The Rural Village Water Resources Management Project (RVWRMP) works in Karnali and Sudurpaschim provinces of Nepal (with
funding from the Governments of Finland and Nepal and the European Union). RVWRMP has a strong focus on water supply, sanitation and hygiene, and naturally these have been highly relevant to the fight against COVID-19 transmission. The project is carrying out a wide range of awareness raising activities, include hand-washing demonstrations, radio programmes, posters, and provision of handwashing points. For the returning migrants in quarantine, the project is supporting the improvement of hygiene (providing advice, and soap, tippy taps, etc.) and sanitary pads for women.
RVWRMP also works with the rural municipalities on food security, nutrition and livelihoods, cooperatives development, and energy efficiency. That work has been continuing during the pandemic.
We recently conducted the third round of surveying on food security and livelihoods. Most of the local level project activities are continuing, despite the lockdowns (with adjustments for safety). RVWRMP staff and support organisations have done a great job, working closely with the municipal authorities and communities. No large-scale meetings or trainings are held, but small trainings or meetings can take place outside, and we are continuing activities on plastic house construction, home gardens, irrigation construction, improved cooking stove construction, etc.
The impact on food security at grassroots level in our project area has not been severe to date. The general findings are:
1. In RVWRMP’s working area, the seasonal agriculture work (such as harvesting barley and wheat cultivation of seasonal vegetables, and preparation of the land) is going ahead normally and the agriculture-based labourers are getting employment. In the Terai there were problems with getting labourers for harvest work, but that isn’t the case in the hills where RVWRMP works.
2. Food and other items are available without great obstacles, so there is no shortage of food at the local level. Prices have risen in some places, but not dramatically.
3. Vegetables produced in our working area couldn’t be exported to bigger market centres due to transport interruptions, so they are being sold in local markets and farmers are getting a little less income. However, the establishment of the quarantine centres in the municipalities has provided a good market for vegetables.
4. The greatest negative impact from the transport problems appears to be on farmers in the Dadeldhura-Dhangadhi corridor who produce or collect perishable fruit crops (such as plums, peaches and kafal (bayberry)), and normally make their sales to passing vehicles or in the Dhangadhi markets.
5. Farmers also report difficulties in getting improved seeds (especially for vegetables) and other external inputs from outside (in practice, not many small-scale farmers use commercial fertilizer, so that is less of a problem), and the prices for these are rising. However, the transport situation seems to be improving.
6. The focus on the urgent response to the pandemic, and the constraints on travel, have interfered with the agricultural enterprise development activities within the project. However, that is now beginning to restart.
7. As other development works in the area have halted (apart from RVWRMP schemes), the income from skilled and unskilled labour is limited.
8. There is some risk to the sustainability of cooperatives as local people are wanting to take loans for non-productive purposes.
9. Most of the core municipalities are distributing food support to poor households. There are 25,210 households receiving food supports in the project’s core 27 municipalities.
10. As of 9.6.2020, there were 14,431 seasonal migrants who have returned to their RMs, in the RVWRMP working area, and there were three deaths of COVID-19 persons within the project districts (though not within the RMs). The are being accommodated in quarantine centres in schools and other municipal buildings. Management of quarantine is big problem for the rural municipalities at the moment due to the rapid increase in returnees. RVWRMP is providing some support for sanitation and hygiene materials for quarantine centres (including sanitary pads for women). In some cases, the project has worked with the municipality to quickly construct additional bathrooms and toilets.
11. Local people are learning fast regarding Coronavirus transmission and are observing the necessary precautions - hand washing and physical distancing, in particular. There are problems with some of the quarantined persons returning home early, which could increase the risk of community transmission
12. There has been some increase in reports of Gender Based Violence, but not significant – although there may be more unreported cases.
13. RVWRMP has begun to introduce internet based technologies to hold meetings in rural municipalities (such as Zoom or Skype). This is a positive outcome of the pandemic, as it could give councillors more opportunity to consult with remotely located community members in the future.