On March 24, Nepal’s government committee to combat Covid-19, led by deputy prime minister, decided to impose a countrywide lockdown after a 19-year-old girl returning from France tested positive for the virus. Now the government has extended the lockdown till April 6, and suspend international flights till April 15.
Due to the Covid-19 crisis, Nepal’s tourism, a major income source, is in a bad shape. Most of the 5-star hotels have been shut down. Around half a million people travelled back to their hometowns from Kathmandu before the lockdown. Economic activities have come to a standstill. The share market is also shut and is waiting for the situation to stabilize. Nepal lacks strong public health institutions, technology, and infrastructure. The lack of a visionary leader has left the country in a difficult position to cope with the crisis.
Digitalization the answer?
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every country. It is impacting not just global financial markets and businesses but also disrupting every aspect of people’s day-to-day lives. In the battle against Covid-19 pandemic, technology-driven companies have strongly stood by and contributed to normalize the indoor lives of people through their innovative solutions. They are going to be the most reliable supporting hands to combat Covid-19. Yet Nepal is far behind in having tech-driven solutions.
But the Covid-19 crisis has come as a great opportunity for the government and startup tech companies. They can help transform people’s traditional lifestyle. People are learning how to book online, pay online and transfer money online to their friends and relatives, as they are not allowed to go outside of their homes. The trend of making online payments will gain in popularity in the days ahead. The government of Nepal too has started providing some online services. For instance, it has started delivering essentials through the state-owned companies like Food and Trading Company, and Salt Trading Corporation.
The government has also ordered stores like the Bhatbhateni and Big Market to start home delivery to the people. CellPay, eSewa, Foodmandu, Daraz and other online companies are making everyday lives easy for the people. In the transport sector, too, online transaction will soon become popular. In short, we can say digital economy is the future of Nepal. Digital connectivity to the outside world will help Nepal overcome the challenges of being landlocked.
To extend support to emerging technologies, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies has called meetings with tech-driven companies and supermarkets, encouraging them to provide door-to-door delivery services. The government is trying to incorporate new technologies in the national governance system. The central bank of Nepal has also encouraged people to use online services for payments. Internet companies have been instructed to give 20 percent discount in their services during the crisis, and the intra-banking payment charges have been waived for time being. Anyone can use any ATM, without any fee. Yes, these are tragic times. But they also provide a great opportunity for Nepal to change the traditional society into an e-society by supporting the innovative tech companies through public private partnership business model.
The author is founder of the Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs (AIDIA)