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Home  >  Features  >  The Coronavirus Diaries: 'Please Pray for Nepal'


The Coronavirus Diaries: 'Please Pray for Nepal'

Wednesday May 6 2020

Continuing the series of updates from Church of Scotland partners around the world, Joel Hafvenstein of the United Mission to Nepal reports on the challenges facing the country's people in lockdown.

Like everyone on the United Mission to Nepal (UMN) team, except those staffing our two mission hospitals, I’m working from home right now.

I look out of the window of our rented flat and see a dozen children playing football in the field next door, with their parents chatting on the sidelines. Six weeks in, Nepal’s whole-country lockdown is being less strictly observed than at first.

It’s still had a noticeable impact on the skies of the Kathmandu Valley. The smudge in the air is not completely gone; farmers across South Asia (including several of our neighbours) have still been setting their fields ablaze before the spring planting. But with barely any cars plying the roads, and near-daily spring thunderstorms these days, the Valley skies are clearer than we’ve seen them in years. Yesterday from our rooftop we could see a full horizon of glorious mountain peaks, from Annapurna and Manaslu in the west to the Everest range in the east.

And as so often in Nepal, the words of the Psalm came to mind: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains; where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

My wife, Fiona, and I joined UMN five years ago, on the heels of Nepal’s last great disaster—the 2015 earthquakes. Much of UMN’s energy and attention was then going to rebuilding quake-shattered communities, with support pouring in from around the globe. The coronavirus pandemic is likely to be even more devastating; but it’s a much stranger disaster, and no one has a playbook for how to respond.

The disaster here is not yet one of illness. To date, no one is known to have died of COVID-19 in Nepal (though it’s not hard to find stories of suspicious deaths before the country’s testing capacity was really up and running). The government saw how hospitals were being overwhelmed in some of the world’s richest countries, considered Nepal’s own fragile health system, and imposed a complete lockdown on the day that the second case was confirmed. There have only been 80 more positive tests since then.

But if the measures taken by Nepal and other countries have so far prevented one disaster, they have created another. Migrant labour and tourism, which together make up over one-third of Nepal’s economy, have collapsed with international border closures. Villages all over the country are packed with returnees from India, Malaysia, and Qatar who have come back to the stigma of being possible virus vectors and a paralysed local job market.

The millions of Nepalis who rely on day labour or small businesses have had to survive for six weeks and counting without their normal livelihoods. Travel restrictions prevent many from getting their goods to market, or finding customers there if they do. The collapse of Nepal’s economy will send millions tumbling back into destitution; and UMN’s anti-poverty teams are for the time being pinned down by the lockdown, planning from home, unable to directly reach the people we serve.

In 2015, the post-quake rebuilding relied on global remittances from Nepali labourers, along with a generous outpouring of international aid. In this pandemic, with economies crashing worldwide, we can’t expect the same scale of help. UMN needs to raise roughly a million US dollars from our global church partners for our two mission hospitals alone, to prepare for the extra costs of an outbreak and to make up for the loss of revenue from patients who are staying away due to lockdown or fear of contagion. That’s a tall order when those Western churches are themselves in financial crisis!

So please pray for Nepal, and for wisdom for UMN as we respond to this unprecedented disaster.

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