. 
The government has failed to pay the salary to government staff, how can private sector – without operating industries – pay salary of the workers for two months without work, he said, adding that they have not been reaping huge profits as assumed by the public. “The government is taking loan from the development partners to pay salary to its staff, and how can the private sector pay salary to its workers without any support.”
On the occasion, Nepali Congress lawmaker Minendra Rijal, also the shadow finance minister, said that thousands of migrant Nepali workers, and also those inside the country, have lost their jobs. “The government must thus focus on creating jobs,” he said, adding that the government also does not have exact data of how many Nepalis are currently employed abroad, though estimates suggest the number could be in millions.
There are over 1.5 million Nepali youths in Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait alone, according to the Migration in Nepal report. Likewise, some 3 million to 4 million people are employed in India. “The economic slowdown in these source countries has already hit the job market hard,” he said, adding that some 3,500 Nepali workers have registered to return home from Kuwait. “More unemployed Nepali migrant workers means more drop in remittance inflow, which will lead to decline in the import and affect revenue mobilisation.”
Urging the government to bring a realistic budget, he also said that despite agriculture accounting for one third of the country’s economy, the sector still continues to be neglected.
The lawmakers also demanded to allocate at least 10 per cent of the budget for the agriculture sector from currently 5 per cent that comes to around Rs 1.53 trillion.
The lawmakers also called the government to empower the local governments to help them implement projects more effectively, spend more to upgrade healthcare system, and invest more to develop infrastructure for online studies.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Coronavirus claims lives of 78 Non Resident Nepalis across the globe

Some 78 Non Resident Nepalis (NRNs) have lost their lives due to Covid-19 as yesterday evening, according to the NRN Association Health Committee.
Some 51 NRNs have succumbed to the infection in Britain alone, the largest number of Nepali deaths reported in a foreign land, the committee reported in a press note. “Likewise, some 15 NRNs have died in the USA, six in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one each in Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Bahrain and Sweden,” the press note reads, adding that the number of NRNs infected by Covid-19 has reached 5,472 across the world with more than 2,000 recovering from the deadly disease. “The NRNA has provided relief support to 35,000 NRNs, who were affected by the pandemic, in different countries.”
They were provided with food supplies and medical support including face mark, sanitizer and medicines, according to the press note. “The NRNA has also been providing counselling service through its 24-hour hotline service.”

Friday, May 8, 2020

WTO issues report on trade impacts for WTO members graduating from LDC status

A new report issued by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) today seeks to help least developed countries (LDCs) better understand the trade-related implications of graduation from LDC status. The product of a joint effort between the WTO and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), ‘Trade Impacts of LDC Graduation’ looks at how graduation may affect LDCs’ participation in world trade, including their access to export markets, and implications for their WTO commitments.
The report responds to a specific request from the LDC Group in the WTO for an analysis of how graduation will impact countries’ trade relations. LDCs are accorded special treatment in the WTO, in particular with regard to enhanced market access opportunities and the implementation of WTO rules and disciplines.
While graduation represents an important milestone in their development path, phasing out of the special treatment provisions associated with LDC status could present challenges to graduating LDCs. As a result, graduation-related concerns are increasingly becoming an integral part of LDC proposals in the WTO.
The report was completed before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the issuance of the WTO’s recent trade forecast, which foresees a sharp downturn in global trade this year. Nevertheless, the study remains pertinent as it examines the trade impacts resulting from graduation, not the factors that could constrain prospects for graduation due to the pandemic.
“The WTO remains committed to helping LDCs use trade to raise incomes and reduce vulnerabilities, and thereby to graduate from LDC status,” WTO director-general Roberto Azevêdo said, adding that a quarter of LDCs today are on track to graduate – or at least were, prior to the economic dislocation arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. “They need to be supported.”
It is very positive that the international community is continuing to explore measures to facilitate a smooth and sustainable graduation process for LDCs, he added.
A WTO member ‘graduates’ from LDC status when it meets certain socio-economic thresholds set by the United Nations (UN). The decision regarding graduation is taken by UN members at the recommendation of the Committee for Development Policy, an advisory body of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
There are currently 47 LDCs, of which 12 are at different stages of the graduation process. Of these LDCs, seven are WTO members including Nepal, Angola, Bangladesh, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, while three are in the process of negotiating their WTO accession including Bhutan, Sao Tome and Principe, and Timor-Leste. The other two LDCs on the graduation path are Kiribati and Tuvalu.
The report notes that while graduating LDCs have diverse economic and trade profiles, for most of them the impact of graduation appears limited, with only marginal increases in tariffs due to the loss of preferences. The biggest impact is likely to be confined to a handful of export items including clothing, fish products, footwear destined for a few developed country markets including Canada, the European Union (EU) and Japan. With a considerable share of graduating LDC exports going to markets covered by regional trade agreements, the impact of graduation is likely to be limited for this trade.
Graduating governments may need to take certain steps to adhere to their new non-LDC obligations, particularly with regards to increased notification requirements, the report notes.
The report explores options for graduating LDCs, including through forging appropriate trade arrangements with their trading partners and seeking recourse to instruments and procedures available under WTO rules that allow them to engage with WTO members should they face difficulties in meeting their commitments. It also identifies potential support measures that graduating LDCs can build on by working hand-in-hand with their development partners to ensure sustainable graduation.
The WTO Secretariat intends to undertake a Covid-19 impact analysis for graduating LDCs under the aegis of this project.
“Trade Impacts of LDC Graduation” is the outcome of a joint project between the WTO and the EIF that aims to help graduating LDCs to address graduation-related challenges and support their integration into global trade,” he added.

Himalaya Airlines departs to Chongqing to bring Covid -19 medical supplies

Having operated four successful cargo charters to Guangzhou and Changsha over the last fortnight Himalaya Airlines is now operating a few more cargo charters to various cities in China this month.
The third city in a row is Chongqing where the airlines is operating two flights today and tomorrow, according to the airlines. “Both flights will ship back medical supplies essential to contain the spread of Covid-19.”
After operating scheduled flights to Beijing, the airlines had established scheduled connectivity with Chongqing as its fifth destination in China, on January 23, operating a weekly direct flight.
A320-214, 9N ALW departed Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) in Kathmandu today and is scheduled to reach Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport midnight, a press note from the airlines reads, adding that the return flight is scheduled to take off at 04:35 hours (local time) the next day with medical supplies and is expected to arrive in Kathmandu at 06:30 hours.
“With recent surge in the number of Covid-19 cases in the country and the increasing need for essential medical supplies, there has been a sudden increase in demand for cargo charters and we are happy to have struck a deal for few more charters this month from different cities of China,” vice president of Himalaya Airlines Vijay Shrestha said, adding that Chongqing is one of the prominent destinations in China where the airlines had commenced flights just before Covid-19 outbreak. “We are eager to reconnect with the destination, albeit this time only for the cargo.”
Himalaya is committed to extending support to all stakeholders to meet the increasing needs of the nation for maintaining critical supply chains to battle against Covid-19,” he added.
The operating crew of the flight departed TIA complying with all the necessary health safety measures as per the directives of the government, the airlines claimed, adding that the aircraft is bringing Covid-19 medical supplies such as medical equipment, testing kits, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), masks, and gloves.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Nepal to get $214 million RCF from IMF to fight Covid-19 pandemic

The executive board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a disbursement to Nepal under the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) equivalent to SDR156.9 million (about $214 million, 100 per cent of quota) to help cover urgent balance of payments and fiscal needs stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic is having a severe impact on Nepal’s economy. During recent months, remittances have fallen considerably, tourist arrivals collapsed, and domestic activity has taken a hit amid social distancing measures.
The authorities’ immediate priority has been to deal with the human and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, a press note issued by the IMF reads, adding that the authorities are increasing health spending, including by providing additional incentive pay and insurance coverage to all medical front-line personnel, importing additional medical supplies, and setting up quarantine centers and temporary hospitals. “They are also strengthening social assistance by providing those most vulnerable with daily food rations, subsidising utility bills for low-usage customers, and taking steps to partially compensate those who suffer job loss.” In addition, measures are being implemented to ensure adequate liquidity in the financial system and support continued access to credit.
The IMF financial support will make a substantial contribution to filling immediate external and fiscal financing needs that have emerged due to Covid9. It is also expected to catalyze additional support from development partners.
Following the executive board discussion, deputy managing director and chair Tao Zhang said, that the global and domestic measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic are severely affecting the Nepali economy, through their impact on remittances, tourism, and domestic activity. “These have given rise to an urgent balance of payments need and a fiscal financing gap,” he said, adding that fund support under the Rapid Credit Facility, following the recent approval of debt service relief under the Fund’s CCRT, will help the authorities address immediate financing needs and catalyse additional support from other development partners. “The authorities are taking proactive, well-targeted measures to address the human and economic impact of the pandemic, while preserving macroeconomic stability.”
Such measures include increasing health spending, strengthening social assistance to protect the most vulnerable, and providing bank liquidity and credit support, he added. “Additional assistance from development partners, beyond what had already been committed before the outbreak of the pandemic, is needed to close the remaining balance of payments gap and ease the fiscal situation.”
The authorities’ commitment to high standards of transparency and governance in the management of financial assistance is welcome, the press note reads, adding that beyond the immediate response to the external shock, the authorities should remain committed to policies that promote inclusive growth and resilience, while containing external pressures, protecting financial stability, and preserving fiscal sustainability. “Strengthening good governance and accountability would also be important.”
The IMF executive board approves the 50th request for emergency financial assistance to help its member countries address the challenges posed by Covid-19.
Earlier, on April 7, the World Bank has approved a fast-track $29 million Covid-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project to help Nepal prevent, detect, and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and strengthen its public health preparedness.
Likewise, on March 28, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced a $6.5 billion initial package to address the immediate needs of its developing member countries (DMCs) as they respond to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The development partners have been helping Nepal fight the pandemic with emergence financial assistance, though the government led by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is charged for its involvement in rampant corruption in purchase of health equipment and necessary kits to fight coronavirus pandemic. The anti-corruption watch body is looking into the corruption charges, whereas the government has ask the Nepal Army to bring in the health equipment as the purchase by the Army could not be questioned by the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA).

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

NC’s forms ‘economy-focused special committee’

The main opposition party Nepali Congress (NC) today formed an ‘economy-focused special committee’ to study and analyse the impacts of Covid-19 in various sectors, and prescribe the government immediate, medium and long term solutions.
Issuing a press note today, NC informed that party president Sher Bahadur Deuba formed the committee under the coordination of the former finance minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat. The committee comprises former finance ministers and state ministers and vice chairs in the National Planning Commission (NPC), the press note reads, adding that the committee includes former finance ministers Mahesh Acharya, Gyanendra Bahadur Karki, Dr Narayan Khadka, Dr Minendra Rijal, Chinkaji Shrestha, Deep Kumar Upadhyay, Bharat Shah, and Uday Shumsher Rana. “Likewise, Dr Prithivi Raj Ligal, Dr Shankar Sharma, Dr Jagadish Chandra Pokhrel, Dr Govinda Pokhrel and Dr Swarnim Wagle are also in the special committee.”
“The party will set its immediate vision and position regarding relief packages, short-term vision on the priorities of the upcoming budget and long vision on national economy post-pandemic,” the press note reads.

Lockdown to continue, essential industries to open from Friday

The government has extended the lockdown period – as recommended by the High-Level Coordination Committee for the Prevention and Control of Covid-19 yesterday – keeping the suspension on international flights and sealing border till May end, but some essential industries will be allowed to start their operation from Friday.
A meeting of the Council of Ministers today decided to extend the term of nationwide coronavirus-lockdown till May 18, confirmed finance minister, who is also information and communication technology minster, Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada. “But some 42 industries of essential nature will be allowed to operate from Friday with adequate health precautions,” he said, adding that they have to maintain social distance, employees must use mask and sanitiser. “These industries can make one-third of their employees work at a time.”
The industries related to food and food processing, water, biscuits, tea, sugar, LP Gas, ginger, bread, confectionery, paintings, press, electricity fittings to construction related industries will be allowed to operate from Friday, Khatiwada said, adding that the party palaces, malls that do not sell food and food products, gym, temples, mosque, church, and training programmes are however not allowed to operate.
A meeting of the High-Level Coordination Committee for the Prevention and Control of Covid-19 yesterday – in the presence of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli – had reviewed measures taken to prevent the spread of the pandemic and the impact of the ongoing lockdown. It has concluded that the lockdown has been effective in controlling coronavirus from spreading. But the economy has been bleeding as the industries have been closed since March 24. When the government first announced the lockdown, Nepal had reported just two Covid-19 cases. But this week alone, 23 new cases have been reported, with the national tally reaching 99, though there have been no deaths so far.
With the sixth extension of lockdown from day after, Nepal will be under lockdown for almost two months until a different modality of rules and restrictions is decided upon. The country has lost around Rs 300 billion due to a lockdown in the last a-month-and-half which has halted economic activities in the country.
The committee has decided to recommend the government to further extend the lockdown, but allow some economic activities to start as the government coffer is drying due to loss of revenue, reduction of remittance inflow and plummeting export, apart from tourism that seems to take minimum half year to revive.
The length of the lockdown imposed on March 24, which saw the most recent extension on April 27, is maturing tomorrow, the committee had suggested to categorise areas as green, orange and red, but the Prime Minister was not convinced saying that it is not the right time to relax lockdown on the basis of categorisation, as Covid- 19 cases continued to rise in India and in certain districts of Nepal bordering India, and also in Nepal.
Critics say the government failed to utilise the lockdown over the last six weeks to step up measures to trace and treat and find ways to gradually lift lockdown.
The cabinet meeting also decided to tighten entry points to Kathmandu and keep records of those who need to travel for emergency situations like for health checkups, Khatiwada added.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

High-level committee recommends extension of lockdown

The high-level government committee formed to prevent and contain the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has recommended the government to continue the lockdown.
A meeting of the committee held at the Prime Minister's Official Residence in Baluwatar today concluded that the lockdown needs to be extended as the number of Covid-19 cases are rising lately. “We have recommended the government to extend the lockdown,” confirmed secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister Narayan Prasad Bidari. “However, the cabinet meeting will take the final decision on the extension of the lockdown tomorrow," he said, adding that the time duration of the fifth extension of lockdown will be decided by the cabinet tomorrow. Bidari, who is also a member of the coronavirus prevention and control committee, said that the key to contain spread of Covid-19 is lockdown. "The meeting reviewed the measures currently being enforced to stem the coronavirus,” he added.
The nationwide lockdown was first enforced on March 24, and has been extended for the fourth time that will come to an end on Thursday.
Nepal has reported some 82 Covid-19 cases till date. Of which some 16 have returned home after treatment, according to the Health Ministry. Nepalgunj and Udayapur – where the most of the Covid-19 cases were identified – are the corona hotspot in the country.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Beverage, cigarette industries ask government to let them open business

Nepal Liquor and Cigarette Industries’ Association today urged the government to allow supplies of beverage and cigarette by easing lockdown.
Issuing a press note today, they also urged the government to allow beverage and cigarette industries and suppliers to operate at least a few hours daily. Beverage and cigarette Industries contribute more than Rs 10 billion to the national coffer annually and provide employment to more than 2 million people, the press note reads, adding that the lockdown has, however, made millions of people jobless. “It will not only hit the daily lives of beverage and cigarette suppliers but also the economy.
The association has also drawn the government’s attention towards the illegal production and distribution of liquor during the lockdown, which will not only bleed the government coffer but also create health hazards.
The government has though targeted to mobilise Rs 111.2 billion revenue in the current fiscal year, the lockdown of almost two months has hit the government target. However, the government is still optimistic of mobilising Rs 800 billion, according to the Finance Ministry.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Nepal and Green Climate Fund, FAO join hands

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) under Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) have agreed to provide financial grant assistance of $39.3 million (approximately Rs 4,688.2 million) for the implementation of Building a Resilient Churia Region in Nepal (BRCRN) project. The grant assistance will be mobilised through the budgetary system of the government, according to a press note issued by the Finance Minister.
The project aims to enhance the climate-resilience of ecosystems and vulnerable communities in Nepal´s Churia region through integrated Sustainable Natural Resource Management (SNRM) approaches, it reads, adding that the project will cover 26 river systems of the province No 1, 2 and Bagmati provinces and aims to benefit approximately 200,681 households. “This project will benefit to women, indigenous people, dalit and vulnerable people of that area.”
The main components of the project are scaling up climate-resilient Sustainable Natural Resource Management (SNRM), strengthening institutions and planning for climate-resilient SNRM and improving knowledge, awareness and local capacity for climate-resilient SNRM, it further reads. “The project will be implemented for a period of six-and-a-half years.”
The Ministry of Forest and Environment will be the implementing agency for this project.
This is the first time that GCF fund is being utilised by the government through its budgetary system. The agreement was signed by joint secretary at the Finance Ministry Shreekrishna Nepal on behalf of the government and representative of FAO in Nepal and Bhutan Somsak Pipoppinyo, on behalf of GCF/FAO.
The government has expressed its sincere appreciation to the GCF/FAO for this assistance and its continued support to Nepal.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

French Embassy helps repatriate 390 including French nationals

The French Embassy today helped repatriate a flight -- the third one -- from Kathmandu to Paris for the French nationals, their families and other European and non-European nationals in a special flight chartered by the French Government.
According to a press note issued by the French Embassy in Kathmandu, this is the third repatriation flight and a total of 309 passengers departed in the French government chartered flight today carrying 110 French nationals and more than 190 European and other non-European nationals.
This repatriation flight played another key role: it brought 3,000 German made PCR-test kits which are part of the German support to Nepal on its fight against Covid-19, it reads. 
"The French Embassy is committed to the main mission of ensuring the welfare of its citizens abroad during hard times in close coordination with the local authorities to whom this Embassy is very grateful”, said French ambassador to Nepal François-Xavier Léger, during the repatriation process.
Earlier, many foreign diplomatic missions including the US Embassy, German Embassy, Australian Embassy have also repatriated their citizens with special flights. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Supreme Court’s decision reaffirms the need to amend transitional justice law

The decision by Nepal's Supreme Court to reject a petition by the government asking that it reviews its 2015 ruling against amnesties for grave conflict-era crimes is an important step in securing truth, justice and reparations for the thousands of victims of the country’s decade-long conflict, Amnesty International, TRIAL International, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and Human Rights Watch said today.
The armed conflict between Maoist and government forces ended in 2006, but victims of serious abuses by both sides are still awaiting justice, accountability and reparations. The four organisations called upon the government to revise the 2014 Transitional Justice Act and ensure its implementation in accordance with the Supreme Court’s judgments, so as to assure access to justice for the victims of conflict-era abuses.
Nepal’s transitional justice law, which was passed by Parliament in April 2014, established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons, the joint press note reads, adding that it, however, contained provisions that could allow for amnesties even for crimes such as torture, including rape and other sexual violence and ill-treatment and enforced disappearance. “On February 26, 2015, the Supreme Court struck down the amnesty provisions and ordered the act to be amended accordingly.”
However, the government immediately petitioned to overturn the ruling. That petition was rejected by the court on April 27, 2020.
“With the Supreme Court’s decision, there can be no further excuse for government backsliding on ensuring truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence,” South Asia Director at Amnesty International Biraj Patnaik said, adding that the government should immediately amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014 in line with the Supreme Court’s orders and its own international obligations.
With its latest ruling the Supreme Court has upheld the principle that there can be no amnesties for those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and human rights violations. More than 13 years since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of November 2006 promised justice to the victims, no one has been held accountable for any conflict-era crimes.
“The request filed by the Nepal government to review the decision of the Supreme Court was another attempt to evade the real issue: accountability for mass human rights violations,” the head of Nepal Programme at TRIAL International Cristina Cariello said, adding that they were delighted that the Supreme Court held its ground and reaffirmed the importance of fair and efficient transitional justice mechanisms.
Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International have repeatedly expressed concerns about the faltering transitional justice process. Besides the failure to amend the law to uphold basic principles of justice, there have been long delays and repeated political interference in appointments to the two transitional justice commissions.
“Over the past decade, the Supreme Court of Nepal has produced some of the most human rights compliant jurisprudence in South Asia,” ICJ Asia Pacific director Frederick Rawski  said, adding that the petition cynically sought to have the Court undermine its own judgement, so that the government could sidestep its responsibility to provide accountability for conflict-related human rights violations. “The government has no excuse for not immediately amending the transitional justice legal framework so that it is consistent with the Court’s jurisprudence and Nepal’s international legal obligations.”
An effective transitional justice system requires strong legal foundations consistent with international law and standards, and the political will to address the demands of victims of the conflict, the organisations said.
“When Nepal stood for election to the United Nations Human Rights Council the government promised to uphold its human rights obligations, but 3 years later, as it seeks re-election, there has been nothing but impunity and evasion on transitional justice,” South Asia director at Human Rights Watch Meenakshi Ganguly said, adding that these are crimes under international law, subject to universal jurisdiction, and if justice is denied at home victims may take their cases abroad.