By: Biswash Chepang
Several studies claim that indigenous people are almost three times more likely to live in severe poverty and are more likely to suffer from infectious diseases as a result of negative outcomes. Indigenous people are affected by all the dimensions; social, economic, livelihoods, health care, and other environmental aspects.
An individual with disabilities, old age groups belonging to the indigenous community faces greater inequalities and are particularly vulnerable to pandemics. Women within indigenous communities face a disproportionately high rate of poverty and are subjected to discrimination, domestic violence and several other multiple forms of discrimination.
Three in five employees lost their jobs due to COVID-19 in Nepal. Several of them have had their salary cuts among the ones who are still employed in respective organizations. This has adversely affected the entire world in one or the other way pushing the economic growth rate to the furthest distance making it difficult to crawl back to normal state. Indigenous people are hard hit by all of these consequences leaving several indigenous youths unemployed. Hence this pandemic crisis is exacerbating underlying structural inequalities and pervasive discrimination.
The 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development of overall wellbeing, dignity, and cultural integrity and leaving no one behind requires a holistic and human rights based-approach to ensure rights of indigenous community as well. The universal declaration of human rights to access health care, access to information, participation, access to clean water and proper sanitation, food security does not necessarily fit in with the context in indigenous communities in Nepal. This pandemic has rather reinforced inequalities such as increased risk of food insecurity job loss, less earnings and failure to feed their families.
- Right to access healthcare
Many Indigenous communities are already impacted by malnutrition, pre-existing conditions, and lack access to quality healthcare. COVID-19 presents a new threat to the health and survival of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples in nearly all countries fall into the most “vulnerable” health category. There is high potentiality for high mortality rate due to COVID-19 in indigenous communities as they might have growup up with mal or under-nutrition, poor access to sanitation, lack of clean water, and inadequate medical services.
Medical support and economic stimulus funding for indigenous communities can support communities and enable the community people to access the healthcare resources. In addition to this community Support can be extended to research on traditional medicinal herb and can even work on safeguarding traditional knowledge of healing plants and herbs and community self-care measures
- Right to participation and consultation
Participation of indigenous peoples in designing, implementing and evaluating measures is significant through out the support process. Failure to do so may lead to culturally inappropriate practices that may not confirm with indigenous peoples’ rights in international law, including with the requirement to seek their free, prior and informed consent.
‘“I think most people suffer from psychological point of view. So counselling would be one of better way to support them specially old age single woman/ man. This could be done through broadcast comedy, inspirational and informative programmes in prime time through national channels.’’ Sharmila Shrestha
- Right to access information
Indigenous communities should have right to access information, without any discrimination, to all social and health services in a culturally appropriate manner. Information dissemination by involving indigenous youth in the dissemination of COVID-19 messages within the communities both in mainstream languages as well as in indigenous languages is immediate action for now. This can be done through visual, audio or written means through social media and radio broadcasts in local languages.
“Though there are different kinds of awareness materials the communities peoples are not aware about it. Hence there is need to aware community people through community radios in the community level through jingle and public service announcement. Leaflet brochures are necessary to aware the community and indigenous peoples” Raju Bikram Chamling
- Rights for livelihoods, territories, land and resources
Most of the Indigenous communities tend to depend on the jungle for day to day livelihood for themselves as well as for their livestocks. Forest dependency for fuels, fodders, yams are now blocked even during lockdown as forests are also now owned by the community.
“Almost all indigenous peoples have been depending on farming and agriculture. But now Agriculture production has also been affected by lockdown as there is no permission to move one to other places. So if the people do not get a chance to go to their farm land then it will face more hunger in coming days as this is the main season for farming.” Raju Bikram Chamling
- Right to access clean water and sanitation facilities
Indigenous communities have every right to access clean and safe drinking water along with appropriate sanitation facilities. The community depending on natural sources of water such as spring, pond, river and other similar sources may not have access to clean and safe drinking water during this rainy season. Hence Immediate actions that can support indigenous communities is by providing necessary items such as sanitizer, soap, water purifier, soap can be supported to the community people.
- Right to Food Security
As lockdowns continue to expand with no timeline, indigenous peoples who already face food insecurity as most of them depend on subsistence agriculture. This ultimately affects their livelihoods. Similarly, there has been a massive price hike in basic daily used commodities such as vegetables and other stuffs. Now this is a threat to food security for many communities. This increases food scarcity ultimately affecting the ones who are dependent farm to fork agriculture and do not have any other source for purchasing food materials. This food insecurity could exacerbate existing inequalities making it difficult for more vulnerable and marginalized people in the community. Hence there is an immediate need for Food banks in the local community where delivering basic food and water supplies for those who cannot afford it now that they have no work. Emergency cash aid can also be beneficial to the community during these difficult times.
- Economic and social recovery stimulus plans and policies
Many indigenous peoples who worked on the informal economy have come to rely primarily on income from markets, handicrafts, seasonal work and tourism, which have also been impacted by COVID-19. People dependent on the informal economy are affected especially for families who are dependent on daily wages and lack access to well-paying jobs.
There is immediate need for economic support by establishing post COVID-19 programmes that are specifically aimed at indigenous peoples that support indigenous peoples’ traditional livelihoods, their economies and sustain their communities
- Economic and social recovery stimulus plans and policies
- Local level coordination and collaboration: navigate support system to try to receive much-needed assistance
The immediate action that can reach out to local level and to the remote part of Nepal is through collaboration, coordination with organizations working for indigenous communities in Nepal proper Support system is needed to be structured such as Economic support system, Family support system, Social support system based on how other countries are adapting to the system already. The roles and responsibilities of Government, Communities responsibilities, leaders within the community and the role of Educated members from the community needs to be clearly identified. These local organizations can play a significant role in role division to support vulnerable indigenous communities in Nepal.