Monday, November 30, 2020

Regulator warns investors to be cautious in share trading

 Issuing a press note today, the stock market regulator – Securities Board of Nepal (Sebon) – has advised investors to make investment in the share market with caution.

The warning comes in the wake of the recent share market rally that has propelled the Nepal Stock Exchange (Nepse) benchmark index to a new high. As the share market has been looking up and breaking records everyday, the Sebon has urged the investors not to fall prey of gossip, and invest wisely and cautiously. 

Asking the investors to refrain from making investment decisions based on rumors and speculations, the regulator also urged investors to make investment considering global and domestic economic analysis, financial status along with the corporate governance situation of listed companies and risk bearing capacity of oneself.

The Nepse index climbed up by 28.79 points today to close the intra-day trading at the record high of 1,997.06 points, the historic record.

The stock market rally in the times of pandemic that has bleed the economy has been questioned, though the investors – due to lack of other investment avenues – are flocking to the share market. 

Thus, the Sebon reminded investors to make investment only after analysing established market norms and values, financial position and compliance status of listed companies and macroeconomic indicator.

But the investors have been claiming that the Nepse index is going to cross 2,000 points this time, also due to flush cash in the banks and financial institutions, and low interest rates.

Nepse index jumps by 29 points to touch 1,997 points

 Nepal Stock Exchange (Nepse) index today gained by 28.79 points to close the day’s trading at 1,997.06 points, the record higher in the domestic share market.

Though, today’s opening session witnessed Nepse index higher above 2,000 point mark, it closed down little lower than 2,000 points as the market corrected itself within the first trading hour. 

Nepse continued its winning streak with back-to-back gains of almost 30 points on Sunday and Monday, from last Thursday’s closing of record 1893.  Points. Today’s daily turnover has however, been lowed than yesterday’s as the market posted a turnover of Rs 8.87 billion compared to over Rs 9 billion of yesterday. 

Of the 12 sub indices, only 4 lost, while 8 sub indices gained to push the Nepse index up. Development Bank sub-index retraced by 2.08 per cent followed by 1.10 per cent dip in Mutual Fund sector. Likewise, Finance and Banking sub-indices also lost 0.59 per cent and 0.48 per cent.

But, Life Insurance and trading sub indices – the top performers – rallied by 7.34 per cent and 6.61 per cent, whereas hydropower sector shot up by 5.93 per cent.

Among the listed companies, Nepal Life Insurance led the list of top turnover stocks with a transaction of over Rs 384 million. Likewise, Nepal Reinsurance Company followed suit with turnover of Rs 373 million, whereas Prabhu Bank and Nepal Bangladesh Bank posted turnovers of Rs 367 million and Rs 333 million, respectively. Likewise, Global IME Bank, Nepal Investment Bank, and Nepal Bank were heavily traded stocks today.

United Modi Hydropower and Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower also gained remarkableas they hit the upper circuit limit of 10 per cent. Green Development Bank, Nepal Bangladesh Bank, Sanjen Jalvidhyut Company, Rasuwagadhi Hydropower Company, Nepal Life Insurance Company, Salt Trading Corporation and Nepal Credit and Commerce (NCC) Bank also witnessed a heavy buying pressure and closed more than 9 per cent higher.

However, Bishal Bazar Company tanked another 10 per cent, while Bottlers Nepal (Terai) fell by 5.42 per cent, whereas Lumbini Bikas Bank and Garima Bikas Bank declined by 4.10 per cent and 3.79 per cent.

Kathmandu-New Delhi flights to resume soon

After nine months the flights between Kathmandu and New Delhi are resuming soon.

“Flights between Nepal and India are set to resume from next seven to 10 days,” confirmed the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA).

The ministry has started preparations to permit operation of Kathmandu-New Delhi-Kathmandu flights from next week, joint secretary at the ministry Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane said, adding that the ministry has started necessary home works to resume flights, which were halted since March due to the risk of Covid-19 pandemic. 

India has sent a concept of air-bubble through the diplomatic channels to resume the flights. “The ministry is reviewing the concept of 'air bubble' that India sent through the diplomatic channel,” he said, adding that the ministry is working on dates to operate the flights. “The airlines of both the countries would be asked to make necessary preparations to resume the flights.” 

According to the air bubble concept only the nationals of Nepal and India can get permission to fly on New Delhi-Kathmandu flight. India has signed air bubble agreement with 16 countries including Afghanistan and Maldives in South Asia, and has also sent a proposal to Nepal also. 

In the beginning, only two flights – one each from Nepal and India – will be allowed to operate. Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) will operate from Nepal and Air India will operate from India in the first phase, the ministry informed. “The number of flights will be increased based on demand later.”

The government has already resumed the regular international flights, except from India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Thailand, from September 1 after they were halted nearly six months ago following the nationwide lockdown imposed throughout the country on March 24. “The flights to the three destinations in Indian cities – New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore – have been halted due to the increasing rate of Covid-19 infection in India.

A Cabinet meeting on November 25 had decided to accept the 'air bubble model' proposed by India regarding resumption of flights between Kathmandu and New Delhi. The cabinet had decided to grant permission to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation to study and start the resumption of flights based on the need. However, the flights could be started only after the regulatory bodies of both Nepal and India, together prepare the flight standards.

Currently, some 29 airlines, including three from Nepal, are operating the international flights in various destinations of 16 countries. 

However, the number of international fights has decreased in recent days, according to the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). “In the beginning – when the international flights were opened on September 1 – there used to be up to 25 flights to various international destinations on a daily basis,” the TIA informed, adding that the number of international flights is hardly 20 – including arrival and departure – per day at present. “The number of international flights has decreased instead of increasing due to lack of passengers.”

What is air bubble agreement
'Transport Bubbles' or 'Air Travel Arrangements' are temporary arrangements between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger services when regular international flights are suspended as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. They are reciprocal in nature, meaning airlines from both countries enjoy similar benefits. 

Fifth edition of Global Migration Film Festival starts

 The fifth edition of the Global Migration Film Festival (GMFF) in Nepal was launched virtually today at the 8th Nepal Human Rights International Film Festival (NHRIFF) with the screening of a short film on human trafficking and migration.

“Films are one of best media to communicate with both public and policy makers, which eventually become a tool to raise awareness, advocate and trigger discussions on topics that require wider attention,” said chief of Mission for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Nepal Lorena Lando, speaking at the inaugural session.

“With over 2.4 million Nepalis working in over 100 countries, according to Nepal Migration Profile 2019, and prevailing reports of Nepalis falling victims tohuman traffickers in the course of migration, we believe that the film we have selected to screen this year targeting youth as well as the decision makers will be helpful to contribute towards addressing the issue,” Lando added.

The GMFF is taking place across the world from November 30 and run tll December 18, despite the challenges of Covid-19 pandemic, according to the IOM. “This year’s GMFF also coincides with the ongoing celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the UN.”

Likewise, addressing the inaugural session National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) secretary Bed Prasad Bhattarai opined that such film festivals such as GMFF and NHRIFF help raise human rights issues while noting that Nepal’s national policies are in accordance to the international human rights instruments.

A post-screening panel discussion was followed by the Nepal-based short film ‘Pari of Pokhara’ – which depicts a story of a young woman, who has lost her mother and family home to an earthquake and falls into trap of human traffickers while she seeks employment and freedom in life.

Head of Anti-human Trafficking and Control Section atthe Ministry Women, Children and Senior Citizens, Goma Dhakal, a representative from civil society organisation, and the film’s director Babar Ali along with Reena Pathak representing the UN Nepal, discussed on various aspect of the film and the issues it raises.

“I only tell a story through the film and leave it to the audiences to interpret it,” said the film’s director Babar Ali. “Some might find the film only as love story while some find it as issues like human trafficking and migration, prevent in societies.”

The GMFF was launched in 2016 and by its fourth edition in 2019, it had been run in 108 countries, with over 58,000 people attending the over 700 screenings worldwide, according to a press note issued by the IOM, Kathmandu.

The goal of the Festival is to pave the way for greater discussion around one of the greatest phenomena of our time: migration. Furthermore, it is an innovative avenue for normalising and destigmatising discussions on migration through storytelling, and an advocacy tool that can draw attention to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), thus helping all nations as they work to meet them.

Audiences were from government agencies, youths, civil society organisations, academia, researchers, and media for advocacy for safe and well governed migration.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Nepal-India relationships rest on four pillars: Visiting Indian foreign secretary

 India’s relationship with Nepal rests on four pillars – development cooperation, stronger connectivity, expanded infrastructure and economic projects – according to visiting Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla.

Shringla, who is on a two-day official visit to Nepal, during a lecture on Nepal-India relations in Kathmandu today, also said stressing the need for strong cooperative relations between the two neighboring countries, he also said that his country sees Nepal as foremost friend and development partner. “India will work to Nepal's priority.”

He also highlighted easier and enhanced access to educational opportunities in India for the young people of Nepal. “India will work to Nepal’s priorities,” he said, adding that the structure that the pillars hold up is also well-defined and unchanging – mutually beneficial people-to-people contacts. And in all this technology, particularly digital technology, is to my mind a force multiplier. “Nepal is fundamental to India’s neighborhood-first policy apart from people-to-people linkages between the two countries are strong.”

“Enhancing cross-border connectivity and infrastructure projects are also critical,” he said, adding that they unlock potential of millions and in millions. “Connectivity projects come in various forms like physical connectivity projects such as highways, rail and air links and inland waterways enhance movement of goods and people, whereas energy connectivity – whether power transmission lines or petroleum pipelines – contribute to the well-being of each other’s citizens, and build mutual trust and partnerships.”

“Digital connectivity through optical fibre networks is our route to the future, particularly, and as we find in India, with remote access to education, healthcare and other services through the digital medium,” he said. “Finally, trade facilitation through upgraded border infrastructure makes for easier transit and seamless commerce.”

“India sees itself as Nepal’s natural and instinctive responder,” the Indian foreign secretary said, while referring to India's prompt response to devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015 that claimed nearly 10,000 lives leaving thousands injured. “India will also share the Nobel coronavirus vaccines as soon as the vaccine once it is rolled out.”

Shringla arrived Kathmandu yesterday at the invitation of his counterpart Bharat Raj Paudyal. Earlier yesterday, he called on President Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali. Shringla also held a delegation-level meeting with foreign secretary Paudyal yesterday afternoon. “In my meetings here in Kathmandu, with the President and the Prime Minister of Nepal, the foreign minister, and my counterpart the foreign secretary, and other dignitaries and officials, I have been left with no doubt that our countries are on the same page and share the same vision,” he informed

He also reminded the high level meetings of the leaders from both the countries. “Our Prime Minister’s visit to Nepal in August 2014 was the first at that level in 17 years,” he said, adding that the visit injected a fresh energy into the relationship and created a steady stream of two-way travel and developmental initiatives. “Over the past six years, Prime Minister Modi has visited Nepal four times and the Prime Minister of Nepal has been welcomed in India seven times, apart from the leaders have met 16 times at the level of head of state or head of government.”

He also reminded the High Impact Community Development Projects, which according to him are tailored to the needs of the local community, create community assets, and promote socio-economic welfare at the grassroots level. “Such development projects have been implemented in all 77 of Nepal’s districts and over a hundred of them have been completed since 2014 when our Prime Minister visited Nepal for the first time when he took over.”

These programmes cover diverse sectors such as education, health, irrigation, drinking water, preservation of culture, skill development, youth training, and agriculture, and have immediate and positive impact on the lives of people, touching everybody in society, added the visiting guest. 

Before wrapping his two-day visit, Shringla today afternoon travelled to Gorkha and inaugurated three schools – Shree Mahalaxmi, Shree Ratnalaxmi and Shree Tara Secondary Schools – constructed with Indian reconstruction assistance. “There are about 1600 students in these three schools, who now have the advantage of the newly constructed earthquake resilient school buildings,” according to a press note from the Indian Embassy. “These schools are part of 71 educational institutes across nine districts being built under government of India grant assistance of $50 million for reconstruction in the education sector,” it reads, adding that the nine beneficiary districts are Gorkha, Nuwakot, Sindhupalchowk, Ramechhap, Dolakha, Kavrepalanchowk, Dhading and Kathmandu. 

Speaking on the occasion, Indian foreign secretary emphasised that education is the best investment in the future of the country and its people. Since 2003, government of India has built nearly 270 educational campuses across Nepal under High Impact Community Development Projects scheme, complementing the efforts of Nepal in this area. Shringla also encouraged Nepali students to take advantage of over 3000 scholarships being provided by government of India to contribute in the development of their country and to further strengthen India-Nepal partnership.

India is also working with Nepal on reconstruction of 147 health posts and hospitals in ten districts of Nepal under a grant of $ 50 million and 28 cultural heritage sites in 8 districts of Nepal under another grant of $ 50 million.

In his last engagement before leaving Nepal that also signifies the diverse bilateral development and cultural cooperation, foreign secretary Shringla virtually inaugurated the Tashop (Tare) Gompa monastery constructed at Shree Kharka village in Manang district, the press note reads, adding that the event was also attended by secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yadav Prasad Koirala, acharya Lama Norbu Sherpa, president of Nepal Buddhist Federation along with the representatives of Khangsar Sewa Samiti.

After completing his two-day official visit, foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla returned to New Delhi in the late afternoon today, the press note reads.

Projects under Indian assistance

• The Motihari–Amlekhgunj petroleum pipeline was the first of its kind in the region. It has created capacity to carry two million metric tonnes of petroleum products into Nepal, and has already led to savings of over Rs 800 million for the people of this country. 

• Brisk implementation of the 900 MW Arun III hydropower power project is underway, and cross-border power transmission lines have been upgraded

• The Jayanagar-Kurtha cross-border rail line should be operational shortly. It will make Janakpur so much quicker to visit from India. Tourism from India would be an important area of employment, commerce and opportunity. We want to promote it to the extent that we can.

• The modern integrated check-posts (ICP) at Birgunj and Biratnagar have transformed cross-border movement of people and goods, and work on the integrated check-posts at Nepalgunj has commenced

• After the earthquake of 2015, India cooperated with Nepal in the restoration of 30 heritage locations, including the iconic Seto Machindranath temple in Kathmandu, the Hiranyavarna Mahavihar at Patan, and the Jangam Matha at Bhaktapur. Our best domain specialists are at the service of the living history of Nepal.

• Given the young population – both in India and Nepal – education is a crucial bridge. Seventy schools and 150 health facilities are coming up in 12 districts of Nepal with Indian support. 

• The outlay of Indian earthquake-related assistance is US$ 1 billion but its true value is not in monetary terms. It lies in how it has helped communities on the ground. To cite an instance, 46,000 houses have been built in Gorkha and Nuwakot. They incorporate earthquake-resilient technologies in line with the motto of ‘Build Back Better’, and they epitomise humanity’s ability to triumph over adversity.

ADB approves loan to upgrade power grids in Nepal

 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $156 million concessional loan to modernise power transmission and distribution systems in Nepal.

While majority of Nepali population has access to grid-supplied electricity, there is a need to increase the capacity and reach of power distribution networks to meet current and future demands, improve reliability and quality of supply, and reduce losses, according to a press note issued by the multilateral development partner. “The Electricity Grid Modernisation Project will finance the automation of grid substations throughout the country, modernise distribution and transmission systems in various areas, complete the installation of smart meters in the Kathmandu Valley, and support sector reform and institutional strengthening of the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), the press note reads.

“ADB has been actively involved in major policy and institutional reforms in the power sector, and this project is a continuation of our support to provide reliable and efficient electricity supply in the country,” ADB Principal Energy Specialist Jiwan Acharya said, adding that the project will, moreover, position Nepal to be better prepared in its post-pandemic economic rebuilding.

The project will, among others, automate 34 existing grid substations, install 220-kilovolt (kV) and 132-kV automated grid substations, construct a total of 113 kilometers (km) of new transmission lines, upgrade 144 km of existing transmission lines with efficient conductors, and expand the installation of smart meters for 350,000 electricity consumers in the Kathmandu Valley. An electricity distribution system command and control center in Kathmandu will also be constructed, reads the press note.

Awareness-raising activities on the safe and efficient use of electricity for electricity consumers, including women and disadvantaged groups, will be conducted. The project will strengthen the institutional capacity of NEA in implementing its comprehensive corporate development plan, train its staff in managing the automated grid substations, and improve financial sustainability and corporate financial reporting.

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, November 26, 2020

Nepse posts three historic records, all-time high index, largest turnover and highest number of transaction

 It seems coronavirus crisis has not any negative impact on domestic market as the Nepse index went up by 0.98 per cent or 18.43 points to close at 1,893.24 points – the highest in the history – today. The previous highest close was 1,881.45 on July 27, 2016.

Though the Nepse index scaled as high as 1,926.91 points – during the intraday session today – it settled to close at 1,893.24 points also with the highest turnover of Rs 7.61 billion, which is also the record turn over in the market till date. Likewise, the secondary market witnessed some 17,188,099 shares of 201 listed firms are traded through 70,003 transactions, which is also the highest number of transactions in a single trading day, today the last trading day of the week.

Since the banks and financial institutions are flushed with lonable liquidity, and there is no other investment opportunity in the market due to coronavirus induced slowdown in economy, the investors have been putting their money on share, according to the analysts. “The change in guard in the Finance Ministry has also played the catalyst to push the share market up,” they claimed, as the incumbent finance minister Bishnu Prasad Poudel is considered market friendly, compared to his predecessor Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada. 

The float index gained 1.45 points and closed at 128.54 while the sensitive index closed at 365.18 points after gaining 2.85 points, according to the Nepse, that is yet dominated by the banks and financial institutions. The banking index gained the most 2.7 per cent helping to push the Nepse up.

Nepal Reinsurance Company (NRIC) has the highest individual scrip turnover of Rs 581.3 million, whereas the shares of Prabhu Bank (PRVU) was the highest trading today. Likewise, four companies that hit the 10 per cent positive circuit today are NMB Laghubitta Bittiya Sanstha (NMBMF), Panchthar Power Company Ltd (PPCL), Himalaya Urja Bikas Company (HURJA), and Ankhukhola Hydropower Company Ltd (AKJCL).

The Salt Trading Corporation (STC) has however lost the most at 6.18 per cent. The trading index lost the most at 5.33 per cent.

The the Nepse index and gross domestic production (GDP) has had the positive correlation in the past years, it seems to have the negative correlation this fiscal year. In the past years, the Nepse has recorded highest when the GDP also posted high in the respective fiscal years. But this fiscal year, the GDP seems to be hovering between 0 to 2 per cent, according to the projections from multilateral development partners including Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), and also the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), and National Planning Commission (NPC).     

The lowest index level was on June 15, 2011 – 292.00
The highest index was on July 27 2016 – 1,881.45
The lowest Index level on March 3, 2019 – 1,100.58
The highest index is on today, Nov 26 2020 – 1893.25

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Nepse index looks up to break all-time high record

 Though, the economy is not doing well due to coronavirus-induced lockdown for almost 4 months and subsequent prohibitory order, the share market has been looking up to break one or the other record every day.

Just a couple of days ago, the secondary market recorded the historic turnover of almost 7 billion in a day, and today the market almost broke its 4 year old all-time high record of 1,881.45 points. The Nepal Stock Exchange (Nepse) index – the share market indicator – gained a whopping 64.98 points today to close at 1,875.10 points, almost 7 points less to break the all-time high record. However, this is the third-highest close in the history of Nepse. The index is only 6.35 points away from the all-time high of 1,881.45 points maintained in the previous bull cycle 4 years ago, also due to no investment option for the investors and high liquidity in the banking system due to pandemic, according to the market analysts.

The Nepse index today – the fourth day of the trading – opened at 1,820.87 points and witnessed some 18,846,181 shares exchange the hands through 42,151 transactions. The trading of 196 scrips brought the total turnover to a little over Rs 6.81 billion, which is also the second-highest turnover in Nepse history, second only to the record maintained last week.

Likewise, the float index also gained 3.81 points to close at 127.13, while the sensitive index closed at 362.33 after gaining 12.96 points in a day’s trading. “Neco Insurance Promoter has the highest individual scrip turnover of Rs 422.9 million,” according to the Nepse.

According to the classical definition, the share market is the mirror of economy, but domestic share market also broke the classical definition of share market being the mirror of economy as the Nepali economy is doing poorly. However, the economic growth – measured by Gross Domestic Production (GDP) – and domestic share market – measured by Nepse index – has positive correlation till now. This fiscal year, the domestic share market might break that also.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

More than half Nepalis believe corruption increased in a year

 More than the half population in the country thinks corruption has increased in Nepal in last one year, according to a report released by the Transparency International (TI).

Some 58 per cent of Nepalis – the highest in Asia – think corruption has increased in the country in past 12 months, the report reads, adding that corruption is pervasive in Nepal. “Specifically, corruption is an issue in government procurement, mainly involving politicians and bureaucrats, as well as public service delivery, with citizens facing problems even in critical sectors like health and education."

The bribery rate is 12 per cent, the report adds.

Nepalis perception of the state of corruption in the country is the worst among the 17 countries and territories surveyed by the Transparency International (TI). People perceive corruption at all levels of government in Nepal, from the top to the local level.

Unfortunately, there are many examples where corruption pervades daily life, including a high profile land grab case involving senior public officials and the illegal transfer of state property, it reads

Though Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has repeatedly vowed to control corruption, his administration has done little to combat it. On the contrary, Oli has defended cabinet colleagues, who have been named in corruption scandals, while critics raise concerns that the independent anticorruption agency has not pursued any grand corruption cases. 

People’s growing frustrations with government and apathy towards corruption have spurred the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign (COVID 19) street protests and support for Dr Govinda KC’s medical-sector reform agenda, the report reads, adding that a truly committed political leadership and a strong people’s movement are essential to control increasing corruption.

According to the TI report, some 84 per cent of Nepalis think corruption in government is a big problem, whereas some 37 per cent of people think the government is doing badly tackling corruption. “But some 62 per cent of people think the government is doing well in tackling corruption.”

Likewise, some 12 per cent people paid bribe for public service in the past 12 months, whereas some 29 per cent used personal connection for public service in past 12 months, the report reads, adding that some 13 per cent also offered bribes in exchange of votes. “Some 7 per cent experienced sextortion or know someone who has.”

The report has also revealed that people in President and Prime Minister’s office are the most corrupt. “Some 50 per cent or half of the people in President and Prime Minister’s office are corrupt,” the report reads, adding that some 43 per cent of Members of Parliament, and government officials are corrupt. “Likewise, 40 per cent of local government officials, 35 per cent business executives, and 28 per cent police is also corrupt.”

Bankers are the least corrupt as 13 per cent of bankers are corrupt – which is very unusual – followed by Army leaders – with 18 per cent – are corrupt, according to the TI report. “The 27 per cent of non-government offices (NGOs), some 24 per cent of judges and magistrates, and 23 per cent religious leaders are also corrupt,” the TI report adds.

Corruption remains a major problem in Asia, damaging trust in government

 A report released today by Transparency International (TI) reveals that citizens across 17 countries in Asia report stagnant or rising levels of corruption, undermining equitable access to public services and trust in government.

The report, ‘Global Corruption Barometer – Asia’, finds that three-quarters of respondents believe that government corruption is a big problem in their country, with nearly one in five people (19 per cent) paying a bribe when accessing public services in the previous year. This is equivalent to about 836 million people.

In addition to bribery, the use of personal connections to access public services is also prevalent across Asia. The results found that more than one in five people (22 per cent), who accessed public services used their personal connections to receive the assistance they needed.

When asked why, 24 per cent of people who paid bribes said they were asked to do so, while 30 per cent of people, who used personal connections said they would not have received the service otherwise. This suggests that people are paying bribes to speed up essential services, highlighting red tape and inefficient bureaucracy, while pushing those without the means at their disposal to the back of the queue.

Age is another important factor. Young people aged 18 to 34 are more likely to pay a bribe or use personal connections than any other age group.

The survey also found corruption around elections is also prevalent. Nearly one in seven people were offered bribes in exchange for votes at a national, regional or local election in the past five years.

“Protecting the integrity of elections is critical to ensuring that corruption doesn’t undermine democracy,” said chair of Transparency International (TI) Delia Ferreira Rubio. “Throughout the region, election commissions and anti-corruption agencies need to work in lockstep to counter vote-buying, which weakens trust in government.”

Across Asia, more than three out of four people (76 per cent) are familiar with the anti-corruption agency in their country, of which, 63 per cent think that the agency is doing a good job.

In addition, people across the region are hopeful about the future of anti-corruption. More than three in five (62 per cent) think that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption.

Please read the GCB Asia 2000 Report for more information on Nepal.

Through chapters in more than 100 countries and an international secretariat in Berlin, Transparency International (TI) has been leading the fight against corruption for the last 27 years.

Friday, November 20, 2020

ADB approves $150 million loan to upgrade major airports

 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $150 million concessional loan to improve the capacity of Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) and Gautam Buddha Airport (GBA) in Nepal.

According to a press note issued by the multilateral development partner, tourism is a major source of economic activity in Nepal. “In 2019, tourism generated an estimated $2.05 billion, which accounted for 6.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP),” the press note reads, adding that the TIA in Kathmandu is the country’s only international airport and a major hub for domestic air transport. “The GBA in Lumbini will serve as an alternate international air transport facility for Nepal. “Lumbini is the birthplace of the Buddha and is a pilgrimage and major tourist destination.”

“ADB’s support will improve TIA’s safety, capacity, and operational efficiency,” 

In addition, the new GBA international terminal will play a key role in boosting regional tourism in and around Lumbini,” ADB senior transport specialist for South Asia Kai Wei Yeo said, adding that the project will help revive the country’s tourism industry and address the long-term negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The loan will support the construction of a parallel taxiway extension and hangar aprons at TIA, and a new international terminal building at GBA to increase capacity, the press note reads.

Another key component of the project is minimising climate change impacts, it reads, adding that this will be carried out by using clean energy materials, such as the solar panels and energy-efficient lighting to be installed at the new GBA terminal building. “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, November 19, 2020

India to train Nepali technicians to operate cross-border passenger railway service

 India is going to train Nepali railway personnel in Nepal and India.

As Nepal has been preparing to resume passenger railway service on the Kurtha-Jayanagar section of cross-border railway that has been stopped since last seven years, India has agreed to help train the railway personals.

During the fourth India-Nepal Joint Working Group meeting on Railway Cooperation held today via video-conferencing, India has agreed to help in capacity development of Nepali railway personnel and provide training in India, according to a press note issued by the Indian embassy in Kathmandu.

India has also helped upgraded railways into broad gauge from the earlier narrow gauge line. The railway service on narrow gauge was halted after the renovation and upgrading works began.

The Indian side was led by executive director (Traffic Transportation-F) under Ministry of Railways of Indian government Dr Manoj Singh and Nepali side was led by joint secretary at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport of Government Er Gopal Prasad Sigdel. 

Other stakeholders, who participated from both sides included senior officials from Indian Railway, Ministry of External Affairs, Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, Konkan Railways and IRCON on the Indian side and director general at the Department of Railway (DoRw), general manager of Nepal Railway Company (NRC), officials from Ministry of Home and Foreign Affairs of Government from Nepali side.

The government has already purchased two diesel-electric multiple unit rail sets in September and has hired some technical human resources from India for their operation. However, the rail sets have not been operational due to lack of human resources. The rail sets have remained unused currently due to lack of adequate preparation on the part of the government.

Both sides discussed the technical preparedness of the completed 34-km long section of the railway line between Kurtha in Nepal and Jaynagar in India for the purpose of running passenger train services including the standard operating procedures that need to be put in place for resumption of passenger train services, the press note reads, adding that the Nepal Railway Company will operate the passenger train along this railway line. “The section, originally a narrow gauge built by British India, was upgraded by Indian government to broad gauge at a cost of over Rs 380 cror Indian Currency (Rs 6.80 billion).”

Nepal has recently procured two DEMU train sets from India for running on this railway link. “Both sides further agreed to expedite the work for completion of the other ongoing cross-border railway project between Jogbani in India and Biratnagar being built with a grant assistance of Rs. 5.88 billion,” according to the press note.

The joint working group also reviewed the cross border rail link projects between Jaynagar-Bijalpura-Bardibas and Jogbani-Biratnagar including discussions on the mutual facilitation and coordination required for completion of the work on remaining sections from Kurtha to Bilajpura which is being constructed by India at the cost of Rs 3.2 billion.

Nepal and India, on the occasion, also agreed to see potential of developing Birgunj-Kathmandu railway line. In February, Indian government allocated funding to carry out a detailed project report on the proposed Raxaul-Kathmandu electric rail project.

Share market creates history with highest turnover of Rs 6.11 billion in a day

 Though, the economy is in tatters due to global corona crisis, and the political situation has also not been looking good due to intra-party fight in the ruling Nepal Communist party (NCP), the share market – that is considered a barometer of economy – has been creating record trasactions everyday.

The Nepal Stock Exchange (Nepse) – that has started looking up since the appointment of new finance minister Bishnu Poudel – went up by 2.08 per cent or 36.32 points to land at 1,778.12 points today. Not only it looked up today, Nepse also witnessed the historic record turnover of Rs 6.11 billion through trade of14, 062,507 units of shares of 198 listed firms with 56,341 transactions.

The share market is rejoicing after the ouster of the earlier finance minister Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada, who has been appointed Nepal’s ambassodar to the US, market analysts claimed, adding that the secondary market has been in ‘wait and watch’ mood due to Khatiwada’s share market unfriendly behaiviour.

The new finance minister is open and share market friendly, the market analysts said, adding that the market expects the finance minister to be more flexible towards secondary market. 

The market today witnessed a positive circuit break in first hour of the trading time, whereas the sensitive index also went up by 1.47 per cent or 4.98 points to close the market at 343.07 points. Likewise, the float index also increased by 1.58 per cent or 1.58 points to close the market at 120.99 points today. Among all the subgroups, the trading subgroups increased by 9.94 per cent or 198.4 points to close at 2,193 points and hotels subgroup has hiked by 9.38 per cent or 181.63 points to close at 2,118.59 points.

Similarly, manufacturing subgroup increased by 5.64 per cent or 204.73 points to 3,833.87 points and others sub-index rose by 4.43 per cent or 58.15 points to 1,370.69 points.

UNICEF calls for averting a lost generation as Covid-19 threatens to cause irreversible harm to children’s education, nutrition and well-being

 UNICEF warned – in a new report today – of significant and growing consequences for children as the Covid-19 pandemic lurches toward a second year.

Released ahead of World Children’s Day, ‘Averting a Lost Covid Generation’ is the first UNICEF report to comprehensively outline the dire and growing consequences for children as the pandemic drags on. It shows that while symptoms among infected children remain mild, infections are rising and the longer-term impact on the education, nutrition and well-being of an entire generation of children and young people can be life-altering.

“Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic there has been a persistent myth that children are barely affected by the disease,” UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said, adding that nothing could be further from the truth. “While childrencan get sick and can spread the disease, this is just the tip of the pandemic iceberg. Disruptions to key services and soaring poverty ratespose the biggest threat to children. The longer the crisis persists, the deeper its impact on children’seducation, health, nutrition and well-being. The future of an entire generation is at risk.”

The report finds that – as of November 3 – in 87 countries with age-disaggregated data, children and adolescents under 20 years of age accounted for 1 in 9 of Covid-19 infections, or 11 per cent of the 25.7 million infections reported by these countries. More reliable, age-disaggregated data on infection, deaths and testing is needed to better understand how the crisis impacts the most vulnerable children and guide the response.

While children can transmit the virus to each other and to older age groups, there is strong evidence that, with basic safety measures in place, the net benefits of keeping schools open outweigh the costs of closing them, the report notes. Schools are not a main driver of community transmission, and children are more likely to get the virus outside of school settings, a press note from the UNICEF reads. “Covid-related disruptions to critical health and social services for children pose the most serious threat to children,” the report reads, adding that around one-third of the countries analysed witnessed a drop of at least 10 per cent in coverage for health services such as routine vaccinations, outpatient care for childhood infectious diseases, and maternal health services. Fear of infection is a prominent reason.

Using new data from UNICEF surveys across 140 countries, the press note reads that there is a 40 per cent decline in the coverage of nutrition services for women and children across 135 countries. “As of October 2020, 265 million children were still missing out on school meals globally. More than 250 million children under 5 could miss the life-protecting benefits of vitamin A supplementation programmes.”

Likewise, 65 countries reported a decrease in home visits by social workers in September 2020, compared to the same time last year.

The report also includes that – as of November 2020 – some 572 million students are affected across 30 country-wide school closures – 33 per cent of the enrolled students worldwide, whereas an estimated 2 million additional child deaths and 200,000 additional stillbirths could occur over a 12-month period with severe interruptions to services and rising malnutrition. “An additional 6 million to 7 million children under the age of 5 will suffer from wasting or acute malnutrition in 2020, a 14 per cent rise that will translate into more than 10,000 additional child deaths per month – mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.”

Globally, the number of children living in multidimensional poverty – without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation or water – is estimated to have soared by 15 per cent, or an additional 150 million children by mid-2020.

Likewis, the UNICEF is calling the governments and partners to ensure all children learn, including by closing the digital divide, guarantee access to nutrition and health services and make vaccines affordable and available to every child, support and protect the mental health of children and young people and bring an end to abuse, gender-based violence and neglect in childhood, increase access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene and address environmental degradation and climate change, reverse the rise in child poverty and ensure an inclusive recovery for all, and  redouble efforts to protect and support children and their families living through conflict, disaster and displacement to counter the crisis.

“This World Children’s Day, we are asking governments, partners and the private sector to listen to children and prioritize their needs,” Fore said, “As we all reimagine the future and look ahead toward a post-pandemic world, children must come first.”

In Nepal, to mark World Children’s Day on November 20 and highlight the issues around children’s and young people’s wellbeing, UNICEF Nepal is hosting a virtual children’s parliamentary session and a virtual festival of visions and voices of young people. In addition, UNICEF Nepal is launching a mental health campaign ‘Ma Chhu Ni’ to help to build an allyship among young people.        

Of particular concern during the Covid-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown is the mental health of children and young people. Beyond their immediate experiences, mental health issues and distress can have a lasting impact on children’s long-term development and the current pandemic has exposed the extent and severity of the global mental health crisis.  

In Nepal, anxiety and depression are the most common functional difficulties reported amongst children aged 5-17 years: 1 in 12 children aged 10-14 years and 1 in 10 aged 15-17 years experience anxiety, and 2 per cent of 10-17 yearolds suffer from depression.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Government, World Bank sign financing agreements of $350 million to boost economic recovery

 The government and the World Bank today signed two separate agreements that will help strengthen urban governance and the financial sector in Nepal in support of the country’s Covid-19 resilience and recovery efforts.

The agreements for the Nepal Urban Governance and Infrastructure Project and the Finance for Growth Development Policy Credit were signed by finance secretary Sishir Kumar Dhungana on behalf of the government and the World Bank country director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka Faris Hadad-Zervos.

“We are thankful to the World Bank for the support in strengthening urban development and improving financial sector stability in Nepal,” finance secretary Dhungana said, adding that the projects support Nepal’s implementation of federalism and the financial sector reform agenda, while contributing to the government’s recovery efforts from the Covid-19 crisis.

The $150 million (around Rs. 18 billion) Nepal Urban Governance and Infrastructure Project will support municipalities located in two strategic urban clusters: Eastern-Terai region (Provinces 1 and 2) and Western region (Gandaki Province and Lumbini Province). Through Nepal’s’ first dedicated Urban Sector support, the project will finance strategic infrastructure in the targeted cities, based on the priorities of the municipalities and their citizens, according to a press note issued by the World Bank. “The project will also support capacity building for the municipalities for improved urban management and with strong focus on citizen engagement, enabling targeted municipalities to better plan, manage and execute service delivery and urban management activities.”

The project will finance small scale labour intensive public works, thus supporting economic recovery and creating temporary jobs for at least 20,000 people across the country, including women and other vulnerable groups. The project also includes a contingency emergency response component to allow for reallocation of project funds to support response and recovery in case of a national emergency, it reads.

Similarly, recognising several initiatives and strong commitment of the government in strengthening financial sector stability, diversifying financial solutions and increasing access to financial services, the multilateral development partner offered the $200 million (around Rs. 24 billion) Finance for Growth operation as a budgetary support. “It will support enhanced supervision of risks confronting the banking and financial institutions, especially in the context of the pandemic’s impacts,” the press note reads, adding that the operation will also help build capital, insurance, venture capital and private equity and disaster risk financing markets through regulatory reforms. “This will help open new investment opportunities for market actors and crowd-in private financing.”

The operation also focuses on expanding access to finance for households, women and firms through regulatory and other reforms that will attract additional inflows of international finance and mobilize digital services, credit infrastructure and literacy programs.

“The World Bank is committed to support the government in implementing its relief, recovery, and resilience plan to meet urgent demand while focusing on long-term goals and opportunities to rebuild stronger and better from the pandemic,” World Bank country director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka Faris Hadad-Zervos said, adding that through the new projects, the bank looks forward to working with the government to strengthen institutions for effective service delivery as part of the federalism implementation process and build a resilient financial sector to boost economic recovery.

On the occasion, the secretary at the Ministry of Urban Development Dr Ramesh Singh, joint secretary at the Finance Ministry Shreekrishna Nepal, director general at the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction Maniram Gelal, World Bank Operation Manager for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka Lada Strelkova, World Bank senior operation officer Bigyan Pradhan and other officials were also present.

Nepal Infrastructure Bank to float Rs 8 billion worth shares to public

 Nepal Infrastructure Bank – established as the first and only infrastructure development bank of the country – today during its second annual general meeting (AGM) – approved the proposal to issue Initial Public Offering (IPO) of 80 million units of shares worth Rs 8 Billion to public calculated at 40 per cent of the issued capital, after obtaining the approvals of the regulators.

Chaired by Anuj Agarwal, who is also the chair of the bank’s Board of Directors (BoD), unanimously approved the director’s report of fiscal year 2019-20 and the bank’s financial statements of last fiscal year. The bank’s board members Shreekrishna Nepal, Chandra Prasad Dhakal, Lal Mani Joshi and Ramkrishna Khatiwada were also present in the meeting. Likewise, bank’s chief executive officer Anil Gyawali, deputy chief executive officer Bhupendra Pandey and other senior officials were also present in the meeting.

In order to safeguard from risks of Covid-19, the banks’ shareholders had been given an option to participate in the meeting through online platform. Arrangements had also been made to fully comply with the health and safety standards for participants, who were physically present in the meeting.

The bank, established with the objective of investing into infrastructure development projects only by raising long term resources within Nepal and from abroad, has approved loans of Rs  6 billion to five projects in hydro-electricity, cement Clinkerisation and solar energy sectors and disbursed loan of Rs 500 million during the last fiscal year 2019-20, and further approved loans of Rs 2.85 billion in additional  three projects after the review period in current financial year resulting total approved loans of Rs 8.85 billion, according to the bank.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

ADB allocates $20 million to help developing members access vaccines for Covid-19

 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has allocated $20.3 million in technical assistance to help its developing members’ access vaccines for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and establish systems to enable equitable and efficient vaccine distribution.

The funds will be available for ADB developing members to support vaccine-related health system assessments and the development of country readiness plans to strengthen the capacity to access, introduce, deploy, deliver, and monitor vaccines safely and effectively, according to a press note issued by the multilateral development partner. Funds will help members assess and strengthen vaccine cold chain and logistics, infection control, supply and skills of health workers, risk communications, and real-time data capturing and monitoring. The technical assistance will also support the identification and promotion of innovative cold chain and vaccine tracking technologies.

“Asia and the Pacific has largely done well to limit the spread of Covid-19,” director general of ADB’s Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department Woochong Um said, adding that ensuring access to a safe, effective, and equitable vaccine is the next frontier in the fight against this virus. “With these additional grant resources, ADB can immediately support our developing members to undertake urgent actions, including vaccine system assessments and vaccine deployment strategies, to ensure vaccines are delivered efficiently and fairly.”

ADB expects to implement the technical assistance with its partners UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), in coordination with COVAX, Gavi, the World Bank, bilateral agencies, among others. The funds comprise $20 million from ADB’s Technical Assistance Special Fund (TASF) and $300,000 from the High-Level Technology Fund financed by the Government of Japan. 

ADB approved a $20 billion expanded assistance package in April to support its developing members’ Covid-19 response.

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, November 16, 2020

Nepal ranks 114 in 2020 Prosperity Index

Of the total 167 countries, Nepal ranks 114th – with 50.4 score – in the overall Prosperity Index rankings of this year.

Since 2010, Nepal has moved up the rankings table by 15 places, and one spot up compared to last year's ranking, according to the Global Prosperity Index 2020 published by London-based Legatum Institute. “Nepal performs most strongly in Personal Freedom and Safety & Security but is weakest in Natural Environment.”

Though, the biggest improvement compared to a decade ago came in Safety and Security has improved Nepal's ranking by one spot, some of the pillars including Natural Environment (with 45.97 score and at 145th position), market access and infrastructure (with 35.54 score and at 134th position) and living condition (51.08 score and at 128th position) are the poor performers.

The indicators used in the Index are organised into 12 pillars, which are grouped into three domains essential to prosperity including Inclusive Societies – Safety and Security, Personal Freedom, Governance, and Social Capital – Open Economies which has Investment Environment, Enterprise Conditions, Market Access and Infrastructure, and Economic Quality; and finally Empowered People that includes Living Conditions, Health, Education, and Natural Environment. “Using the Prosperity Index framework, nations around the world can assess their strengths and weaknesses in order to determine the economic and strategic choices that need to be made to drive greater levels of prosperity,” a press note from the London-based Legatum Institute reads. 

The Legatum Prosperity Index analyses the performance of 167 nations across 66 policy-focused elements, measured by almost 300 country-level indicators, it reads, adding that the Index enables to construct a thoroughly comprehensive picture of prosperity, across its institutional, economic, and social dimensions. “It is the ambition that leaders around the world will use the Index to help set their agendas for growth and development, and that it will enable others to hold them to account.”

Last year, Nepal ranked 115 and was the 22nd poorest out of the 29 countries in Asia-Pacific ranking, according to the Legatum Institute’s 2019 Prosperity Index. 

Decisions that build prosperity and respect freedom and responsibility crucial to lead World through Covid

 The Legatum Institute – in its 2020 Prosperity Index report – is urging leaders around the world to hold firm to a holistic view of prosperity and the core principles of freedom and responsibility as they respond to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The report notes that China was the first country to be impacted by Covid-19, and its response framed the context for how the rest of the world responded. The approach it took was to withhold information about the virus, restrict people’s freedoms, and lock down the country’s economic engine, and subsequently many other countries responded to the pandemic by severely curtailing civil rights and economic freedoms, a press note issued by the Legutum Institute reads. “The report highlights that these actions are consistent with China’s ranking of 90th for governance and 159th for personal freedom, but they are actions that weaken, rather than build, prosperity.”

The Institute highlights that prosperity is built when governments make decisions in such a way that engenders trust and with integrity, respecting the freedom of their citizens; prosperous nations are ones where governments govern with the agreement of the people, and where citizens take responsibility.

Likewise, economic decisions are taken responsibly to sustain an enabling environment for productive employment, sustained economic growth and personal development, and the principles of personal responsibility and freedom go hand in hand; citizens are free and order their lives taking responsibility for their own families and communities, it reads, adding that people take care of their own physical health and mental wellbeing and healthcare is accessible to all; they do not make decisions that threaten the health of others.

The Index reveals that, prior to the pandemic, global prosperity stood at a record high, with 147 out of 167 countries seeing prosperity rise over the last decade, driven by improved health, education, and living conditions, and more open economies. However, the improvement seen in the last 12 months had not kept pace with the progress of the previous two years, as Asia-Pacific and Western Europe stalled and North America deteriorated slightly. In addition, stagnating personal freedom and governance around the world is holding back further improvement in prosperity.

“The coronavirus pandemic is highlighting the holistic nature of true prosperity and testing all nations’ institutional, economic, and social resilience,” chief executive officer (CEO) of the Legatum Institute Philippa Stroud said, adding that the virus, and national efforts to contain it, is impacting not just health, but also jobs, children’s educations, and relationships with each other and with the state. “As each nation navigates its way through and out of the pandemic, good governance and the full involvement of a society where personal freedoms are protected will be crucial.”

 “There are significant challenges ahead, but the good news is that the Index shows that global prosperity was at its highest ever level when Covid-19 struck,” Stroud added. “However, there are also warnings in the Index, especially for more developed nations.”

The 2020 Legatum Prosperity Index reveals that, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, global prosperity had risen continuously over the previous decade, driven by improved health, education, and living conditions, and more open economies around the world.

Health improved across the globe since 2010, with all but 12 countries seeing an improvement. Expansions in immunisation programmes for diphtheria, measles, and hepatitis had resulted in a greater percentage of the population being inoculated against these life-threatening diseases. This, together with antenatal care now covering over 90 per cent of women around the world, had led to an improvement in preventative interventions.

All regions had seen an improvement in education in the last 10 years, with people starting education earlier and continuing later in life. Tertiary education, in particular, saw a big improvement in enrolment rates, from 31 per cent in 2010 to 42 per cent in 2020. The improvements across the global education system meant that the adult population was more skilled than a decade ago. 

Living conditions had also improved in all but 15 countries over the last decade, with four of the five most improved countries located in Asia-Pacific. This had been driven in particular by reductions in poverty, greater access to water and sanitation services, and increased digital connectedness. 

Economies around the world had become more open due to improvements to digital and transport infrastructure. Likewise, mobile network coverage had expanded, with nearly 90 per cent of the global population having access to 2G, 3G or 4G networks and over 50 per cent of the global population using the internet. In addition, many of the financial protections that are necessary to provide investors with confidence – property rights, investor protections, contract enforcement – had strengthened around the world. 

However, the Index highlights that the rate of improvement in global prosperity had slowed in the last 12 months. While 86 per cent of the global population lived in countries that experienced an increase in their prosperity between 2017 and 2018, and 81 per cent lived in countries that saw increased prosperity between2018 and 2019, only 61 per cent of people lived in countries that saw an improvement between 2019 and 2020. This was particularly driven by stagnation in Asia-Pacific, as safety and security, personal freedom, economic quality, and education had all deteriorated over the last year, and the rate of improvement in enterprise conditions and market access and infrastructure had slowed.

In addition, prosperity had deteriorated in North America and Western Europe over the last 12 months, with these historically successful regions starting to see a potential turning point in the quality of their investment environment and enterprise conditions. There had also been a deterioration in education across North America over the past year.

The Index also shows that further growth in global prosperity is being held back by stagnating personal freedom and governance. Globally 121 countries had seen a decline in the freedom to speak and access information and 116 had seen a reduction in the freedom to assemble and associate over the past 10 years, and political accountability and executive constraints – which measures the checks and balances on elected governments and their officials – had both weakened. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic has placed enormous constraints on prosperity at a time when we had been seeing a general trend of improvements across health, education, and living conditions, and more open economies,” director of Policy at the Legatum Institute Dr Stephen Brien said, adding that the emergence of the coronavirus has put all these areas under considerable strain, and the historic improvements are now at risk. “In addition, recent deteriorations in prosperity, particularly in developed regions, highlight that progress cannot be taken for granted and we must not become complacent.”

The Index, now in its 14th year, measures prosperity in 167 countries representing over 99 per cent of the world’s population, and how it has changed in the last decade. It comprises three domains – Inclusive Societies, Open Economies, and Empowered People – underpinned by 12 pillars, consisting of 66 different policy-focused elements. A rich dataset of nearly 300 individual country-level indicators, drawn from a wide range of international sources, provides the detailed measurement of national performance.

Top 10 countries 

1 Denmark

2 Norway

3 Switzerland

4 Sweden

5 Finland

6 Netherlands

7 New Zealand

8 Germany

9 Luxembourg

10 Austria 

Bottom 10 countries

158 Syria

159 Sudan

160 Eritrea

161 Democratic Republic of Congo

162 Afghanistan

163 Somalia

164 Chad

165 Yemen

166 Central African Republic

167 South Sudan

Sunday, November 15, 2020

ICIMOD gets new director general

 The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) gets a new director general.

The newly appointed director general Dr Pema Gyamtsho has taken up his role beginning his tenure as part of a major Ministerial Mountain Summit held today, according to a press note issued by the ICIMOD.

“A deeply experienced leader Dr Gyamtsho’s past achievements span areas including linking public financing for environmental sustainability; enactment of legislation focusing on environmental stewardship, conservation and climate change mitigation; ensuring an enabling policy environment and community-level readiness for the expansion of community owned and managed forests; establishment of institutions and efforts promoting high quality research and evidence-based decision making on conservation and environmental issues; strategic programmatic visioning, planning, implementation and evaluation; and representation within globally significant platforms,” the press note reads, adding that Dr Gyamtsho is the first director general of ICIMOD, who hails from the region. “He brings to the position a deep passion for the people of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) and a commitment to help address the challenges across the diversity of the region’s mountain environments.”

Within his vision for the future of the institution, he seeks to build on the institution’s strengths and successes in its role as a convener and facilitator for regional cooperation, it adds. “To this end, the timing of the start of his tenure during the recent HKH Ministerial Mountain Summit bringing together ministers from all eight of the HKH countries is significant.”

Having signed a joint ministerial declaration, the ministers agreed to promote a united voice for the region, to strengthen regional cooperation, to enhance uptake of scientific evidence, and to explore the potential for a high-level institutional mechanism.

Dr Gyamtsho has expressed his excitement about and commitment to work towards achieving the mission of ICIMOD for mountains and people of the Hindu Kush Himalaya, the press note reads.

“ICIMOD’s mission to enable sustainable and resilient mountain development for improved and equitable livelihoods through knowledge and regional cooperation and its vision of men, women, and children of the Hindu Kush Himalaya enjoying improved well-being in a healthy mountain environment are important to me individually as a person from the HKH myself but also important collectively for all of us as it represents work that contributes to a positive and prosperous future for the region,” Dr Gyamtsho said, while addressing the staff.

“It was a moment of great personal satisfaction to me to begin my tenure as the director general of ICIMOD during such an important event,” He said at the Ministerial Mountain Summit. “I am eager to move forward the HKH Call to Action which was at the heart of the ministerial declaration.”

The Call to Action is a culmination of a series of science-policy dialogues where policymakers in all eight HKH countries discussed the findings of the recently released comprehensive assessment, the Hindu Kush Himalaya assessment: mountains, climate change, sustainability and people. The HKH Call to Action was drafted through this process and is thus a product of the individual governments, capturing their individual and collective regional priorities for action to mitigate and adapt to climate change; to accelerate achievement of the SDG goals for the mountains; to enhance ecosystems resilience and halt biodiversity loss and land degradation; to recognise and prioritise the uniqueness of the HKH mountain people; to share more regional data and information; and to cooperate at all levels across the HKH for sustainable and mutual benefits.

While the current context of the Covid-19 pandemic deepens some of the challenges for the region, it is also an opportunity to build a better, more sustainable future and orient towards the kind of action that protects the pulse of the planet and leads towards a resilient recovery. Both the recently published policy paper, Covid-19 impact and policy responses in the Hindu Kush Himalaya and the HKH Call to Action highlight the often very complex challenges for the region but both documents also offer hope that through cooperative action among our HKH countries, we can face those challenges with even greater strength and resolve to forge a more prosperous HKH for all, he added.

The ICIMOD is a regional knowledge development and learning centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalaya – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan – and based in Kathmandu, Nepal. Globalisation and climate change have an increasing influence on the stability of fragile mountain ecosystems and the livelihoods of mountain people, and ICIMOD aims at assisting mountain people to understand these changes, adapt to them, and make the most of new opportunities, while addressing upstream-downstream issues.

The largest regional group to boost post-Covid-19 recovery

 The 15 nations in the Indo-Pacific region today signed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement – one of the world’s largest trade and investment pacts – that could give a significant boost to foreign direct investment (FDI) in the region.

According to the agreement, the investment provisions in the agreement mostly consolidate existing market access as contained in myriad bilateral agreements. “However, the provisions related to market access and disciplines in trade, services and e-commerce are highly relevant for regional value chains and market-seeking investment,” it claims, adding that the RCEP is already an important FDI destination. “It accounts for 16 per cent of global FDI stock and more than 24 per cent of flows, while global FDI has been stagnant for the last decade, the RCEP group has shown a consistent upward trend until last year.”

The agreement comes at a time of major upheaval caused by Covid-19. The pandemic will lead to a drop in FDI in the region of about 15 per cent. However, this compares favourably to a fall of 30 per cent to 40 per cent in global FDI, and the region looks set to lead the FDI recovery.

“A key challenge for RCEP will be to follow through on economic integration efforts at a time of global and intra-regional geopolitical and trade tensions,” it reads, adding that the global economic recession caused by the pandemic will also limit the potential of RCEP to expand trade, investment GVCs in the short term. “However, a key opportunity lies in the diversity within RCEP, which can lift investment prospects through complementary locational advantages and catch-up development potential.”

Among the members, FDI stock relative to the size of the economy ranges from less than 5 per cent to a multiple of GDP.

The Intra-regional investment – at about 30 per cent of total FDI in RCEP – has significant room for further growth. It is relatively low compared to other major economic partnerships. The ASEAN group, at the heart of RCEP, will play an important role. Already about 40 per cent of investment in ASEAN comes from RCEP members. The agreement is signed by 10 member states of ASEAN, apart from Australia, Japan, China, New Zealand and South Korea. 

According to the agreement, the likely investment policy priorities for the partnership will include boosting investment in sustainable post-pandemic recovery. This requires investment in infrastructure, clean energy and healthcare, all of which rely on increasing international project finance. RCEP includes several top source countries for project finance. There is room for growth, for example RCEP attracts projects in line with its global FDI share but accounts for only about 12 per cent of projects in renewable energy.

Likewise, supporting resilience-seeking FDI is also a part of agreement. The need for multinational enterprises (MNEs) to diversify supply sources and strengthen regional value chains should translate not only in shifting FDI patterns within the region but also in renewed overall growth of international investment in industry. Greenfield investment in trade-exposed manufacturing in the region has decreased by more than 40 per cent over the last decade.

The agreement also aims at promoting investment for development. “The least developed country (LDC) signatories including Cambodia, Myanmar and Lao People’s Democratic Republic respectively receive more than 70 per cent, 80 per cent and 90 per cent of their FDI from other RCEP members,” the agreement reads, adding that economic cooperation under the partnership could further boost both project finance in infrastructure and industrial investment to increase their GVC participation.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Government directs to keep detail record of customers buying precious metals of over Rs 1 million in a day

 The government has asked the bullion traders to record the identity of customers, who buy precious stones and metals worth more than Rs1 million in a day.

The government claimed to take the move – aiming at making trade transparent and discourage money laundering. Lately, the corruption money has been found to be used in buying precious stones and metals.

The Inland Revenue Department (IRD) – that has been named the regulator of the bullion sector two years ago – plans to implement the directive for a few bullion traders only at present. “The initial target is some 400 to 500 bullion traders – both wholesalers and distributors – and commercial banks," the department informed, adding that it has asked the bullion traders to comply with the directives.

According to the anti-money laundering law – that has been brought two years ago – traders can be subject to a penalty of upto Rs 10 million for failing to abide by the directive. 

The bullion traders have not been reporting the trading of over Rs 1 million of precious stones and metals, though the Money Laundering Prevention Act categorises bullion traders as reporting entities. They need to record – details of customers, who buy precious metals worth over Rs 1 million – and report suspicious transactions to designated authorities, the Act reads.

As per the directive, bullion traders will have to submit a report about any transactions above Rs1 million by a customer in a day to the Financial Information Unit (FIU) – under the central bank – within 15 days of suspicious transaction. In case of suspicious transactions, the bullion trader should submit a report about it to the FIU within three days, the directives reads, “While submitting such a report, the bullion trader should submit the report in a format prescribed in the directive.”

The government’s recent National Risk Assessment Report has also said there is ‘Medium’ risk of money launderers through the bullion market. The bullion traders neither operate with minimum regulations nor are aware of their AML/CFT obligations increasing the risk of anti money laundering, the report reads, adding that Nepal needs to prepare ahead of the planned evaluation of Nepal’s performance against money laundering and terrorism financing by Asia Pacific Group (APG) – under the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – in June 2021 on money laundering, fraudulent and smuggling activities.

The government has yet to prepare laws and implement the Acts and regulations that it had brought after the last evaluation of Nepal by the APG.

The new directive also requires bullion traders to maintain updated records on ‘politically exposed persons’ (PEPs), who are suspected to channelise their illegal earnings through businessmen. The transactions by PEPs are considered risky also because they are often found indulge in corrupt activities by misusing their positions.

“Bullion traders need to ensure that the PEPs and their family members are properly identified through documents from credible sources,” the directive reads.

According to the Money Laundering Prevention Act, PEPS range from rural municipality vice-chairpersons to the president and senior bureaucrats. “A trader of precious metals needs to develop a risk management system to identify PEPS and also make effort to find the source of funds,” the directive reads, adding that such enhanced due diligence should also be implemented in the case of those who are found involved in suspicious transactions like those who purchase precious metals on a large scale and unusual ways. “If someone buys precious metals on the behalf of others, a bullion trader needs to identify the real customer.”

But the bullion traders say that it is difficult for them to identify PEPs, though they can seek the identification of persons, who buy precious stones and metals above Rs 1 million in a day. 

Nepal, Switzerland partner for better connectivity through motorable bridges

 Nepal and Switzerland joined hands for better connectivity through motorable bridges.

An agreement to implement Motorable Local Bridges Programme (MLRBP) phase IV is signed and exchanged between joint secretary at the Finance Ministry Shree Krishna Nepal and Swiss ambassador in Nepal Elisabeth von Capeller, on behalf of their respective governments. The programme will start from January 2021 and end in December 2024, according to a press note issued by the Swiss Embassy in Kathmandu.

“Switzerland will contribute CHF 9'820'000 (approximately equivalent to Rs 1.27 billion) for the four-year programme in the form of technical assistance,” the press note reads, adding thatr the federal and provincial governments will finance the required funds for construction of around 200 new motorable bridges on provincial roads in the next four years. “The programme will be implemented by the province governments and will benefit around 1.5 million citizens through better access to economic opportunities and basic services using the provincial road network.”

Over the last nine years, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) provided technical assistance to build over 415 motorable bridges in Nepal. “These bridges on average reduced the transportation costs to schools, health posts, markets etc by 20 per cent to 25 per cent,” the press note reads.

People in Need and partners supporting landslide survivors in Nepal

 In the mountainous regions of Nepal, this year’s monsoon season has triggered 44 recorded landslides in areas that are still trying to rebuild from the devastating earthquake of 2015. So far in 2020, some 64 people have been killed and more than 1,700 families have been displaced in the Sindhupalchowk, Dhading, and Gorkha districts – all while coping with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a press note issued by People in Need (PIN).

Unfortunately, Nepal has not succeeded in effectively mitigating landslide risks, with haphazard road-construction and climate change making the situation worse, it reads, adding that in addition to death toll, the landslides have also caused severe damage to property, devastated livestock, and wiped out arable farmlands.

Krishna Bahadur Newar, who found his home in Barhabise, Sindhupalchowk swept away by a recent landslide, said that it was really difficult for him to think about the incident. “The loss that I suffered is unfathomable,” he said, adding that the sudden landslide not only took away his home and property but also his wife, leaving him and his injured son all alone. “I was frightened and furious at the same time for losing everything.”

In response to the landslides and with humanitarian funding from the European Union (EU), People in Need (PIN) along with its local implementing partner, Phase Nepal, launched the ‘Landslide Emergency Response Project.’ The project team was amongst the first to respond to the recent landslides, deploying immediately after they occurred to carry out an identification and mapping exercise in close collaboration with local officials. The aim was to assist the most affected people with their immediate needs. 

After the landslides destroyed crops and arable land, damaged livelihoods, and swept away homes and possessions, the survivors were left in urgent need of dignified support, including emergency housing and basic aid. People in Need, together with our partners, immediately distributed emergency shelter, non-food items, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), dignity kits to vulnerable households affected by landslides across three districts, focusing on people with disabilities, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly, and female-headed households, the press note reads.

“During the pandemic, we dispatched our team to the affected districts with an eye toward the Covid-19 situation,” it reads, adding that the needs of the people it met ranged from shelter and enough clean and warm clothing, to essential provisions for new-born babies. “Consultations with locals indicated that they feared further torrential rains amidst the Covid-19 crisis.”

One hundred households were identified as internally displaced, and were prioritised for emergency assistance with temporary shelter kits, consisting of basic materials such as corrugated galvanised iron (CGI) sheets, plain sheeting, and tarpaulins, it adds.

Head of Programmes for PIN Nepal Dan McNamara, explains the urgency of the situation, “Five years on from the devastating earthquake, landslides continue to hit the most vulnerable.”

Unable to return home, families without safe shelter and secure livelihoods are left behind to pick up the pieces, he said, adding that emergency shelter and WASH provisions allow families to get back on their feet at a time of immense uncertainty, exacerbated by the current Covid-19 pandemic. “PIN and the EU Humanitarian Aid's support is just the start, with much more needed if landslide survivors are to secure a dignified and meaningful recovery.”

Asia-Pacific countries commit to advance regional cooperation for sustainable connectivity

 Recognising that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused widespread socio-economic impacts and disruptions across Asia-Pacific, high-level officials called for a rethink on the future development of sustainable transport connectivity and mobility in the region at the sixth session of the Committee on Transport, today.

Convened by the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the two-day meeting highlighted pressing regional priorities and areas for policy interventions in the transport sector. Central to discussions were transformative actions for a more sustainable, efficient and resilient regional transport connectivity against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“By anchoring regional connectivity, there is a real opportunity to transform transport systems and services to follow a low-carbon development path, increase the share of clean energy and adopt innovations and emerging smart transport technologies to improve environmental sustainability in Asia and the Pacific,” said UN under-secretary-general and executive secretary of ESCAP Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana.

“Our region faces significant challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic with the transport sector being one of the hardest hit, and our collective efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development now face strong headwinds,” underscored minister of Transport of Thailand Saksayam Chidchob in his opening remarks.

The Asia-Pacific region has made great efforts to preserve transport connectivity during the pandemic. Member countries of the Asian Highway network have maintained all or a significant part of their land borders open for freight. Freight transport has proceeded with limited interruptions along the Trans-Asian Railway network.

The pandemic has also created great momentum for digitisation and shown that there is high potential for a more balanced and sustainable modal split of freight transport, as the use of rail has grown to compensate for the interruptions in road transport operations.

However, significant financial losses sustained by the transport sector will have a lasting impact on its competitiveness in the aftermath of the pandemic.  The Asia road freight industry is expected to experience a turnover decline of 21 per cent in 2020 and rail freight by $1.7 billion for 2020 and 2021. 

In this regard, the Committee also discussed the direction of the next phase of the Regional Action Programme for Sustainable Transport Connectivity in Asia and the Pacific (2022 – 2026), which will be further developed, in close consultation with member countries and submitted for endorsement at the fourth Ministerial Conference on Transport in October 2021.

The next phase of the Regional Action Programme is expected to include accelerated and transformational changes towards more resilient, environmentally sustainable, and safer transport and mobility services in the region. Ambitious actions to incorporate broader social development elements such as gender equality, safety, accessibility, and inclusion in the transport sector were also proposed.

Held every two years, the Committee on Transport provides countries in the Asia-Pacific region with a platform to exchange views, good practices and recommend policies to align the transport sector with sustainable development objectives. The sixth session of the Committee was attended by high-level participants from 38 member countries and 32 organisations.

Airline operators take strong exception to another lockdown preparation

 The airline operators asked the government not to impose the lockdown again.

Issuing a press note today, Airline Operators Association of Nepal (AOAN) asked the government not to impose lockdown as the Valley Municipal Forum yesterday recommended government to impose another lockdown to contain the coronavirus spread. “Another lockdown will lead to an economic disaster,” the press note reads, adding that the economy that has hit hard due to six month long lockdown has slowly been reviving.

The government, though has not spelled its intention, the Mayors yesterday recommended to impose the third phase of lockdown in the Valley after Tihar and Chhath festivals to contain the rising Covid-19 infection.

The number of infected people rose at a rapid pace even during the strict lockdowns,” the AOAN press note reads, adding that many countries in the world have proved that Covid-19 can be controlled by following health and safety measures. “It is not appropriate to bring tourism, transportation, aviation and other businesses to a halt.”

The decision to impose a lockdown will result in job losses for thousands and livelihoods for those who rely on aviation industry apart from loss of airlines companies, which have already suffered losses worth around Rs 6 billion, the press note further reads.

The airliner operators have also praised the decision of Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation to reopen the country for international tourists. “The travel agencies are already taking bookings for holiday packages and trekking bookings,” the press note reads, adding that it should not be stopped. “However, the government must strictly enforce the health and safety measures and protocols like use of face masks and social distancing.”

“The airliners also have a huge reservation toward imposing another lockdown,” the press note reads.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Construction of ICP at Nepalgunj begins with the joint Ground-Breaking ceremony

 The construction of an Integrated Check Post (ICP) officially began in Nepalgunj today.

The third ICP – after Birgunj and Biratnagar ICPs – construction beginning ceremony was held virtually where minister for Urban Development Krishna Gopal Shrestha and Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal jointly witnessed the ground-breaking ceremony, according to a press note issued by the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu.

Minister of State for Urban Development Rambir Manandhar and Indian ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra also witnessed the event along with secretary at the Ministry of Urban Development Dr Ramesh Prasad Singh from Kathmandu, the press note reads.

Mmember of parliament from Banke-2 Mohd Istiyak Rai and mayor of Nepalgunj Sub-metropolitan City Dr Dhawal Shamsher JB Rana participated in the event along with others from the Nepalgunj Project site.

The ICP in Nepalgunj, once completed, will have export and import cargo handling facilities like warehousing, including refrigerated cargo facilities, medical, plant and animal quarantine areas, amenities for drivers and passenger, CCTV and other security systems, 24-7 power backup, waste-water treatment facilities and many more facilities to facilitate smooth movement of cargo and passenger vehicles, the embassy press note reads, adding that the facility is envisaged to promote a systematic approach to cargo handling and, therefore, will result in the saving of time and inconvenience to visitors and reduce overall transaction costs for cross-border trade and commerce. “The project will be implemented by M/s Rajdeep Buildcon Pvt Ltd – a Pune-based Indian company – under the supervision of M/s RITES International Ltd, a government of India undertaking.”

The tendered cost of the project is Rs 147.12 cror Indian Currency (around Rs 2.35 billion) and construction period is two years. The facility will be built on about 61.5 hectare land identified by the government in Janaki Rural Municipality ward 1 and ward 16 of Nepalgunj Sub-metropolitan City.

A similar facility is being built on the Indian side in Rupaidiha by the Lands Ports Authority of India and the work on the facility started in May this year and over 10 per cent construction work has already been completed.

The Department of Urban Development – under the Ministry of Urban Development – will facilitate the construction of ICP in Nepalgunj on the ground, according to the press note of the embassy that has expressed hope that the ICP construction project in Nepalgunj is expected to create local employment and boost the local economy by way of direct and indirect job creation and also supply of essential raw materials and items from the local markets. “Overall the facility created under the project is envisaged to promote cross-border trade and economic activities between India and Nepal.”

The Indian government is helping build ICPs on either sides of the Indo-Nepal border to systematise the movement of cargo trucks between the two countries by bringing customs and immigration facilities under one roof.

The ICPs at Birgunj and Biratnagar were jointly inaugurated and operationalised in April 2018 and January 2020, respectively by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. 

According to the embassy press note, the government of India – in line with the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy – is committed to enhancing connectivity with Nepal, including facilitating and promoting border trade and economic activities.

Commerce and Industry Minister of India Piyush Goyal, on the occasion, announced that the government of India will take up the construction of a fourth ICP at Bhairahawa in Nepal under Indian funding. Currently, the execution modalities and implementing agency for the project are under consideration, he added.

The construction of advanced cross-border logistics and infrastructure facilities over the last three years is expected to further boost connectivity, and help realise the shared pursuit of stronger and mutually beneficial trade, economic and people-to-people ties between India and Nepal, the embassy press note reads.

Nepal’s export-import trade is expensive also due to poor physical infrastructure on the border customs. The construction of ICPs along the Nepal-India border is expected to smoothen Nepal’s trade, both with India and third country.

Nepal-UK conclude fifth Bilateral Consultation Mechanism meeting

 Nepal and UK today concluded the fifth Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM).

The fifth meeting of Nepal-United Kingdom Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) concluded today by discussing a wide range of matters relating to bilateral relations and issues of mutual interest, according to a press note issued by the Foreign Ministry. “The meeting took stock of overall state of cooperation between Nepal and the United Kingdom ata cordial and participatory atmosphere.”

The delegations of both the governments exchanged views on over two centuries-old friendship and cooperation, and reviewed the progress made in various aspects of the bilateral ties, including development cooperation, the British Gurkha matters, cultural relations, people-to-people contactsand educational cooperation, the press note reads, adding that developments on political and economic fronts in both the countries as well as their national experiences in fight against the Covid-19 pandemic were also shared during the meeting. “In the context, Nepal thanked the British government for its cooperation in Nepal’s fight against the pandemic, while appreciating the progress made in the development of vaccine.”

The two sides also agreed to work closely towards further consolidating and widening cooperation and engagements in productive sectors such as trade, investment, energy and tourism, among others, the press note further reads. “Matters of regional and global importance also figured in the meeting.”

The two governments renewed their commitment to collaborating on various matters of common interest at multilateral forums. Both sides will work together to advance the agenda of addressing the impacts of climate change with their substantive engagements in the COP26 as well as in Sagarmatha Sambaad, a Nepali initiative for dialogue.

The Foreign Ministry – the convener of the Nepali side – was joined by senior officials of the Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and relevant line ministries, the press note reads, adding that the British delegation was led by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. “The ambassador of Nepal to the UK and the British ambassador to Nepal were also part of their respective country delegations.”

Worldwide Measles deaths climb 50 per cent a four years claiming over 207,500 lives last year

 Measles surged worldwide in 2019 reaching highest number of reported cases in 23 years.

Highlighted in a publication by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United States (US) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), measles cases worldwide increased to 869,770 in 2019, the highest number reported since 1996 with increases in all WHO regions, a press note from WHO reads, adding that global measles deaths climbed nearly 50 per cent since 2016, claiming an estimated 207,500 lives in 2019 alone.”

After steady global progress from 2010 to 2016, the number of reported measles cases climbed progressively to 2019, it reads. Comparing 2019 data with the historic low in reported measles cases in 2016, authors cite a failure to vaccinate children on time with two doses of measles-containing vaccines (MCV1 and MCV2) as the main driver of these increases in cases and deaths.

“We know how to prevent measles outbreaks and deaths,” WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, adding that these data send a clear message of failure to protect children from measles in every region of the world. “We must collectively work to support countries and engage communities to reach everyone, everywhere with measles vaccine and stop this deadly virus.”

Measles outbreaks occur when people, who are not protected from the virus are infected and spread the disease to unvaccinated or under-vaccinated populations. To control measles and prevent outbreaks and deaths, vaccination coverage rates with the required MCV1 and MCV2 must reach 95 per cent and be maintained at national and subnational levels. MCV1 coverage has been stagnant globally for more than a decade at between 84 and 85 per cent, and MCV2 coverage has been steadily increasing butis only now at 71 per cent. Vaccination coverage against measles remains well below the 95 per cent or higher needed with both doses to control measles and prevent outbreaks and deaths.

Global response to Covid-19 pandemic must not exacerbate the measles crisis, he added.

Although reported cases of measles are lower in 2020, necessary efforts to control Covid-19 have resulted in disruptions in vaccination and crippled efforts to prevent and minimise measles outbreaks, the press note reads. “As of November, more than 94 million people were at risk of missing vaccines due to paused measles campaigns in 26 countries.”

Many of these countries are experiencing ongoing outbreaks. Of countries with postponed planned 2020 campaigns, only eight – including Brazil, Central African Republic Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines and Somalia – resumed their campaigns after initial delays. “Before there was a coronavirus crisis, the world was grappling with a measles crisis, and it has not gone away,” UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said, adding that while health systems are strained by the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone must not allow the fight against one deadly disease to come at the expense of the fight against another. “This means ensuring we have the resources to continue immunisation campaigns for all vaccine-preventable diseases, even as we address the growing Covid-19 pandemic.”

Global immunisation partners are engaging leaders and public health professionals in affected and at-risk countries to ensure that measles vaccines are available and safely delivered, and that caregivers understand the life-saving benefit of the vaccine, according to the press note. On November 6, the WHO and UNICEF issued an emergencycalltoactionfor measles and polio outbreak prevention and response.

“Measles virus easily finds unprotected children, adolescents and adults because it is so contagious,” Measles and Rubella Initiative Management Team chair and Accelerated Disease Control Branch chief at US CDC Dr Robert Linkins said, adding that infections are not only a sign of poor measles vaccination coverage, but also a known marker, or ‘tracer,’ that vital health services may not be reaching populations most at-risk. “Our collective efforts to reach children with vaccines now, ahead of the possible easing of Covid-19 travel restrictions and increased population movement, will save lives.”

The Measles and Rubella Initiative (M&RI), which includes American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the US CDC, UNICEF and WHO, and global immunization partners like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others, are working to address the current measles crisis and ensure that resources are positioned to address immunization delays – for measles and all vaccines – in every region of the world.