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Nepal’s Upper Dolpa villagers suffer due to China’s continued Covid shutdown of Tibet-border

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(TibetanReview.net, Jul27’23) – China reopened its borders to international visitors in Jan 2023, after having imposed tight travel restrictions since Mar 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And the head of the World Health Organization declared an end to Covid-19 as a public health emergency in May. But the non-existent Covid-19 pandemic continues to be the inexplicable reason why China has still not reopened Tibet’s border to the people of Upper Dolpa villagers of Nepal, causing needless immense hardship to their livelihood.

Not only do the people in this part of Nepal share ethnic and cultural affinity with their Tibetan neighbours across the border but they are dependent for their livelihood on an open cross-border access.

The past four years have proved difficult for the people of Dolpobuddha, Sheyphoksundo, and Chharkatangsong rural municipalities in upper Dolpa after China closed the Tibet border during the Covid pandemic, reported kathmandupost.com Jul 27.

Before the Covid pandemic, the locals would go to Tibet-border area to buy daily essentials since it is only a day’s journey while it takes three days to reach the district headquarters due to lack of transport infrastructure in the mountainous terrain.

“The goods from China used to cost less than those from Dunai (the district headquarters) due to the higher transportation costs on the Nepali side,” Senang Gurung, the chairman of Chharkatangsong Rural Municipality, has said.

“The border closure has also affected the income of the locals. Earlier they would take their dairy produce and local herbs to sell in the Chinese market but they haven’t been able to do so in the past four years since the pandemic,” Gurung has added.

After the Nepal-China border was closed, the local farmers are struggling to find buyers for their produce, Dorje Tsering Gurung of Sheyphoksundo Rural Municipality-3 has said.

“Due to the extreme cold and high altitude, people can grow and harvest only one seasonal crop here which only lasts for three to four months. The rest of the year we are dependent on what’s brought to the villages by local traders,” Lama has said.

“So many farmers, including me, are in debt. We have been taking loans from money lenders and the debt is piling up,” Dorje has said. “When the Chinese border was open, we used to buy all the necessary food crops, enough to last for a year, and we also made money selling herbs there.”

But now, the locals have to pay more not only for rice but also for salt, oil and flour.

“One packet of salt which costs Rs10 in Dunai costs Rs100 here. We pay Rs300 transportation cost plus the market price for oil,” Dorje has said. “Locals cannot buy goods in bulk due to the high prices and low income these days. The transportation charges increase further during the winter and rainy season.”

“The residents of upper Dolpa are facing food insecurity. The subsidised rice sent around October by the FMTC (Food Management and Trading Company) barely lasts a week. It would be very convenient for the locals if China opened the border. There is no income for the locals since they haven’t been able to do business in the Chinese market,” Pema Wangchen Gurung, deputy chairman of Sheyphoksundo Rural Municipality, has said.

FMTC has established a food depot in Dho village in Dolpobuddha Rural Municipality for the benefit of the locals, but subsidised rice is transported only once a year during the Dashain festival. It has set the Dashain festival rice quota at 1,500 quintals for the residents of all three rural municipalities, Pema Gurung has said.

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