Kathmandu: The European Union and its Member States generously provided medical supplies, machines and equipment, ventilators, oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators and other materials to Nepal as Nepal was in the throes of the deadly second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nearly every member state—Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Finland, Slovenia, Austria, Malta, Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, and so on—sent consignments of equipment and supplies to Nepal through chartered planes. Besides, the EU also provided Nepal two million Euros in humanitarian funding.
The diplomat to coordinate and facilitate the process for all this was Nona Deprez, the ambassador for the European Union Delegation to Nepal. “I was sad, I was anxious and I was frightened to see the tragic situation unfolding in Nepal, and I spared no efforts to ensure I did whatever I could,” Nona Deprez told Nepal Live Today.
Communicating Nepal’s suffering
The first thing to do for the EU envoy was to make the EU states and the international community know the severity of the pandemic in Nepal. “Many people in Nepal and many development partners did everything they could to put the severity of the second wave of the pandemic in Nepal into the international media. Then they woke up and realized the severity of the problem in Nepal. My office here in Kathmandu did the same,” said Deprez.
She discussed upfront with the Nepali authorities like the Ministry of Health and Population and got the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism activated. All this was done on the day the Nepal authorities sent out the request to all the development partners including the EU with the details of supplies Nepal needed. The EU office in Kathmandu quickly reached out to the Civil Protection Authority of the EU in Brussels. She also reached out to other ambassadors. “I reached out to all of the EU Member State ambassadors who are accredited to Nepal but who are based in Delhi. We had numerous meetings where I explained the severity of the problem in Nepal,” she said.
Nona Deprez had a series of video conferences with the EU Member States ambassadors, officials in Brussels and colleagues in New Delhi. What was the response?
“Once the message that Nepal was in serious trouble reached out to Europe, European people also stood in support and solidarity. They have a very good impression of Nepal and Nepali people,” she said. “I am very proud of the response.”
From Kathmandu, she coordinated the process of bringing in supplies from the EU states with the authorities in Brussels, the EU member states representatives in Kathmandu and New Delhi, and the Honorary Consuls in Kathmandu. “A key person to coordinate help for Nepal was the program manager of European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations here in Kathmandu. Then the supplies started to pour in. We started to handover the supplies to the concerned government bodies from the airport.”
But one time communication would not be enough. So, she kept communicating and informing the authorities in Brussels to make them realize that the situation in Nepal was really serious. “I personally reached out to Brussels many many times. I reached out to EU member states ambassadors in Kathmandu and New Delhi to make them aware that Nepal was in a really very serious situation,” she said.
Back then India was in the mind of many European people. They were watching the horrors unfolding in India. Little attention was being paid toward the situation in Nepal. “There is where the work of other development partners and colleagues has been so important. They put Nepal on the map in the international media,” she said. She insisted that the situation was worse in Nepal than in India, in terms of positivity rate and death rate. “So we said India cannot be safe unless Nepal is safe because the two countries have open borders. ‘It’s no use if you help only India and don’t help Nepal’, I said.” “India will not be safe unless Nepal is also safe.”
When Nepal’s real situation was communicated to the EU states in this way, one after another response followed. “Then they immediately realized the seriousness of the situation in Nepal. We had the first flight of logistics coming into Nepal a week after Nepal made a formal appeal for support to the international community”.
Then one after another shipment of medical supplies, machines and equipment started to land in Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. Nona Deprez would personally reach the airport to handover the supplies to the government authorities.
When the consignments started to arrive in Kathmandu airport and people started to express gratitude to the supporting countries, it was a proud moment for her. “I felt proud about the support EU states provided to Nepal. In total the EU states provided to Nepal the equipment, machines and medical supplies worth 12 million Euros,” she said.
“The EU does not sit upon the stockpile of vaccines. Nepal has to buy vaccines now to get them delivered by 2022. It’s a time taking process.”
The EU office in Kathmandu is now monitoring the distribution and use of the equipment and machines given to Nepal. It has offered the Nepal authorities to support installation of those machines and equipment, provide training for the maintenance and upkeep of the more sophisticated medical equipment such as ventilators. “The ventilators which come from Europe are from different brands. Many of these brands have local representatives who can support the installation of those machines,” she said. “But it is important to ensure that these machines are in good condition and operate well. You never know. There could be a third wave or the fourth wave. Nepal needs to stand prepared for eventuality, just in case,” she said.
When after the lockdown in May, reports of Nepali people dying in hundreds and patients not getting beds in hospitals started to come out, it touched her emotionally. “I was sad, I was anxious and I was frightened to see the tragic situation unfolding in Nepal, and I spared no efforts to ensure I did whatever I could. I also had the duty to protect and care for my own staffs,” said Nona Deprez.
She thinks that the pandemic should teach the lessons to the governments of the world to enhance their health care systems. “The governments and people did not seem to have learned lessons from the first wave. Most countries in the world have not invested enough for the health sector. In Europe too, we did not have enough emergency beds in hospitals. We need to be better prepared for the next phase. This is an important lesson for all,” she said.
Nona Deprez is particularly worried about the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic in Nepal. “I hear that 50 percent of people have lost their jobs. So many girls dropped out of schools, so many girls had early marriage who will have children at an early age. Their future will be in jeopardy. It’s a loss for Nepal on many fronts,” she said. She believes the pandemic has resulted in an enormous setback in growth and development of Nepal. “Covid-19 has resulted in further aggravation of inequality. The rich people have become richer and poor people have become poorer. It’s a sad situation in the world and in Nepal,” she further said.
The EU countries were at the midst of the second and third wave at the time Nepal appealed for help to the EU states. Many countries were losing their citizens to the deadly pandemic. So it was a bit uncomfortable for her to ask for help in this situation. “But the EU states are guided by the thought that poorer countries should be helped. Despite the difficulties in home, they stood to support Nepal. Which is why I am so proud of what the EU has done for Nepal,” she said.
EU and vaccine support
From the start of the pandemic, the EU spearheaded the global efforts to lead the global fight against the pandemic. It invested four billion Euros in research and development of vaccines. The EU states were also the first and lead contributors to the COVAX system. The EU states believe that COVAX is the best solution to ensure the equitable and fair allocation and distribution of vaccines. “One out of three vaccines distributed under COVAX has been produced and funded by the EU. We are the only bloc which has exported half of its production. Now we are donating the vaccines as well. We are donating a hundred million doses by the end of this year through COVAX,” said Nona Deprez.
According to her, the COVAX facility has been funded to provide vaccines to 30 percent of the population of 92 low and middle income countries by 2022. Nepal can benefit from this initiative. “Nepal has decided to vaccinate 71 percent of its population. Rest of the vaccines have to be procured by Nepal either through self-financing windows of COVAX or other deals,” she said.
The EU has exported half of its production of vaccines, according to her. “While we produce and while we vaccinate our own population, we also export so that other lives can also be saved,” she said. “We strongly believe that no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
So how should Nepal approach to get vaccines under donation and under purchase?
“The COVAX has its own allocation and distribution methodology based on population, vaccination rate and the data provided by Nepal. Other partners are working to make sure that Nepal can provide correct data to COVAX,” she said. If Nepal decides to procure vaccines through the self-financing window of COVAX, Nepal can use the loans it already has from World Bank, ADB or from the European Investment Bank.
Some in Nepal tend to think that the EU has a lot of vaccines but it is not donating to Nepal. This perception is entirely wrong, according to Nona Deprez. “The EU does not sit upon the stockpile of vaccines. Nepal has to buy vaccines now to get them delivered by 2022. It’s a time taking process.”
“I have asked my headquarters to do vaccine donation to Nepal, however it is possible but other countries have also asked for the same on donation.”
Can there be a way through which the EU office in Kathmandu asks headquarters in Brussels to lobby at COVAX to send more vaccines to Nepal on donation or on purchase? “It actually does not work that way but I have asked my headquarters to do vaccine donation to Nepal, however way it is possible but other countries have also asked for the same on donation.The EU Civil Protection Mechanism and its Emergency Response Coordination Centre, as part of an EU Vaccine Sharing Mechanism, act as the single entry point for the coordination of requests and offers. The Commission, together with EU Member States, continues to assess ways it can further support vaccine sharing, either directly via the UCPM or through COVAX,” she said.
Federalism and EU’s priorities
The EU supported Nepal in its political transition including in the federalization process. Nona Deprez is following the recent reports of some politicians demanding a rethink on federalism.
“Nepal’s constitution is a very progressive text,” she said. She believes that society will change from the bottom up, from the grassroots. “But for this efficient service delivery from the local level is very important. Then people will see that federalism makes sense and they understand the importance of federalism,” she said. According to her, federalism is an evolving process. “Nepal started implementation of the federalization process in 2018. It takes time. It is very important to continue to work on federalism implementation, only then people will see what is in it for them.” she said.
“Nepal started implementation of the federalization process in 2018. It takes time. It is very important to continue to work on federalism implementation, only then people will see what is in it for them.”
The EU is also working to chart future priorities for cooperation in Nepal especially in the post-pandemic situation. It is finalizing its program for 2021-2027. “The top priority is green resilient inclusive recovery from Covid-19. This is a common priority from Nepal and development partners and EU and the EU member states,” she said. “That is something which we feel very strongly about.”
The EU will work on renewable energy and energy efficiency and to reduce energy poverty.
Human capital development is another pillar the EU will work on. “We will work with Nepal and other development partners including Finland on education including Technical Education and Vocational Training,” she said. Our focus will be on women empowerment, political participation and on decreasing gender-based violence, apart from working with the civil society to better monitor policy implementation at all levels,” she said.
Nona Deprez believes that she would have been able to do more for Nepal if there was no pandemic. She took office in Kathmandu in September, 2020. Six months later, in April 2021, Nepal went on second lockdown to contain the spread of the Covid-19. This restricted her movement and she had to communicate with the authorities virtually. “If there had been no pandemic I could have met more people. It would have been easier to build a more long-lasting relationship,” she said. “I could interact with people only for the first four months. I would have travelled much more to see the country and people.”
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