Since immunisation is key to economic recovery, it behooves the govt to speed up the vaccination campaign

After a year of depressing economic performance, Nepal's economy has been projected to grow by a modest 4.1 per cent in 2021-22, according to the latest Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2021 Update, a flagship publication of the Asian Development Bank. Though an improvement from the dismal 2.3 per cent growth seen in fiscal 2020-21, the latest update is far from the 6-7 per cent growth seen before the coronavirus pandemic that hit the country, and the world at large, from the beginning of 2020. The months-long lockdown in 2020 had crippled the Nepali economy, after it brought all economic activities to a standstill, with all businesses shut down and people forced to stay indoors. There wasn't a single sector that wasn't affected by the fast-spreading coronavirus, which impelled the government to divert all available resources to testing patients for the virus and equipping hospitals and other health facilities to treat a deluge of sick people.

The somewhat optimistic ADO 2021 Update is based on the premise that the ongoing vaccination drive against COVID-19 will expand. Although Nepal was among the first few countries to start immunising its citizens in January this year, the campaign had faltered in the subsequent weeks following a ban on vaccine exports by India. But the vaccination drive has again picked up momentum with vaccines arriving from different sources – China, Japan, the United

States, UK and the World Health Organisation. Agriculture is also expected to see robust growth this year, with increased paddy output, thanks to more than normal rainfall this monsoon season.

Likewise, industrial output is predicted to increase amidst rising exports and domestic demand.

Industries have started opening following the lifting of the prohibitory orders that were clamped in late April, and the labourers are back to work. However, how much tourism, which used to contribute about 7 per cent to the country's gross domestic product (GDP), will lend to the GDP's growth remains uncertain. While some adventure tourists have arrived to hit the trekking trails or climb the Himalayas, it will take some time, possibly a year or two, before the hotels, restaurants and travel and tourism return to pre-pandemic levels.

The new ADO projections, however, hinges on the country's ability to keep COVID infections low. Under pressure from the business community and academic institutions, the government has thrown all sectors open, with life in the streets looking seemingly normal. Despite warnings of a third wave of the virus, everyone seems to be in a festive mood with the approach of Dasain in less than a fortnight. Since the national vaccination plan remains key to the country's economic recovery, it behooves the government to speed up the campaign to inoculate the targeted 21 million people above 14 years of age and even those who are younger if schools are to open without fear. The people, on their part, have the onus to adhere to the health safety measures of wearing a mask while going out and maintaining physical distancing, which is not being practised. The last thing we want is a surge in COVID-19 cases and subsequent harsh containment measures, such as a lockdown.

Women trafficking

There has been no let up in women trafficking to India even during the period of the coronavirus pandemic that forced both Nepal and India to close the open border and restrict the movement of people from either side. According to Maiti Nepal, Dhangadhi chapter as many as 109 women and girls were stopped at the Trinagar border point from sneaking into India last fiscal when both Nepal and India imposed a lockdown to keep the coronavirus at bay.

It is learnt that unsuspecting girls and women, especially from the rural areas, are lured by their relatives, lovers and acquaintances through the social media with promises of good jobs in Indian cities and are then forced into engaging in illegal activities.

It was easy to lure them with promises of jobs in India when they were facing unemployment problem at home. The security personnel stationed at the customs points should also keep a close eye on those girls and women being escorted by their relatives and friends while crossing the porous border. Women trafficking cannot be controlled only by monitoring women at the border points. An awareness drive must be launched at the village-level to control human trafficking.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 24 2021, of The Himalayan Times.