Covid-19 proves costlier for Kathmandu street vendors than for anyone else

It has been eight years since Sarita Sharma has been selling clothes on the streets of the Naya Bus Park area of Kathmandu. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, her business was hit hard. Even if the number of infected people is decreasing, Sharma is still facing various challenges to revive her business.

Before the pandemic, her business was going smoothly. “I used to earn Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 a day before the Covid-19 pandemic,” she says, “But, I do not earn that much these days. Some days, I do not make a single sale.”

Covid-19 has made a huge impact on small businesses around the world.  When it comes to Nepal, the country’s economy is facing a slowdown. And, street vendors of cities like Kathmandu are among the worst hit.

Multiplying effects

Sharma usually starts her business at around 5 in the afternoon and stays on the street up to around 8. Sharma says she is busy in the morning.

When the government imposed lockdown to control the Covid-19 crisis in March last year, things got harder and she went to Jhapa, where she stayed for the next seven months.

Sharma and her husband both are engaged in this business and both of them sell clothes on the Naya Bus Park streets as it is one of the busiest places in Kathmandu.  They do not have to pay rent there, but they have to keep an eye on the city police. According to her, city police had caught her a few times where she had been fined.  

The cops were the only concerns before Covid-19. Now, her worries have multiplied.

“Many problems have occurred now because of Covid-19. I have two children, and their study has been hampered now,” Sharma says, “I am unable to pay their fees on time.”

I am having problems with my house rent as well. Every month, I have to pay Rs 5,000 for the rent. ” 

While in Jhapa, she did not have to worry about the money as she used to cultivate vegetables and other food in her own fields. When it comes to Kathmandu, she has to pay for everything.

The Covid-19 cost

As per a recent study conducted by the Central Bank of Nepal, Nepali businesses have laid off more than 22.5% of their workforce, which means over one-fourth of those who were employed until last year are unemployed now. Most of the jobs are lost in the hotel industry followed by agriculture, forestry, fishery, wholesale and retail sectors etc. More than 18%  of the workers reported a cutdown on their salaries while the virus has taken 61% of business to close completely in Nepal. On the other hand, as per the study, it is estimated that between 500,000 and 600,000 migrant workers are expected to return to Nepal which will affect the remittance. 

According to a study conducted by the National Planning Commission, it is estimated that more than six million people will be unemployed because of the pandemic whereas another report published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) predicts that 3.7 million Nepalis are facing employment issues due to the pandemic. The ILO report further states that the current pandemic has led to an immediate disruption of around 1.6 million to 2 million jobs in Nepal, where there is either complete unemployment or reduced working hours and salaries.

Although almost all the sectors of Nepal’s economy have been badly hit by Covid-19, street business owners are more in trouble now. They are struggling to fulfil even their basic needs. Their earnings have declined because of the crisis.

For example, Sisir Gurung, another street vendor selling cosmetics for the past seven years, says he used to earn around Rs 15,000-20,000 in a month before the pandemic. Now, it has been very difficult for him to earn that amount of money. “The money that I earn now is enough to pay the house rent only,” he says, “I am struggling to feed my family.”

There are no savings like he used to have in the past. The bus park area used to be highly crowded before the lockdown, and the street business owners were in profit. Today, there are fewer people and most of them do not have sufficient money to buy the things that are on loss.

“Compared to the past, we are not able to do business openly. We have to maintain social distancing as well, we don’t make enough profit now,” Gurung says, “Only a few customers visit us, who have less money than in the past.”

Meanwhile, some vendors report they had to leave their rented residences for their failure to pay the rent.

Most of the street vendors go to the wholesalers every morning to purchase things on credit; they sell the goods and pay the amount in the evening and run their everyday life by the margin they make between the cost and selling prices. 

But, when there are not enough people to buy the things with not enough money, this balance has been disrupted, they report.

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Karki is a media student at Kathmandu University.

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