Category Archives: Covid-19

Global efforts to stop rapid climate change might share the fate of inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine

Climate change is, without doubt, the most challenging issue of our time; a crisis hovering over our heads, right now. It is, in fact, threatening our entire existence in this planet we call home.

Rapid climate change, like the COVID-19, knows no boundaries and respects no nationality. Its dire consequences are evident everywhere; from glacial lakes of the Himalayas down to the sea levels.

Since the problem is a global one, it clearly can’t be solved by a group of activists, organizations, leaders, politicians or even countries, for that matter.

Some critiques end up blaming capitalism and ever-increasing demand for economic growth for the climate change crisis. They suggest economic “degrowth” to be the solution. The proponents push for ecologically sustainable society with socio-environmental wellbeing as the indicator of prosperity. All that sounds good, but it seems a bit far-fetched argument, if not unrealistic.

The truth is every group of people and politicians on the left-right political spectrum has some idealistic view to stop rapid climate change; however, no political system has been able to demonstrate a sustainable model in true sense.

We spent over three decades in pep talks and we know that it didn’t work. Had it worked, the GHG emissions would have significantly decreased by now.

Moving forward, we will face more and more extreme environmental and ecological challenges which will be unavoidable as well as irreversible to a large extent.

And we are already running out of time! We don’t have time for more experiments, more political promises, more empty rhetoric, and more sustainability blah, blah, blah.

In a recent Youth4Climate summit (28-30 Sep 2021, Milan, Italy), Greta Thunberg rightfully said: “Build Back Better – blah, blah, blah. Green Economy – blah, blah, blah. Net Zero by 2050 – blah, blah, blah”.

Of course we need to be hopeful, but one thing we desperately need more than hope is real action on the ground. I have to agree with Greta when she says “Hope is not passive. Hope is not blah, blah, blah. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.” We must actively correct our past mistakes by immediately coming up with strictest actions to reduce GHG emissions in all fronts.

Politicians, global leaders, and governments play a pivotal role in bringing about the change that is necessary. And they can do this only if they coordinate and collaborate before it is too late. However, this seems very unlikely as long as their thinking is limited by national interests and geographical separations.

It is even worse when their motivations are influenced by ideals, personal gain, corruption and sheer indulgence of big tax payers, mighty corporates, campaign contributors, etc.

The ongoing inequitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution serves a pertinent scenario here.

These days, affluent countries are being blamed for holding supplies or even stockpiling more vaccines than they need for their entire population. They are planning for the third-jab or a booster dose for their population at a time when an entire continent of Africa is still struggling to vaccinate even 5 percent of its population.

Such restricted thought is allowing even more deadly variants of COVID-19 to emerge and spread across the globe, because an infectious disease like COVID-19 will remain a threat globally, as long as it exists anywhere in the world.

If things don’t change soon enough and so-called global leaders fail to see the bigger picture, it will be impossible to meet the global target set by the WHO; vaccinating 70 percent of the population of all countries by mid-2022.

I just wish that this would not be the case with the efforts to prevent rapid climate change, as more or less the same countries and politicians are involved to change our collective fate in this planet.

Covid-19: Emotional and Mental Wellbeing of Essential and Frontline Workers

The article earlier published in New Spotlight; May 23, 2021

“Organizations could start by establishing that their essential and frontline workers’ emotional and mental wellbeing sits at the top of their corporate business criteria.”

Essential and frontline workers are those who provide essential services or key public services including healthcare, social service, journalism, justice system, government services, food production, distribution supply chain, public safety, national security, transport systems, utilities, communication, key financial services, etc. During these challenging times of Covid-19 pandemic, they are suffering various kinds of anxieties, stress, depression, sleep disorders, uncertainties, prolonged separation from their loved ones, etc.

As time passes by, these traumatic experiences are most likely to reflect on their psychological state, probably in more ways than one. Exposure to prolonged excessive stress can also cause harmful effects on emotional, physical as well as social well-being of the frontline workers who are going through unprecedented level of work pressure during this pandemic.

The immensity of stress is such that it can easily lead to exhaustion, burnout, mental disorder, substance use disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even suicidal thought or attempt.

Eventually this may translate into reduced quality of service, low productivity, non-compliance with required guidelines, increased risk of infection, mistakes, accidents, and compromised emergency response capacity, etc. in the healthcare as well as other essential public service sectors.

The situation is dire out there and we are certainly living through vulnerable time. Recent studies conducted among health care workers showed that 74% suffered stress, 41% reported anxiety, 34% had symptoms of insomnia, and 24% felt depressed.

Another survey carried out among nurses revealed that a whopping 38% were working with high level of stress. It is likely that a big chunk of the sufferers may develop PTSD resulting in long-term impact on their mental health, emotional wellbeing, career decisions, personal relationships, social skills, etc.    

Acknowledging the emotional part of dealing with this pandemic is a huge stepping stone towards managing work stress of the frontline workers. It is important to formalize the fact that we are all experiencing some level of anxiety, loneliness and isolation at our workplaces.

Therefore, the first logical step is to face the tragedy head-on and bring the topics directly on the work floor of the healthcare and essential service providing institutions. Normalizing these feelings and experiences within the organization helps employees feel comfortable in sharing their feelings.

Moreover, if the top leadership is open and supportive as well, it helps create a culture that can address mental health issues of essential and frontline workers more favorably.

Work-related stress originates when workers are presented with work overload, demands and pressures that are beyond their capacity and which challenge their ability to cope with the situation.

Stress occurs in a variety of work circumstances but is often made worse when employees feel they have limited resources, little control over work processes and even less support from supervisors and colleagues they work with.

All concerned parties must sincerely acknowledge the fact that the work-related stress due to Covid-19 is for real and it is severely affecting mental health of our frontline workers.

The demanding work environment is putting their physical as well as psychological health at risk every day. Under the circumstances, relevant authorities, governing bodies and the responsible management teams must put extra efforts to provide these tireless angels a work environment that should feel safe and free from negativities, such as violence, discrimination, insecurities, harassment, isolation, etc. at the least.

The management team may ask the frontline workers to take appropriate actions to deal with the risk of infection, at the same time cope with the work-related stress. It may also advise them to offer each other personal and professional support which in turn improves their collective performance, personal relations and job satisfaction.

Workers may be urged to keep calm and stay mentally or emotionally strong. These behaviors are necessary but, let’s be honest, are they helpful enough to maintain emotional and mental wellbeing of the essential workers? It would be really unfortunate if the organizations limited themselves to such simplistic solution which is easier said than done.

During difficult times like these, employees’ change in attitude (helpful behaviors as mentioned earlier) may come rather naturally, at least initially; however, it may gradually fade away and the employees may not behave the same over the time.

Therefore, this behavioral change needs to be reinforced and most importantly integrated into the culture of the organization itself. Such efforts to change or tweak the organizational culture will be successful and sustainable only when employers, top level management and responsible health administrators take the initiative seriously.

A positive health and safety culture cannot be achieved overnight, but it is clear that the change starts at the top and then follows a top-down approach. Organizations could start by establishing that their essential and frontline workers’ emotional and mental wellbeing sits at the top of their corporate business criteria.

People at the leadership positions must be sensitive enough to understand and feel the emotional challenges, psychological pain, and physical/mental exertion arising from the work that the frontline workers do so relentlessly.

Employers must be aware of the immediate needs (problems, priorities, work overload stress and even personal issues if any) of their staff and must provide with proper care, safety and support.

All the staff should be highly encouraged and arranged to have conversations and consultations in a one-on-one settings because empathy and assurance from the authority/manager can go a long way.

These leaders, managers, administrators and supervisors of relevant organizations must also understand that their frontline workers’ emotional and mental wellbeing will have direct impact on the valuable services they provide so selflessly and which the entire country depends on so desperately.

Our hearts go out to all the frontliners who are putting their lives on the line and battling this pandemic on our behalf. These are tough times and the least we can do is support and motivate our heroes to fight this nightmare; we fight, we endure and yes, collectively we shall overcome this.

The article earlier published in New Spotlight; May 23, 2021

(Part 3 of 3) Business Continuity Planning (BCP) and Disaster Recovery (DR) Planning for Commercial Banks of Nepal: Disaster Recovery, Training, Testing and Update, and Planning for the Pandemic

Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery is a subset of business continuity efforts and basically deals with technological aspects of the BCPIn accordance with the NRB guidelines, during the Disaster Recovery Planning (DRP), the bank should choose suitable data recovery strategies for different business processes to meet the required RPOs and RTOs as specified in the BIAs of those processes.

The bank must put a management approved DRP in place to prepare for the recovery of critical business functions and continuation of technology infrastructure to achieve the same. Such plan should be able to strictly define the resources, action plan, tasks, procedures and data required to manage the technology recovery effort of the bank.

After you completed the BIA, it is a best practice to document a management-approved formal business continuity strategy in respect of people, premises, technology, information, and relationships. This strategy would be the key to guide the course of actions to be used in the development and implementation of the bank’s BCP.

During this process, the BCP Coordinator and the BCP Executive Team (with assistance from technical experts or advisors) should assign proper roles and responsibilities for various other BCP Functional Teams, such as Executive Management Team, Damage Assessment/Salvage Team, IT/Communications Team, Logistics/Transportation Team, Facilities/Security Team, PR/Communication Team, etc. During the disaster recovery process, BCP Functional Teams or Disaster Recovery (DR) Teams have distinct roles to play including but not limited to the following: 

Table-2: Roles and Responsibilities of BCP Functional Teams

Depending on the scope and goals of the BCP, banks could form other functional teams, such as Finance/Accounting Team, Human Resources Team to support their disaster recovery needs. These BCP Functional Teams, aka DR Teams, will be responsible for both the continuity as well as the recover aspects of the BCP. They are assigned with specific duties to perform in both pre and post disaster context.

Each team’s critical business information including call list, task list, customer list, immediate action plans, response procedures, critical equipment, software, supplies, vendors, vital records, etc. must be documented electronically, stored in the Cloud as well as in hard copy formats. 

Training, Testing and Update

Every bank should ensure that BCM is embedded in its organizational culture; as a result, all relevant personnel and staff are aware of their BCP roles and responsibilities. At the headquarters level, each BCP Functional Team (with the help of BCP Coordinator, BCP Executive Team and technical advisors) will be responsible for developing training and exercise materials for their teams based on the information contained in their BCP including  both ERP and DRP.

It is important that the awareness and training activities are followed by frequent drills (including tabletop exercise and departmental or full scale tests) for each BCP Functional Team or DR Team.

The NRB guidelines require that the BCP should be periodically tested (at least annually) to ensure its effectiveness. The testing should include all aspects and constituents of the bank i.e. people, processes and resources including technology infrastructure. BCP testing should be both planned and unplanned and should be audited by internal audit of the bank.

The guidelines further require that the testing and its outcome should be documented and amendments in BCP be made as suggested by the outcome of the test. In addition to regular testing, it is recommended that the team members and managers receive annual refresher training regarding the emergency alert, emergency response, and notification procedures, etc.  

The alternate site test procedure sits at the heart of the disaster recovery test. It deals with two major aspects; firstly exercising the system recovery procedures and establishing the communication links and secondly testing the recovery of the participating application software.

During the full scale test, the application owners and respective DR Teams are responsible to successfully run their applications at the alternate site. The full scale test provides opportunities to address areas where the exercise was successful, problems were encountered, and improvements were necessary.

The NRB guidelines suggest that the bank should check transaction and data integrity between Datacenter and Disaster Recovery site periodically. It is recommended to make this check as a part of End of Day (EOD) or Beginning of Day (BOD) process.

BCP Coordinator, in coordination with the DR Teams, should be responsible for the regular update of the DRP, especially following the full scale test. Afterwards, all participants should be notified of the changes as well as encouraged to maintain the hard copies of the same. Since the recovery solutions are primarily based on BIAs, the BCP Coordinator must also update the bank’s BIAs, at least annually.

The overarching objectives of a BCP testing and exercise program are to create a learning environment for all the participants and to document changes. Testing and exercising the DRP would verify that the recovery procedures work as intended and that the supporting documentation is current, accurate and relevant. Eventually, the program would help determine the state of readiness of the bank’s BCP.

Planning for the Pandemic

In the age of COVID-19 pandemic, it is highly pertinent for the commercial banks and financial institutions to recognize the fact that there are a few notable differences between the conventional Business Continuity Planning (BCP) process and planning for the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Unlike natural, man-made and technological disasters, the impact of a pandemic is highly difficult to determine because of the scale and duration of the crisis situation. These differences call for the banks and financial institutions to review their existing BCPs and prepare to take appropriate actions to respond to the COVID-19 crisis which has potential to cause major business disruptions; both internal as well as external and at multiple levels.

In a recently published report (Anticipate, prepare and respond to crisis, 2021) on the world day for safety and health at work, the International Labor Organization (ILO) particularly emphasizes that investing in a sound and resilient Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) system can build capacity to face future emergencies while supporting the survival and business continuity of enterprises.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital that workplaces adopt adequate policies and develop action plans for the prevention and mitigation of the contagion. These should include emergency response preparedness, as part of their BCP, and be in line with the results of proper risk assessments.      

COVID-19 presents an unusual risk scenario where a conventional BCP measure such as relocating staff to an alternate site may not necessarily mitigate the risk. Pandemic events may extend longer than a typical BCP risk scenario so an effective communication strategy is critically important as the pandemic continues to evolve over time.

In the meantime, banks and financial institutions need to ensure the continuity of their critical services, such as providing continued deposit and lending services, cash management, keeping ATMs and online banking functional, managing financial markets, and maintaining the payment and settlement system, etc.

Other key concerns may include health protection of staff, mitigating panic, strengthening morale, providing current and essential information to staff, and resumption of normal business activities once virus containment measures have been eased.

Banks and financial institutions should, therefore, establish a framework for COVID-19 operational risk-management. This framework should be able to put together a COVID-19 Committee, thereby conducting a thorough risk assessment and devising a pandemic response plan. Such plan, eventually a part of the OSH system, would support the bank’s business continuity in its true sense.