There will be no change in the plight of migrant workers as long as the concerned governments are reluctant to act

That nearly 2 million people die annually worldwide from work-related causes should send alarm bells ringing in all countries and businesses to improve health and safety conditions in the workplace.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) Global Monitoring Report, 2000-2016, non-communicable diseases accounted for 81 per cent of the 1.9 million deaths in 2016 while the remaining were caused by occupational injuries.

Majority of the work-related deaths were caused by respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke and ischaemic heart disease accounting for about 63 per cent of all work-related deaths. Of the 19 occupational risk factors, the study has listed exposure to long working hours and air pollution (particulate matter, gases and fumes) in the workplace as causing the largest number of deaths. Exposure to asthmagens, carcinogens, uncomfortable working conditions and noise were other factors.

Nepal is no stranger to deaths caused by work-related diseases and injuries, what with more than four million Nepalis working abroad, most of them in the Gulf countries, Malaysia and South Korea. According to the government's Labour Migration report, at least 7,467 migrant workers have died in various countries in the 11 years since 2008. Until the pandemic shut down the country in March last year, at least three to four dead bodies of Nepali migrant workers arrived at Kathmandu Airport daily, the often overlooked huge human and social cost of Nepal's remittance-based economy.

The highest number of deaths of Nepali migrant workers have been from Malaysia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, most of whom died of cardiac arrest, accidents in the workplace and suicide. Qatar is in the midst of a construction spree to complete stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and hundreds of Nepali youths have already lost their lives due to the scorching heat and poor living conditions. Deaths and injuries of our youths can no longer be mere statistics for the government. It must protect its citizens in the labour destinations through the conduct of diplomacy and other means while the host nation has the onus to safeguard the rights of migrant workers.

There will be no change in the existing situation as long as the concerned governments are reluctant to improve the plight of the migrant workers.

The 2 million deaths occurring worldwide are largely preventable if governments, employers and workers take action to reduce exposure to the risk factors in the workplace to make it healthier, safer, more resilient and socially just. This can be done if the standards and guidelines set by the WHO and ILO to promote effective occupational safety and health systems are implemented sincerely. Each of the 19 risk factors listed in the report can be addressed through appropriate action. However, any improvement in the workplace carries a price tag, which could be a heavy financial burden for countries like Nepal. In a country of unemployed millions, where people are just too happy to keep a job, it will take strong laws to force businesses to adopt labour-friendly practices.

BNP reopens

Bardiya National Park (BNP) has seen an increasing number of domestic tourists in recent times thanks to the relaxation of the prohibitory orders imposed nationwide following the second wave of the coronavirus. The park was closed for visitors since April 29 when the local administration imposed an indefinite prohibitory order to break the chain of COVID-19 infection. Now tourists can visit the park area by adhering to the basic health protocols set by the park authorities. Tourists are allowed to go on jungle safari, rafting and jungle walk.

The major attraction of the BNP is the Royal Bengal tiger, whose population has gone up due to the rigorous efforts to protect its life and habitat. A good number of foreign and domestic tourists can be expected in the park area in the days ahead provided that the cases of COVID-19 subside. Tourism entrepreneurs have also offered attractive packages for the visitors to revive the tourism industry that has been shattered due to the prolonged lockdown and prohibitory orders. Spread in an area of 968 sqkm, the national park has many things to offer, from the tigers, elephants and one-horned rhinos to the Gangetic dolphins in the Karnali River.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 20 2021, of The Himalayan Times.