Three weeks after the coronavirus crisis broke out in Europe, the Nepalese claimed to be a strong people and would not be infected. They said it was mainly because they used distant "namaste" as a greeting, while we Europeans were constantly hugging and kissing. The Kathmandu valley is nevertheless a paradise for infectious diseases, because too many people live in overcrowded rooms or plastic huts in slums. Not only the immediate proximity to China, but also the many business relations between the two neighbors indicate that the virus must have been in the country as early as January.
It was not until mid-March, when most countries were making sure that their people would stay at home, that the Nepalese government panicked and began to prepare for the pandemic as best as it could. The foreigners still present in the country hurried to get a flight back home to avoid being trapped in Nepal. The Nepalese were quarantined from one day to the next, since then the army and police have often used force to keep people from leaving their houses. The families who had managed to save some money are allowed to go shopping from 5 to 9 in the morning when the grocery stores are open. After 10 days of shutdown, however, the day laborers had no more money to feed their families, and since then hundreds of thousands of them have been making their way on foot to their distant village of origin and there was a high chance spreading the virus throughout the country.
In Kathmandu, the government irregularly distributes rice and lentils to the poor, but there is not enough for everyone. Today, seven weeks after the start of the lockdown, even the WHO is surprised that only 59 infected people in Nepal have been officially registered and that none have died. The press in Nepal is not so free that one would know the correct numbers, some intellectuals think that the country's weak health care system is in any case incapable of managing a corona crisis like the one in Europe. In Kathmandu, there are only a small number of beat-machines, and also the most important measure to keep the virus away which is “handwashing”, is not really possible for the capital's 1.5 million people because few have running water. Only on the roof of the well-to-do population have a water tank, which is regularly filled by trucks. The majority of people have to fetch water in buckets and store it at home. It is therefore difficult to teach the people from the slums how to wash their hands properly: for this they depend on the already contaminated groundwater; of course they do not want to use the precious drinking water, which we have been delivering them twice a week.
The Thapathali slum is hard hit by the current emergency situation. Most of the people who live here, men and women, has been working as heavy laborer on construction sites and have only what they earn in the day. Since the life of the country is currently at a standstill, they are no longer able to feed their families. The missionaries of the Korean Evangelical Church working in the slums send money from Seoul to buy rice and beans. Muna and Sushma were able to get a passport from the government and, as there is no transport, they get to the slums where we are helping with old bicycles and they take care of the most needy.
The inhabitants of the smaller Banshiqat slum receive preferential treatment from the government. Those in charge of the settlement, even if they are poor, belong to the two "upper" castes and ethnic groups of the country and therefore have relations with the authorities. Although there is a lack of water here too, our two girls are constantly educating and showing the inhabitants how they should protect themselves from the virus. The kindergarten and alphabetization class are closed, but all children come daily to eat our nutritious milk porridge.
In the village of Mudhku, where we built twenty earthquake-proof houses after the 2015 earthquake, people are better off than the inhabitants of Kathmandu because they can cultivate gardens and fields and always have a supply of dry beans, rice and corn.
The people in the toll camp need our help like never before: Like the people in the other slums, they are learning from Muna and Sushma how to deal with the risk of a Covid-19 infection, but they have been living in such an unhygienic environment since birth that their immune system is very strong and they probably have less chance of getting infecten than other people. Their biggest problem with the shutdown is the lack of food. Without Children's Relief Nepal, they would already be starving, because otherwise they would only feed themselves from what they get during the day by begging or selling their self-mixed "wound remedies".
They, who are usually always cheerful, became sentimental for the first time after the 5 years in which we support them now, and showed us feelings: "We, who are chased away from everywhere in Nepal and India", they said, "have been getting support from white people for so long, and they don't even know us! In the beginning we never thought that they would be so loyal. And that they even provide us with food in such a difficult situation is really unbelievable! If only we could give something back to them. The women talk about their biggest dream i.e. to be able to rent a small house and they also dream that their children who can go to school thanks to Kinderhilfe Nepal, will be able to earn money some day and that they can live in one of the slums of Kathmandu. For them that would be an enormous social advancement. But, today, people of their ethnic group are unfortunately strictly rejected in all slum communities of Kathmandu.
At the end of April the lifting of the lockdown for mid-May was announced, and a big problem is already looming: 15% of the Nepalese population is working abroad. Today, most of them have become unemployed, and for weeks, especially in the Gulf States, several of them have been living in cramped, overcrowded rooms, often without money to buy food. They all have a single goal: to fly home, and the government is afraid that the virus will then be imported into the country on a larger scale. The press reports that 2400 Nepalese in distant countries have contracted the virus and that 49 of them have died. The depression caused worldwide by Covid-19 is not easy even for us here, but we can hardly imagine what it is like not to have enough water to wash our hands, nor can we imagine that very few Nepalese can afford to seek medical help. No one here has health insurance. We can only wish that the virus does not spread in Nepal as strongly as in Europe, because many people would then be condemned to a cruel death by suffocation at home. In any case, it is already to be assumed that the country, whose main source of income is tourism, will be brutally thrown back into poverty by this disaster.
With best wishes to you all: Please stay healthy in these difficult times!