4 Effects of Covid Lockdowns in Nepal – a Path to Mental and Physical Breakdown
Nepal instituted a full national lockdown on March 24th, 2020. Two days before that, they closed the border with India, and a couple months earlier on January 28th, they closed the border with China – all in what proved to be a futile attempt to contain an uncontainable virus.
So what were the effects of the covid lockdowns in Nepal?
The short answer is dire. The lockdowns decimated trade and tourism, crippled agriculture and farming, and led to widespread job losses, food insecurity, and the beginnings of social breakdown before the lockdowns were finally lifted in September of 2020. But by that time, the mental health toll had already taken hold, and they are still trying to climb out of it over a year later. You’ll see more about the toll in a bit.
The effect of the lockdowns on farming and agriculture was so severe that we wrote a separate article about that.
A detailed study explored all the ways the covid lockdowns brought great harm to Nepal. You can read the full report here, or just keep reading to get the main takeaways.
First Effect: Trade Routes Severed
When Nepal closed the trade routes to China, before any cases of covid had shown up in Nepal, the damage from the lockdowns began.
Nepal is heavily dependent on China for a variety of key raw materials used for manufacturing and agriculture. When these stopped coming in, it forced certain sectors of Nepal’s economy to reduce output and lay people off.
China was also the source of medical supplies like masks and gloves. Nepali hospitals had to make do with what they had, and in some cases had to sew masks using cloths.
Two months later, when the Indian border was closed, the situation worsened.
Now all import and export traffic was either halted or required much more time and expense to move. This led to panic-buying and hoarding of food and critical supplies.
To make matters worse, hundreds of thousands of Nepalis working in India were trying to return to Nepal because they had lost their jobs, but got stuck or delayed at the border. This happened from other nations too when flights were cancelled and travel was restricted.
Second Effect: Tourism Evaporates
Once lockdowns took hold in other nations in addition to Nepal, tourism to Nepal pretty much stopped overnight.
In 2018, there were 1.05 million Nepalis working in the tourism industry. A huge national campaign called Visit Nepal had been planned for 2020, and tourism businesses were looking forward to a surge of income.
Visit Nepal got cancelled. A majority of that 1.05 million lost their jobs, or had their work and income reduced. 20,000 tour guides and porters lost their jobs overnight when mountaineering was restricted.
300,000 unemployed workers and students left Kathmandu in a three-day period, defying the order not to travel, because they felt they would be safer in more remote areas, and believed they would have better access to food since they had lost their jobs and would be closer to the farms.
Third Effect: Education Halts
During the first months of Nepal’s covid lockdown, all schools at all levels were closed, and national exams were cancelled.
This left students unable to complete their grade levels. Many of the kids who live in the Women’s Protection Center safe home, our refuge from the risks of poverty and human trafficking in Hetauda, experienced this, and suffered learning loss as a result.
Low income parents had to do everything possible to find work, but day laborers experienced the largest unemployment rates. And now, with their kids not in school, these parents had to deal with kids at home, not learning, while they struggled to find work and food at the same time.
Most parents, especially in rural areas and smaller towns, don’t have internet at all or don’t know how to use it. As a result, students across the nation learned almost nothing for several months. Some for over a year.
Related to this, trustworthy, factual information about covid was hard to come by, in part because the research labs at colleges that could have studied it were also shut down, and the scientists weren’t able to study or monitor it as effectively as they could have.
So, irrational fears, panic, and questionable theories about ways to ‘cure’ covid started to circulate.
Some landlords even evicted doctors and nurses, fearing they were likely to bring covid home with them and spread it to the other residents in their properties. People who had covid but recovered from it, which is almost everyone who gets it, experienced discrimination and social isolation.
These sorts of stigmas led some people to avoid going to the hospital even if they had symptoms.
Fourth Effect: Extreme Mental Health Breakdowns
The first three effects led inevitably to the fourth one – mental and emotional suffering.
As the study puts it, “the lockdown curfews, self-isolation, social distancing and quarantine have affected the overall physical, mental, spiritual and social wellbeing of the Nepalese.”
The government shut down health clubs, museums, cinemas, festivals, religious activities, and community events – all the things that help people stay connected and socially, physically, and emotionally healthy.
At the same time, they suffered from job loss and reduced income, housing and food insecurity, “fear, anxiety, and uncertainty,” economic recession, and increased family conflict and dysfunction, including a 60% reported increase in domestic violence against women.
Suicides in Nepal increased dramatically beginning in March 2020, and as of the time of the report, far more people in Nepal had died from suicide than from covid.
But even for those who tried to press through the lockdowns and losses, they had to endure feelings like worry, anger, annoyance, frustration, helplessness, loneliness, fear, and many other psychologically debilitating emotions that cause long term damage if they continue unabated.
Nepal’s government and some NGOs did attempt to meet the mental health need by setting up helplines that offered free mental health counseling.
How Did the Covid Lockdowns Effect WPC Nepal?
We’ve reported on this in much greater detail in our monthly newsletter, which you can join for free and get a free eBook telling an incredible story about a young woman in Nepal. You’ll get monthly updates and also hear about occasional events and ways you can help.
In short, the kids living in the Women’s Protection Center safe home and the families we have worked with in the community suffered the same as everyone else. They experienced mental health problems, food insecurity, lost jobs, lost income, and all the rest.
The good news is, our generous donors helped fund an emergency relief project in June of 2020, which delivered much needed food and supplies to families in the community around the safe home.
The kids in the safe home never had to worry about food because of our donors, but they lost connection with some relatives, experienced fear, and lost learning time when schools shut down. Many struggled with mental health.
The businesses started by women who have been through the Vocational Tailoring Program had to try to survive all the economic devastation around them, and the fallout from this is still playing out. Some fared better than others.
The Human Trafficking Awareness Program that educates locals about the risk and warning signs of human trafficking also halted for much of 2020, because the schools and community centers it would normally use to meet with people were forced to close.