Lockdown measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 have rolled out across the world and while it is having a devastating impact on the world’s economy, the environment is clearly reaping the rewards,
Some residents in northern India say the lockdown measures across the country have given locals a view many have not seen in at least 30 years.
While for others in the Jalandhar district of Punjab in India, it’s a sight they’ve never seen before.
As India’s nearly 1.4 billion population live through a 21-day lockdown, India’s Central Pollution Board says there has been a “significant improvement in air quality”.
Cars are no longer filling the streets, most industries are shut down and as a result, the country has enjoyed significant improvement in air quality.
“We can see the snow-covered mountains clearly from our roofs,” Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal said in an interview with SBS.
“And not just that, stars are visible at night. I have never seen anything like this in recent times.”
Many locals took to social media to share images of the Dhauladhar range of Himalayas, with some snapping crystal clear views on their smartphones.
According to the SBS, the air quality index improved by 33 per cent in the country due to a reduction in particle matter.
In India, the total number of COVID-19 cases has passed the 4,000 mark, with more than 100 people recorded dead.
While the environment is benefiting from the shutdown, the livelihood of the famed local Sherpas in the Himalayan hill town of Khumjung are under threat.
At this time of year, the town should be bustling ahead of Everest’s climbing season.
While there are no reported cases in the town the Himalayas have been closed by the global shutdown of borders and air travel.
Nepal suspended permits for all mountain expeditions on March 12, effectively closing its peaks.
That cost at least $4 million dollars in lost revenue from climbing permits. An Everest permit alone costs $11,000.
But sherpas and other guides, who are often the sole breadwinners for their families, say they face a more desperate problem.
The Everest season from early April to the end of May will often feed a family for the whole year.
Guides tend to earn between $5,000 and $10,000 during the season.
“We don’t go to the mountains because we want to, it is our only option for work,” one sherpa told AFP.
At 31, and a father of a six-year-old son, he has been to the top of Everest eight times and helped dozens of climbers reach the summit.
“I think everyone is suffering from the same problem,” he said, noting he would normally be at the Everest base camp at this time of year, setting up as hundreds of mountaineering glory seekers head there to wait for a window of good weather to set off in a rush to the top.
A record 885 people reached the Everest summit during last year’s spring season, 644 from the Nepal side.
But the coronavirus has left base camps deserted. Namche Bazaar, the last town before it, is also empty.
The guides, porters, cooks and other support staff have had to walk home down the slopes empty-handed.
“With the season cancelled, no one gets a job. From flights to shops to porters, there is no work,” he said.
Damian Benegas, who has guided teams on Everest for nearly two decades, said the porters and kitchen workers who keep expeditions running will be the hardest-hit.
“Those people don’t have any savings back-up or any contracts that expedition organisers have to keep,” Benegas said.
It is not just the sherpas who are being hurt. Tourism contributes nearly eight per cent of Nepal’s gross domestic product and accounts for more than one million jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Nepal, still recovering from a major 2015 earthquake, was hoping to attract a record two million tourists in 2020. Those ambitious plans now lay shattered.
But Everest region residents agree with the government’s decision. The risk of infection is real. The spring season sees hundreds of foreign climbers and trekkers snake through their villages. At base camp, climbers and Nepali support staff have to live in close quarters.
Renowned mountaineer Phurba Tashi Sherpa, who has climbed Everest 21 times, said that coronavirus would wreak havoc if it entered Himalayan villages.
“It cost us our jobs, but it is the right decision,” he said.
“In Khumjung we have one small hospital and not enough resources, imagine if people started getting sick here,” said the mountain veteran.
“If the disease comes, then money can’t do anything. People are dying even in developed countries, what will happen to us in Nepal?,” said Phurba Nyamgal Sherpa.
There are still calls, unanswered so far, for the government to provide an economic relief package.
“The government needs to find a way to support those who have not been able to work, not just in mountaineering, in other sectors too,” Santa Bir Lama, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said.