Whether or not the government labels it as such, the double whammy of Covid-19 and air pollution, both worsening by the day, has already created a national health emergency. Covid-19 infections are spiking in India, and we are importing them via the porous border. The number of those rendered gravely ill by the virus has shot up, as Nepali hospitals again run out of beds for new corona patients. Worryingly, health experts say the number of serious Covid-19 cases is higher this time compared to during the previous peaks.
Compounding the crisis, the quality of air has plummeted, with Kathmandu now consistently ranking as the city with the foulest air in the world. Every resident of Kathmandu is, in effect, smoking nearly 70 cigarettes sticks every single day. Nearly everyone has itchy eyes. Head and body aches have become as common. Even some of the fittest folks are having difficulty breathing. It’s worse for the elderly and infirm. Meanwhile, air pollution has worsened the health effects of Covid-19, increasing mortality rates among the elderly. And everyone’s lives are being cut short.
The biggest problem right now is that people have zero faith in their government. Last year, the lockdowns were arbitrarily imposed and as arbitrarily lifted. Corruption and delays have marred the import of Covid-19 gears and vaccines. Ill-prepared governments, at all three tiers, appear helpless in dousing the forest fires that have sprung up right around the country. At this time of a health crisis, the country does not even have a stable government.
Hopelessness is a dangerous thing and can easily morph into anger. The public, repeatedly lied to, is in a mood to defy the government should it declare another lockdown, or even impose much-less restrictive measures to limit the damages of the twin health crisis. The already troubling situation could get much worse. This is why it is important for the government to commit to measures to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic and clean the foul air, lay out a workable plan, and to keep the public informed every step of the way. This isn’t something the government can solve on its own. It will have to be a collective effort. But for that the government must first be perceived as working in public interest. Failure to do so will cost lives.