It is difficult for the government to control the pandemic when people don't see reason in what it is trying to do
Nepal is a land of festivals, with one being marked every other week, or even day, by any one of its 125 ethnic groups and communities. But due to the coronavirus scare, the gaiety and fanfare with which the festivals are celebrated have been scaled down, but their observance not abandoned. And so it was with Gaijatra, the colourful cow festival, which was observed on Monday, by the Newar community in the Kathmandu Valley and other Newar settlements across the country. Although the crowds were thin compared to normal times, there was still considerable presence of participants and revelers who went around the narrow alleys of the ancient cities in packs. This has raised serious questions about the effectiveness of the ongoing prohibitory orders that put a ban on mass gatherings during traditional festivities.
While the narrow lanes of the crowded settlements make physical distancing impossible, many partakers seemed to have cast caution to the wind by not even wearing a mask.
Nepal is still reeling under the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and doctors are already talking of a twindemic, involving a severe outbreak of influenza on top of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the past few weeks, there has been a surge in the number of fresh COVID-19 cases, with Nepal reporting 1,548 cases on Monday, and almost half of them were recorded in the Kathmandu Valley. Monday also reported 24 COVID-related deaths, bringing the total number of people who have succumbed to the respiratory infection to 10,533. Thus it behooves all to follow the health standards prescribed by the government, namely wearing a mask, maintaining physical distancing and washing of the hands regularly, to stay safe from the virus until things return to normal.
Given the spike in the number of COVID cases in recent times, the concerned authorities of the Kathmandu Valley are said to be mulling over imposing stricter restrictions to rein in the free movement of the people and their activities.
While the government has issued the prohibitory orders for the good of the public, they have not gone down well with the people, especially during festival time. They see the prohibitory orders as challenging their right to observe their festivals and traditions in the way they want. For instance, the people of Bhaktapur had challenged the authorities' decision to ban public celebration of the tongue-piercing festival in April, and filed a writ at the Supreme Court, whose verdict pronounced that it was the people's right to celebrate the festival. It thus becomes extremely difficult for the government to control the pandemic when the people don't see reason in what it is trying to do. Going by the crowds of people that throng busy market places like Indrachowk, Ason and Mahaboudhha in Kathmandu, it makes little sense for the government to be launching the "Where is your mask?" campaign or distributing free masks to passers-by.
One could even question if the authorities are serious about controlling the virus. The festival season has just begun in Nepal, and big festivals like Teej, Dasain, Tihar and Chhath are lined up for celebration.
Let large gatherings during these festivals not be the cause for another wave of the pandemic.
Food crisis in Bajura
The remote and impoverished district of Bajura in Karnali province finds itself in media spotlight always for the wrong reason. This district has been reeling under an acute food crisis although the government has made arrangements for the supply of foodstuffs there. The Kolti branch of the government-owned Food Management and Trade Company Limited is said to be running out of stock. It has only 148 quintals of rice in stock, which is not enough to meet the local demand. Officials at the Chief District Office said they had been selling 10 kg of rice per person every Wednesday, that too, on the basis of the citizenship card. This shows how serious it is.
The contractors could not supply the sanctioned quantity of rice and other food items as the road leading to Bajura has been destroyed by landslides at several places. Food Corporation, Bajura, had approved 3,000 quintals of rice for the Kolti depot for this fiscal. Considering the looming food shortage in the mountain district, the government should leave no stones unturned to repair the damaged road. The local levels should also encourage the locals to grow indigenous crops with financial support so that they don't have to rely on imported food.
A version of this article appears in the print on August 25 2021, of The Himalayan Times.