“I am a person with disability and the only breadwinner for my family. My life has been greatly impacted by COVID-19. I fear starvation more than the virus. I need financial support to live.”
-Ram (name changed for anonymity).
Ram represents the voice of the many vulnerable groups of Nepal such as marginalized women, daily wage earners, micro-entrepreneurs (who are mostly from the informal economies) and farmers. An assessment by UNDP Nepal (2020) shows that the pandemic has disrupted supply chains, shut or threatened small businesses, and made people highly vulnerable to poverty due to loss of income and jobs.
Recently, UNDP’s SURGE Data Hub and UNDP Nepal’s Accelerator Lab jointly conducted the Digital Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA) in the Gandaki Province, known for its ethnic diversity and livelihood opportunities. The study informed policy recommendations for the upcoming annual budget of the Province.
Data and information were collected from 1,775 qualified respondents (684 households including pregnant and lactating women and persons with disabilities, 381 farmers, 275 daily wage earners and 435 enterprise establishments) through a direct personal interview method.
Here are a few highlights of this overall collaboration and the assessment.
The findings of the Digital SEIA were shared with the Gandaki Policy and Planning Commission on May 14, 2021. Key recommendations included launching social protection packages for daily wage earners, emergency cash transfers for vulnerable households who have lost family members due to COVID-19, and emergency grants for people who fell severely ill or were hospitalized. Another recommendation was providing door-to-door mobile public services, including antenatal care and prenatal care facilities in partnership with the local and central governments. As per the survey, out of 275 daily wage earners, 26% of respondents didn’t have sufficient income to cover their daily expenses for saving to pay for their monthly expenses such as rent, utilities food, health care etc.
“The assessment will support the Gandaki Province’s Policy and Planning Commission in prioritizing programmes for the vulnerable groups in the budget for the Fiscal Year 2021/2022,” said Mr. Binod Bahadur Kunwar, Secretary of the Ministry of Social Development, Gandaki Province.
The Digital SEIA was carried out in collaboration with the Sayapatri Society – a non-governmental organization – in April 2021. UNDP Nepal is also one of the few country offices in the region to collaborate with the United Nations Volunteers under the UNV-UNDP Tandem initiative. Under this initiative, a UNDP Crisis Bureau staff member was paired with a National UNV from Nepal to collaborate on the Digital SEIA.
“I am glad to work under this initiative. The best part was to go out on the field and talk with communities and government counterparts.” said Prakriti GC, National UNV for Statistics, Data Analysis and Reporting.
Engaging the youth
COVID-19 disproportionately impacted youth groups with widespread closure of educational institutions. We engaged almost 100 students in three educational webinars on digital data collection and visualization in crisis situations using Kobo Toolbox and Microsoft Power BI in partnership with UNV and Sayapatri Society. The trainings aimed to mobilize and empower young volunteers and build capacity for future data collection and research activities.
“While conducting surveys after the 2015 Nepal Earthquake, I had to go to remote communities with a bag of survey questionnaires, notebooks and pens which would often get misplaced. With Kobo Toolbox, I can collect data more effectively and efficiently without using all that paper!” said Narayan Sharma, a participant at the Kobo Toolbox training.
Survey fatigue and lessons learned
Field surveys often come with challenges. One that strongly emerged during this one was dealing with survey fatigue and allaying respondents’ skepticism on the utility of such research. A respondent from Gorkha asked,
"What benefit do we get by responding to such surveys? I have answered so many questions for similar research but there is no action on the ground.”
This experience highlighted the need to better coordinate the data collection activities with partners, to mitigate the risks of survey fatigue and avoid duplicated efforts. It is also critical that data is translated into meaningful action and policies to ensure that beneficiaries’ needs do not remain unmet, and no one is left behind in recovery efforts.
As of 29th June 2021, Nepal is still in its prohibitory order due to the 2nd wave of COVID-19, highlighting the enduring need for and importance of rapid digital assessments within the country. The UNDP Crisis Bureau and Nepal team will continue close communication on this unfolding narrative and invite others to share their experiences of digital assessments with us as well.
UNDP Accelerator Lab in Nepal is working closely with development partners, the private sectors and grassroot innovators as a “vehicle” to test innovative solutions around unplanned urbanization and unemployment. It is on a quest to invest technical expertise on these two frontier issues in order to map, and explore a portfolio of experiments to foresee more possibilities.