While the world’s attention has been focused on India as the country battles a deadly second wave of the Covid pandemic, the situation is just as dire in neighbouring Nepal, prompting the United Nation health chief to recently express concerns about the country’s unfolding crisis.
But the irony is that the alarming situation of India has been featured in newspapers across the globe but the western media’s concern about Nepal’s deepening crisis wave is limited to the virus reaching Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak.
International media picked up Nepal’s crisis only after Covid cases were detected on Everest. Recently, there was a report that a coronavirus outbreak on Everest has infected at least 100 climbers and support staff. If there were no Covid cases on Everest, I doubt Nepal’s Covid crisis would get as much attention as now.
Though Nepal is a small country, the pandemic situation is worse than in India. Nepal is unprepared and more hapless than its neighbour. Nepal has fewer resources and capacity. The situation is so devastating that Nepal’s Prime Minister wrote an opinion in one of the newspapers published from London, appealing to the international community for help.
Not only Nepal, the second wave of coronavirus is also fast engulfing countries around India. From Nepal in the north to Sri Lanka and the Maldives in the south, cases have surged. As coronavirus infection rises, dozens of countries are facing severe shortages of oxygen. According to the report of the Bureau of Investigative journalism, nineteen countries around the world are at risk as the demand for oxygen skyrocketed since March. As India has banned exports of oxygen, its neighbours like Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka—most of them rely on India for oxygen—are at great risk.
Nepal now needs more than 100 times as much oxygen as it required in March, according to the report of the Bureau. The Himalayan country of more than 28 million is now seeing more infections per million than India, with more than 9,000 new infections reported daily, up from fewer than 200 in the first week of April. The test positivity rate in Nepal has climbed to 45 per cent.
On Monday, Nepal recorded 7,425 covid infections and 185 deaths. Every day, the mortality rate due to coronavirus continues to spike. Nepal is in a war zone and it is helpless. The vaccination rate in Nepal is very low, only 7.2 per cent of the population has been vaccinated with the first dose. Nepal urgently needs vaccines and medicines from foreign donors, or else the cataclysm will engulf the country.
The surge in cases has pushed Nepal’s fragile health care system to the breaking point. Hospitals are flooded with coronavirus patients and do not have enough ventilators, oxygen, or even doctors to look after patients. Many coronavirus patients lost their lives due to the lack of oxygen. Nepal is so short of oxygen that it has asked climbers to bring back their oxygen canisters instead of abandoning them on the mountain.
Nepal initiated its vaccination campaign in January and vaccinated 1.9 million people. The country had been dependent on India for vaccines, liquid oxygen, and other medical supplies. It ordered two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India earlier in the year, but only half was delivered as India stopped its export citing its growing need at home.
Nepal is a small Himalayan country lying between two warring giants, India and China. The strategic importance of Nepal is on the rise not only for two neighbours but also for the US. China and the US are responding to Nepal’s crisis. China recently donated 400 oxygen cylinders, 160 oxygen concentrators, and 10 ventilators to Nepal. China also donated 800,000 doses of the Chinese VeroCell vaccine to continue its vaccination drive after India put a stop to the vaccine export.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced emergency assistance to help Nepal fight its devastating second wave surge. People of Nepal recently launched an online petition demanding that the US provide vaccines as the country struggled to contain the devastating second wave.
(Karki is an author based in Nepal. He tweets @brabim7)