Living in two worlds
“Many people are dying.” Pralhad tells me. He pauses. “But it is not useful to be paralysed. We must act.”
Pralhad Dhakal, our Nepal country director, Maddy Vaughan, our chief executive, and I are on WhatsApp most days as the situation escalates.
Pralhad’s face on the screen is covered with two masks, and the street behind him is almost empty. “I am going to see if I can find an oxygen concentrator” he says, “and try to get it on a plane to Simikot.”
We know that if he manages it, many lives could be saved.
Covid-19 is burning through Nepal, and in the regions where we work there is no oxygen for those who need it. I implore him to be careful as he goes outside.
Pralhad is an incredibly important leader in our global team, and our long friendship is deep. I am afraid for him, for our Nepali team and for the communities I have come to know so well over the past 23 years.
“Don’t worry” he says. “I know that every stone has Covid; I am standing five metres back, washing my hands, being careful.”
As the virus spreads, so, too, does fear. I have always been in awe of our development teams, and never more so when they have faced crises that require courage and total dedication to help those in need. Never more so than now.
The Covid-19 positivity rate in Nepal is at 47 per cent, one of the highest in the world, and cases have surged by 1,200 per cent in recent weeks. On Saturday, Nepal recorded close to 10,000 new cases, bringing the total to more than 400,000. We know the true figures are vastly greater, as data is not able to be gathered and testing is limited.
In the capital, Kathmandu, ICU beds are full, Covid wards are at capacity and many are dying because they cannot get oxygen. Across Nepal, the horrifying scenes that we have seen in India are being repeated. Nepal’s healthcare system is weak with only 1,595 intensive-care beds and 480 ventilators for 30 million citizens.
According to World Bank data, there are just 0.7 physicians per 100,000 people — nowhere near what will be needed as the new variant races through the country. The impact is likely to be worse in the places where my organisation, the Adara Group, works — in very remote communities, many days’ walk from the Nepalese road system, where healthcare systems are almost non-existent.
I pace around to blow off some anxiety after our call and reach for the weekend papers. The headlines scream at me: “Disney, hard hit by the pandemic, signals its belief that bright days are imminent”; “Job surge erases fears of fiscal cliff”; “Bermuda’s economic recovery plan ambitious but achievable“. And, of course, the global markets: “Stock Exchange set to bounce higher as Wall Street rebounds”.
I have for many years had a double-act sort of life — as the managing director of Bermuda Commercial Bank many years ago, as a non-executive director in corporate Australia and the chief executive of Adara’s corporate advice “businesses for purpose”, while at the same time working as the chairwoman of Adara’s international development organisation.
I have been lucky to engage in the intrigue and intellectual chess of the financial markets. At the same time, I have loved the complexity and inspiration of working with people in poverty. Thanks to our businesses and our partner donors, we have put more than $53 million to work supporting people living in remote places and sharing knowledge with others who are doing the same. Somehow, it has all fit together. But it has never been more antithetical — more head spinning — than it is right now.
How can it be that we revel in our countries’ successful vaccination rate and economic recoveries, while a global pandemic rages through the developing world?
How can it be that we carry on our privileged lives, while our neighbours, our friends, are facing a medical, economic and societal emergency of breathtaking proportions?
The World Health Organisation tells us that only 0.3 per cent of Covid-19 vaccine supply is going to low-income countries. The WHO is urging countries to consider donating vaccine to poorer nations before vaccinating children, through the Covax global vaccine sharing system. What an act of grace that would be.
Our world is dividing — perhaps more than ever before:
• Into those who think the pandemic is behind them and those who know it is all just beginning
• Into those who look forward to the future, and to those who fear it
• Into medical oases, and medical deserts
We are all connected, even across these ever-increasing chasms — and Covid-19 will not be over for any of us until it is over for all of us.
I have never felt such a need to bring my worlds together more than I do now — to use my business skills and background to make money for those in crisis, and to encourage and support all those who do the same. To speak about those in disadvantage to those of advantage. And to make the ethical and business case that we use must our good fortune to help our neighbours. Urgently.
My plea is simple: for those who can to do all they can. Bermuda stood with Nepal with magnificence during the devastating 2015 earthquakes; my hope is that the warm- hearted people of Bermuda will stand with Nepal again.
I give the last word to Pralhad.
“Just go back to work, Audette. Do another deal. I am sending a request for more funds. We have a lot of work to do.”
Indeed we do.
• Audette Exel is the chairwoman of the Adara Group. She lived in Bermuda from 1993 to 2007 and was the managing director of Bermuda Commercial Bank, the chairwoman of the Bermuda Stock Exchange and a director of the Bermuda Monetary Authority during that time. She still sees Bermuda as her second home. The Adara Groups emergency fundraising appeal for Nepal can be found at https://covid19-emergency-response.raisely.com/