Mr. Agni Prasad Adhikari
Chief Administrative Officer, Gokarneshwor Municipality
Human race and its outstanding scientific achievements have been challenged repeatedly by unanticipated natural events that cannot be managed and sustained with immediate provisions and the current order, even though human beings on planet earth are intelligent, powerful, and well equipped in terms of resources. Sometimes, we experience the whole world being chaotic due to a single outbreak.
The havoc caused by COVID-19 is creating a panic for the entire human race. All countries, no matter how powerful they are, are facing the problem. In fact, the most powerful countries, which have established their empires all around the world, are the ones who have been bearing the greater losses. Therefore, almost all countries in the world are utilizing their strength, mechanisms, and skills to the fullest to figure out ways to avoid further losses based on their governance arrangements and political system.
In this regard, a country like Nepal whose government arrangements and political system are going through a transition period has been facing serious difficulties for the prevention, control and treatment of the novel coronavirus as well as containing its effect on the lives and livelihoods of its citizens. We can only overcome this crisis if the role and actions of all three tiers of government are executed independently and collaboratively in an efficient way as per their constitutional scope.
Lockdown has been implemented as a way to close down all activities and maintain safety through social distancing that has also been implemented globally to stop the spread of COVID-19. The spread and losses in countries where this method has not been implemented are unimaginable. As countries with exceptional health-treatment management and facilities are bearing unthinkable losses, a country like ours with comparatively weaker education, health, and governing arrangements has implemented the lockdown from March as the only way and the only weapon to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Hence, all three tiers of government are currently focusing on the prevention, control, and treatment of COVID-19 and distributing relief to the poor, backward, helpless, and daily-wage workers during the lockdown.
National Crisis and the Role of Local Government amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic
The country’s competency depends upon the effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability of the local government, as they are the closest to the public.
The spread of COVID-19, its effect people’s health, public awareness on the precautions and individual cleanliness to prevent the spread
The virus that emerged in Wuhan at the end of December was firstly named as the Novel Corona Virus and later as COVID-19 by the World Health Organization. This virus was initially termed as an outbreak and later declared a global pandemic keeping in mind the crisis that it brought. After the WHO released its notices regarding the spread, symptoms, the effects it has on people, its prevention, and the precautions that should be taken to stop its spread, all three tiers of government in Nepal extensively worked to raise public awareness on the matter. However, being the closest authority to the public, local government’s role and influence are more when it comes to combating the pandemic.
Nearly all local level governments have formed the directors’ committee, ward-level coordinating committee, and community-level committee at the municipal-level for the prevention, control, and treatment of COVID-19. To enhance the efficiency of this framework, there is also a necessity to consolidate all the messages from the WHO and make promotional contents using various Information, Education, and Communication materials. To raise public awareness, the federal, provincial, and local governments are making adequate efforts. Notices regarding social distancing, washing hands multiple times, maintaining cleanliness in private and public areas, maintaining a healthy diet have been vital in enhancing public awareness on COVID-19.
Cooperation to maintain full compliance of the lockdown implemented by the Government of Nepal
Almost all countries around the world have implemented lockdown to help stop the spread of the virus. Likewise, the WHO has also suggested Nepal take the necessary alertness, as Nepal has been placed in a high-risk zone. As COVID-19 started spreading globally, Nepal announced a lockdown on 24 March 2020. To achieve full compliance of the announcements of the federal government, local government’s role becomes vital in terms of ceasing unnecessary movements by collaborating with the police administration, closing all services except for essential and urgent services, and facilitating the adoption of virtual mediums to conduct urgent works.
In a lockdown, the government has a crucial responsibility of providing food and necessary items to the needy and daily-wage workers. For this, as per the decision made by the Government of Nepal, the local government has been collecting necessary information about the target group and distributing relief accordingly.
Increasing the scope of daily surveillance system and testing of returnees and associated people at risk
Local authorities must pay careful attention to maintaining the records of people who came from abroad within the past one month and monitor them regularly. The local level must work on placing third country returnees in quarantine, encouraging people to stay in self -quarantine (home quarantine), monitoring and recording their health conditions daily along with increasing the scope of testing, and immediately managing tests and isolating them in case the symptoms of the virus appears.
Management of quarantines (according to criteria), isolation wards, and the establishment of corona-special hospitals
Even though Nepal is a landlocked country, it has a large population and is connected to India through an open-border on three sides. Due to this, there is a high risk of the spread of the virus from the Nepali people who went to work in India as well as Indians who came to Nepal due to various reasons and people who came via air. For this, the local levels are expected to establish and operate quarantine centres as per the Quarantine Criteria, 2076 released by the Nepal government. However, the federal government and provincial government can also manage them as per the need. Also, isolation wards and in some cases special coronavirus hospitals can be established to keep the coronavirus patients.
Management of health workers, essential medicines, and health supplies
Naturally, the effectiveness of health institutions is anticipated to be more at times of health crisis than at other times. Currently, under the federal structure, there are health institutions under all three-tiers of government. Under this, the facilitation of urban health clinics, health centres, and primary hospitals fall under the jurisdiction of the local authorities. In these institutions, the local level is responsible to facilitate the management of health workers, necessary medicines, and personal protective equipment, thermal guns, masks, sanitizers, etc. for the health workers.
Lockdown and COVID-19’s effect on local level’s development goals, the effects on annual budgets, and subjects that should be incorporated in upcoming plans and programs
Due to the onset of the pandemic, every sector has been affected in a global stage and Nepal is no exception. After the Government of Nepal announced the lockdown on 24 March, all sectors (except to seek medical attention or purchase essential food items) were completely shut. It is undeniable that there will be an inestimable amount of effect on human development aspects due to the multi-dimensional and complex interrelated components of all activities being shut down. Experts have estimated that Nepal’s economic growth targets will decrease greatly, the population below the poverty line will increase, industrial business activities will weaken, and social capital development work will be negatively affected.
However, some important relief and economic aid programs should be planned to help recover from the setbacks of the pandemic:
- Aid programs to help production and increase productivity in the agriculture sector,
- Designing programs targeting unemployed youths,
- Conducting programs targeting poor and backward communities,
- Announcing relief packages for micro-enterprises,
- Providing tax rebate for various industries and businesses,
- Developing health sector infrastructure, necessary health equipment management and adequate management of the local level budget to increase the health services.
Local level’s challenges for the management of the coronavirus crisis
As pandemic in itself is unanticipated and difficult to manage in terms of prevailing laws, institutions and resources, the aspect of crisis management are often difficult and challenging. There are numerous challenges regarding the prevention and control of COVID-19 as well as the management of relief measures. Some of them are as follows:
- Due to the physical remoteness, local authorities in many parts of Nepal face challenges in terms of the mobility of health workers, the supply of medical equipment and transportation of essential goods.
- The physical infrastructure of health institutions is feeble.
- The procurement laws for the purchase of adequate medicines and health equipment are process-oriented and troublesome.
- Artificial scarcity has been created in the market, leading to black-marketing of commodities affecting product quality and prices.
- The required condition to pay more than the market value but it being against public procurement law.
- The price of medical supplies increase in the market upon the increasing demand, however purchasing the supplies at increased price goes against the existing procurement law, which ultimately hinders the acquirement process for authorities.
- The politicization of sensitive subjects such as relief distribution is a huge hindrance.
- Unnecessary populist stunts by the so-called intellectuals and activists in such times of crisis demotivate frontline warriors.
- There are difficulties in the identification of the targeted category for relief distribution.
- There exists a situation where a large portion of society is still influenced by unnecessary rumours.
The invisible coronavirus is capable of spreading more fear and panic than world wars that occurred in various periods in history. The total number of people affected by the COVID-19 has already reached 2.8 million and the total number of deaths has already crossed 197,000 when preparing this write-up. This is a fearful situation. There is no alternate way to save ourselves from this pandemic other than by following the guidelines released by the WHO. Hence, the local governments must play their parts in the full compliance of the lockdown announced by the government to maintain social distancing for stopping the spread of the coronavirus. In addition, using full strength to treat the infected patients while keeping the motivation of the health workers high and using the national resources and human power in a unified manner against the coronavirus is critical.
The above Expert Speak edition is written by Mr. Agni Prasad Adhikari. He is the Chief Administrative Officer at Gokarneshwor Municipality.
Thumbnail picture source: https://www.humandynamics.org/en/sector/par-justice-good-governance