Alcohol norms are fast changing in Nepal. High alcohol availability is one of the main reasons fueling this change. The policy protections remain only on paper and are not implemented in the country. This has been endangering Nepali citizens by exposing them to grave alcohol harm. Urgent government action is needed to improve implementation of alcohol policies and protect the people from harms caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry.

Alcohol is highly available in Nepal. The lack of policy protections means not only bars and liquor stores but tea shops and grocery stores are all selling alcohol. There are no regulations to oversee where alcohol is sold.

The consequences to society are grave. Spokesperson of the Nepal Police, Basanta Bahadur Kunwar, says the increased availability of alcohol is causing many social harms and perpetuating crimes. Domestic violence fueled by alcohol is becoming a major problem in the country.

Mental ill-health due to alcohol is another serious problem. For instance, Pinky Gurung, president of Blue Diamond Society, says many people of her community have attempted suicide after consuming alcohol.

Community members say the main cause for rising alcohol use and harm is easy and wide alcohol availability. The increasingly pervasive alcohol norm and high availability propagated by the alcohol industry is putting Nepali youth in alcohol harm’s way. In a country where more than 72% of adults do not consume any alcohol, the alcohol industry works to establish an alcohol norm that conditions people to associate alcohol with being “cool”. Increasingly, young people are engaging in alcohol use just to fit in.

The lack of alcohol policy protections has made the alcohol business highly profitable in Nepal. Pooja Thapa, owner of Binayak Liquor Shop in Ekantakuna, Lalitpur says there’s one or two customers in her shop all the time. Pinky Gurung reports that Nepalis consume 11,000 liters of alcohol a day, that is without counting the unlicensed sellers and local ‘raksi’.

Alcohol Policy in Nepal

@ WHO Global Alcohol Status Report, 2018

The WHO country profile for Nepal shows that Nepalese men are affected severely by alcohol harm, for instance considering the prevalence of alcohol use disorder. Liver cirrhosis deaths due to alcohol and heavy episodic alcohol use among youth and adult alcohol consumers is also at worrying levels.

The government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, adopted a new policy to coherently and effectively regulate the alcohol industry in the country. But even that policy is not properly implemented in the country.

The core features of Nepal’s alcohol policy are six elements, if the policy would be implemented:

  1. Total ban of alcohol advertisement, promotion and sponsorship,
  2. Decreasing availability: in the future alcohol will only be sold by especially licensed shops for certain hours,
  3. Decreasing alcohol availability: the minimum age for alcohol purchases is increased from 18 to 21 years,
  4. All alcohol containers will have at least a 75% health warning. Nepal will be the first country in the world to introduce 75% pictorial warning,
  5. Alcohol will no longer be used in Government-sponsored programs and events, and
  6. Alcohol will no longer allowed to be sold in public places including heritage sites, educational institutions, and sports complexes.

However, the failure to implement this policy over the last four years has created an unregulated alcohol industry in Nepal with rampant alcohol harm.

And WHO projections show that the situation is getting worse, not better. Alcohol use is one of the few health risk factors that are projected to actually increase in Nepal until 2023, according to WHO data.

@ WHO General Program of Work 13 – Projections: Country progress towards “healthier populations” target

Communities call on the Nepal government to protect citizens from alcohol harm

Spokesperson of the Nepal Police, Basanta Bahadur Kunwar, says there is an urgent need to regulate alcohol sales in Nepal. Regulations and monitoring of alcohol sales and consumption could save lives and create a safer society in Nepal. The laws were already on paper, only political will was needed to implement the laws.

Shisir Thapa, founder of Cripa Nepal, an alcohol rehabilitation center, points out how grave the situation. A clear but troubling example was a tea shop near the rehab center that wasn’t doing well. But the tea shop began selling alcohol to increase profits.

Imagine how bleak the situation is when there are alcohol suppliers right next to a rehabilitation center where people are struggling to overcome alcohol addiction,” said Shisir Thapa, founder of Cripa Nepal, an alcohol rehabilitation center, as per The Annapurna Express.

Shisir Thapa, founder, Cripa Nepal

According to Thapa, Nepalis are at high risk of alcohol harm due to the high availability. Alcohol is available everywhere for anyone. There is no oversight on who is selling alcohol and who is buying it. This has been increasing alcohol harm over the years in the country and yet the government remains inactive.

Bishnu Sharma, CEO of Recovery Nepal, the umbrella organization of rehabilitation centers in Nepal, says the Big Alcohol lobby is strong in Nepal and that is the reason why the government has not been implementing alcohol laws as they should.

When civil society advocates towards the government for implementation of alcohol policies the alcohol industry lobbies even more aggressively exerting pressure on the government to disrupt efforts for alcohol policy improvements in the country.

The normalization of alcohol is one main cause for poverty in Nepal according to a study in the Rasuwa district. Alcohol had become a necessity for all rituals and people were taking loans to provide alcohol in these occasions. Recovery Nepal conducted an intervention in Rasuwa district to denormalize alcohol use. This intervention was a success. More programs such as these along with proper implementation of alcohol policies can curb the growing alcohol harm in the country.

In March 2021, the Parliamentary Committee on Sustainable Development and Good Governance, an Upper House committee of the parliament in Nepal, has expressed the need for the government to upgrade the country’s health promotion and to improve health institutions’ credibility and impact. Improving implementation of alcohol policy solutions in the country holds the biggest potential to achieve health and development for all people and communities in Nepal.

Source Website: The Annapurna Express