THE PAIN OF COVID-19 IN CAMBODIA AND NEPAL
MESSAGE FROM THE CHAIRMAN, ROBERT KEE
The Pain of COVID-19 in Cambodia and Nepal
COVID-19 has impacted the poor in Nepal and Cambodia in multiple ways. It is like death with a thousand cuts. Both countries are dependent on tourism as Cambodia has its Angkor Wat and Nepal has Mount Everest. It is not just the big hotels that suffer but tens of thousands of tour guides, porters, small eateries, souvenir sellers and many small businesses. With airports being shut down and borders close, tourism is virtually at a standstill. The Nepal Government has cancelled Visit Nepal 2020 which is an advertising campaign to attract 2 million tourists to Nepal. The biggest employer in Cambodia are the garment factories and many have closed or reduced productions as demand from overseas have shrunk. Rural villagers left their homes to work in the garment factories in order to send money back to their families. Now they are jobless and some have not even been paid. Some of our Hope Village children cannot come back because their guardians have no money for transport. Thousands leave Nepal to work overseas especially in the Middle East, India and Europe. COVID-19 means they cannot leave Nepal to work overseas and those who are overseas cannot return! Not only do they lose their jobs but they have to stay in an expensive country trying their very best to survive.
The 24 April 2020 issue of The Diplomat writes:
“There are upwards of 3.5 million Nepalis currently working and living abroad, whose livelihoods have been put at risk due to COVID-19. An estimated 2 million Nepalis live and work in India, while hundreds of thousands are situated in the Gulf region and Malaysia. Most are employed in low wage work as construction and domestic workers and send remittances home to their families in Nepal. In Qatar alone, there are 400,000 Nepalis, meaning they outnumber the Qataris themselves — Nepalis account for 12.5 percent of the country’s population, as compared to the Qataris as 9.35 percent.”
In the past years, micro finance banks have flourished in Cambodia. The villagers were suddenly exposed to credit and borrowed money to build better houses or pay for medical bills. With the loss of income, they cannot pay the monthly instalments and risk losing the only valuable asset they have, their rice fields. I believe the problems faced by the poor are vastly unreported due to the lockdown and restricted travel. Like COVID-19, it takes time for the symptoms to be apparent. The lockdown means most have to rely on their savings or borrow at high interest from money lenders to survive. Farmers cannot sell their produce due to the lack of transportation or transportation is too expensive.
The 30 April 2020 issue of Asean Today writes:
“With many Cambodians out of work, COVID-19 is also throwing another problem into sharp relief: that of precariously high microfinance debt. Cambodia has the highest microloan debt per borrower in the world at around US$3,800, almost twice the country’s GDP per capita. Over 2.6 million Cambodians currently hold microfinance loans, collectively worth a total of over $10 billion, according to the Cambodia Microfinance Association. These numbers don’t include widespread informal lending.
As Cambodian workers are left out of jobs with minimal government assistance, this debt has become a major concern. Four out of five garment workers hold a microfinance loan. For many families, loan payments now represent a threat to their future, their savings and even their land. The impacts of overwhelming debt are also starkly gendered: women are traditionally in charge of household finances in Cambodia and around 75% of microfinance clients in the country are women.”
Nepal face a looming crisis due to the return of its migrant workers. With inadequate medical facilities and protective gear, there is a fear that when these hundreds of thousands of Nepali migrant workers return, they could infect their families. Having visited many of the rural areas of Nepal like Bhojpur, Tawal, Duseni and Oklahunga, we know how limited the medical facilities are.
Is the Government able or can they afford to quarantine thousands of its own citizens as they return home?
We know the country and have people in the field to execute appropriate interventions. However, a key factor is money as the scale and type of interventions we do depends on the amount of donations we can raised.
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