Nepal grapples with second wave of COVID-19
Government of Finland and UNICEF partnership helps address the education and water, sanitation and hygiene needs of children and families amidst the pandemic.
Subechha Puri misses her friends. The five-year-old from Shivaraj Municipality in Kapilvastu District in western Nepal hasn’t seen her friends for over a year now.
“They live too far away,” she said. “And I can’t go out.”
Nepal first announced COVID-19 lockdown in late March last year, and schools were subsequently closed. The country had slowly started easing the restrictions when it began experiencing the second wave beginning April this year. By end of May, 561,302 confirmed cases have been reported with 7,386 deaths, a 67 per cent increase in total cases and 122 per cent in total deaths in just one month. The positivity rate frequently exceeded 40 per cent, with parts of western Nepal even recording 80-90 per cent, the highest rates in the world.
The situation prompted another lockdown this year, thwarting any hopes of Subechha going back to school and her friends.
The pandemic has not only impacted Subechha’s time with her friends but also seriously affected her education. School closures in the wake of the current wave of COVID-19 have brought substantial loss in learning amongst almost 8.1 million children and puts each individual child and Nepal’s future economic and social development at risk.
“Subechha absolutely loved school, and never complained about having to go,” said Mr Nandalal Puri, Subechha’s grandfather.
However, Mr Puri worried that if she stayed idle for too long, it would be difficult for Subechha to get back on track once lessons did resume. In order to prevent this, Mr Puri began to spend a few hours a day home-schooling Subechha.
These efforts were further bolstered when Subechha received a self-learning pack from the municipality, provided with support from UNICEF and Government of Finland, as part of the partnership to improve the education and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) situation of children and families in Nepal.
Nearly 36,000 young children have benefited from such self-learning packs, which ensure learning continuity of the most disadvantaged children without access to alternative means of education via radio, television and internet during school closure. Each of these packs comprise age-appropriate activity books, stationery like crayons and colour pencils, as well as materials for play such as skipping ropes and board games and children are expected to use them with guidance from parents and caregivers.
Many municipalities have also taken the lead to work with parents and teachers to enable them to help children use these learning materials.
Padam Baduwal, mayor of Badimalika Municipality of remote Bajura District in far western Nepal – where 609 students from 17 schools were provided these learning packs – said feedback from his community has been great and parents are more than enthusiastic to contribute towards children’s learning. In fact, the municipality decided to create similar packs with their own resources to distribute to other students in the district.
"It’s great to see families actively involved in children’s learning,” Mr Baduwal said. “It’s a practice that I hope continues even after schools reopen, because it’s so important for children’s overall development to have that kind of support system at home.”
An evolving partnership for changing needs
The UNICEF and Finland partnership for children in Nepal goes back several years with the two entities working together with Government of Nepal to ensure children and communities have access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. Over the years, the partnership has evolved with the changing needs of children and communities. Currently, the focus is on responding to emerging issues and challenges brought on by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The second wave in Nepal also coincided with the large influx of migrant workers returning to the country from India after the second wave struck there. An additional challenge of managing the points of entries (land borders with India) arose, given insufficient personal protective equipment, testing capacity and basic provisions for border workers and migrants waiting for admission and processing including drinking water, toilets and hand washing facilities.
As children and families pass through the various stages of transit, such as getting their temperature checked upon arrival – and if showing any symptoms, getting an antigen test at the health desk – they also have access to a range of WASH services, thanks to the support of UNICEF and Government of Finland.
This includes being provided free bottles of drinking water as well as leaflets and flyers with information on preventive measures against COVID-19.
The point of entry have also been equipped with temporary toilets, separate ones for male and female. And to promote better hand hygiene among returnees, handwashing stations have been installed. Similar support has been extended to various other points of entry all along the border with India, several of which continuously saw between 1,000 – 1,200 people coming through on a daily basis during the peak.
Ramesh Sah, a local volunteer working with UNICEF, says that things are much more manageable now than they had been when the second wave first hit back in April.
“People are calmer now, and many are more aware about preventive measures,” Mr Sah said. “But because there is likely to be a rise in numbers of people passing through when restrictions are loosened in India or Nepal in the coming days – we need to be prepared to receive them and help them – particularly more vulnerable people, especially people with disability.”
The article was written by the UNICEF Nepal and translated by the MFA