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Helambu and COVID-19

As of August 31, over 25 million people worldwide have been confirmed infected with COVID-19, including residents of 188 different countries or regions. Over 39000 of those confirmed cases have tested positive in Nepal. The country may feel remote to Westerners, but its shared borders with China and India, as well as its large migrant worker population, means Nepal is just as susceptible to global events as everywhere else.

What was initially less clear, however, was how the pandemic and resulting government lockdowns in Nepal were affecting the villages in the Helambu region that Aythos supports. With the tourism industry depleted and villagers unable to travel to Kathmandu and vice versa, Helambu seemed to have been directly spared from Nepal’s explosion of COVID-19 cases.

But as we are all aware by now, many of the worst impacts of the pandemic have been indirect, caused by resulting economic shutdowns, job losses, and a lack of accessibility to basic needs. These indirect impacts have affected everyone, everywhere, regardless of circumstances.

Due to this new reality we found ourselves in, Aythos needed to switch from a long-term development-only focus to a mixed short-and-long term aid and development focus. To understand what short-term needs had arisen due to COVID-19 and how long-term priorities had been affected, Aythos needed to conduct needs assessment surveys with local government officials, key informants, and medical volunteers regarding Helambu villages.

Unable to travel there directly, Aythos staff were able to conduct the surveys over the phone. Containing over 100 questions, the key informant survey was designed to better understand how a small set of households had been affected, and not to represent a sample that could be used to infer how the population of all households in Helambu have been affected. Future surveys should be more focused, shorter, and have much larger sample sizes, allowing for inferences to be made and programming to be adopted.

To make future surveys more focused, we need to analyze the responses from the full needs assessment and look for areas of greater concern.

The following list contains just some of the potential areas of greater concern within Helambu resulting from the pandemic and government lockdowns as informed by survey responses:

● The area has experienced widespread loss of jobs and income

● Schools are closed, negatively impacting children’s education

● Farmers’ are unable to sell their crops

● Farmers have also simultaneously experienced lower agricultural yields due to extreme weather events

● Multiple responses alluded to some unsurveyed households being food insecure

● Some individuals who lost their jobs reported eating less

● Vegetable seeds have been harder for farmers to buy

● Every respondent reported COVID-19 negatively impacting their access to funds

● There is less money per household due to decreased remittances from family members

● The local bank was closed, limiting access to funds

● The health post is far away and only offers minimal services

● Individuals requiring more serious care cannot travel to Kathmandu right now

● Women cannot currently buy pads from the store

● There is a widespread lack of knowledge or awareness of mental health and how it may be being impacted

● At least one quarantine house lacks beds, and pregnant women are forced to sit on the ground

Aythos will not be able to address all of these problems. No NGO can do that. Nor can the local or national governments. In the post-pandemic world we all long for, recovery in areas like Helambu will be slow and will take everyone working together to make it happen. Frequent surveying and knowledge sharing are but two critical actions that can be done now in order to aid these future rebuilding efforts.

- Kyle Krym, Agriculture Programs Intern

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