DHAMPUS, NEPAL —
Over the 12 years that Baburam Giri has worked as a hotel cook in the village of Dhampus — a major tourist draw with its views of the towering Annapurna mountain range — winters have become less snowy.
“The snowfall we had five years ago was more than 2 feet deep — but we didn’t have significant snowfall after that,” lamented Giri, standing at his stove at the Hotel Yama Sakura.
With hotels across the world feeling the financial pain of travel restrictions to curb the coronavirus pandemic, Giri said his central Nepal community was relying mainly on Nepali tourists, who come every year drawn by the wintry weather.
But this year, the bare ground means few visitors.
“Many domestic and local tourists come to this area to play in the snow whenever there is snowfall,” Giri told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“But (now) the hotel is almost empty.”
From tourism to farming, industries based in Nepal’s mountains are hurting from a drop in income due to the lack of heavy snowfall in recent years — a phenomenon that scientists link to increasing temperatures.
According to Arun Bhakta Shrestha at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), studies using remote sensing technology show that snow cover has steadily decreased in Nepal and the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.
“The temperature of Nepal is rising at the rate of 0.6 degrees Celsius (1.08 Fahrenheit) per decade,” said the regional program manager.
A report published by Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology in December predicted that the average temperature in the country this winter would be above normal and the average precipitation below normal.
For Budhhi Man Gurung, the owner of Hotel Yama Sakura, the combination of the changing climate and COVID-19 has led to an 80% drop in revenue compared to last year.
“It has become difficult for me to pay salaries to the staff,” he said.
There are no comprehensive studies on the economic impact of decreasing snowfall on Nepal’s tourism industry, but Dhananjay Regmi, CEO of the country’s tourism board, said in the long run the changing climate will undoubtedly lead to fewer visitors.
“Most of the tourists come to Nepal to see snow-filled mountains, but if these mountains turn into black hills that will ultimately affect tourism,” he said in a telephone interview.
The board had put together plans to promote snow-based tourism, such as skiing holidays, to bring more tourists to the region, Regmi explained.
“But the erratic snowfall seen in present days has made us question if that plan will succeed,” he added.
COLD WEATHER PEST CONTROL
Tourism is not the only industry struggling with central Nepal’s lack of snowfall.
Shanta Bahadur Bishowkarma, a farmer in Dhampus, said just a few years ago he could sustain his household on the food he grew in his field.
Now, without significant snow, he is struggling to access sufficient water to grow enough maize, millet and vegetables to feed his family.
In the winter growing season, he used to depend on melting snow to water his crops. These days, he said, he sometimes has to resort to using drinking water.
The snow and cold also were good for keeping his crops free of pests, Bishowkarma explained, noting that the cold temperatures harmed many insects and diseases that could destroy his plants.
“From our ancestors’ days there has been the belief that there would be a bumper crop in a year that saw enough snowfall,” the farmer said.
But as warmer temperatures hit his fields, “now I have to buy food from outside,” he said.
Arjun Rayamajhi, a plant protection officer at the government’s Agriculture Knowledge Center in Darchula, one of Nepal’s mountainous districts, said low temperatures decrease the reproduction rates of insects.
And just as in other parts of the world that are heating up, warmer temperatures in Nepal’s mountains are attracting pests that once found them too cold.
“Due to rising temperatures in higher regions, insects are shifting from the lower belt, so new pests are seen in higher regions these days,” Rayamajhi said.
The warming weather is also making it harder for Nepal’s mountain farmers to grow traditional crops that usually thrive in colder climates, such as apples.
“Even livestock are affected, as the lack of snowfall … causes a moisture deficit in winter and grasses they feed on cannot grow properly,” he said.
“The mountainous districts are already struggling with food insecurity and these things make the problem more serious.”
Climate researchers warn that snowy winters will become rarer in Nepal over the coming decades.
An assessment of the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region published by ICIMOD in 2019 predicted a 50%-60% decline in snowfall in the Ganges basin, which covers part of Nepal, by 2071-2100.
Research shows “unusually large” temperature hikes in high-elevation areas of the region, the report noted, adding that “the warming is estimated to be nearly two to three times the global average.”
Sushil Raj Poudel, president of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal’s western region association, said group members can no longer rely on the tourism boom they always used to see a few days after every heavy snow.
“Seeing no snowfall at this time of year in Nepal is a very strange thing,” he said.
“Climate change is something that I heard was happening in other countries, but now we are experiencing it in front of our eyes.”
(Reporting by Aadesh Subedi; Editing by Jumana Farouky and Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly.)
One year into pandemic, sky begins to clear over U.S. economy – TheChronicleHerald.ca
By Ann Saphir and Howard Schneider
SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Despite the U.S. economy’s near miss with a depression last year and an ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has brought travel to a virtual halt, Jeff Hurst, the chief executive of vacation rental firm VRBO, sees a boom on the horizon.
“Every house is going to be taken this summer,” Hurst said, as the expected protection from vaccines arrives in step with warmer weather, unleashing a cooped-up population with record savings stashed away. “There’s so much built-up demand for it.”
That sort of bullish sentiment has increasingly taken root among executives, analysts and consumers who see the past year of comparative hibernation – from the government-ordered business closings last spring to continued risk avoidance by the public – giving way to a cautious re-emergence and green shoots in the economy.
Graphic: Retail in real time – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ECONOMY/REOPEN/yxmvjxkdjvr/chart.png
Data from AirDNA, a short-term rental analytics firm, showed vacation bookings https://tmsnrt.rs/3uxQ1Wi for the end of March, which traditionally coincides with college spring breaks, are just 2% below their pre-pandemic level. Employment openings on job site Indeed are 4% above a pre-pandemic baseline. Data on retail foot traffic, air travel and seated diners at restaurants have all edged up.
And economists’ forecasts have risen en masse, with firms like Oxford Economics seeing a “juiced-up” economy hitting 7% growth this year, more typical of a developing country.
Graphic: A historic lifeline – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ECONOMY/FORECASTS/azgpoezwbpd/chart.png
In a symbolic milestone, Major League Baseball teams took to the field on Sunday, as scheduled, for the first games of the spring training season. Crowds were required to observe social distancing rules and limited to around 20% of capacity, but MLB has a full schedule penciled in following a truncated 2020 season that did not begin until July and saw teams playing in empty stadiums.
Graphic: Oxford Economics Recovery Index – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ECONOMY/OXFORDINDEX/yzdvxqzmkpx/chart.png
As of Feb. 25, about 46 million people in the United States had received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine – still less than 15% of the population and not enough to dampen the spread of a virus that has killed more than half a million people in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The emergence of coronavirus variants poses risks, and a return to normal life before immunity is widespread could give the virus a fresh foothold.
Nor is optimism global. The European short-term rental market, for example, is suffering, with tens of thousands of Airbnb offerings pulled. Up to one-fifth of the supply has disappeared in cities like Lisbon and Berlin, as owners and managers adjust to a choppy vaccine rollout and doubts about the resumption of cross-border travel.
In the United States, the vaccine rollout and a sharp decline in new cases has produced an economic outlook unthinkable a year ago when the Federal Reserve opened its emergency playbook in a terse promise of action and Congress approved the first of several rescue efforts.
Graphic: The third wave breaks – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ECONOMY/REBOUND/xklpyojjepg/chart.png
The fear then was years of stunted output similar to the Great Depression of the 1930s, while some projections foresaw millions of deaths and an extended national quarantine. Instead, the first vaccines were distributed before the end of 2020, and a record fiscal and monetary intervention led to a rise in personal incomes, something unheard of in a recession.
“We are not living the downside case we were so concerned about the first half of the year,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers on Wednesday. “We have a prospect of getting back to a much better place in the second half of this year.”
U.S. gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic output, may top its pre-pandemic level this summer, approaching the “V-shaped” rebound that seemed unrealistic a few weeks ago.
That would still mean more than a year of lost growth, but nevertheless represents a recovery twice as fast as the rebound from the 2007-2009 recession.
Jobs have not followed as fast. The economy remains about 10 million positions short of where it was in February 2020, and that hole remains a pressing problem for policymakers alongside getting schools and public services fully reopened.
It took six years after the last recession to reach the prior employment peak, a glacial process officials desperately want to shorten.
While recent months have seen little progress, the outlook may be improving. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in mid-February the country had a fighting chance to reach full employment next year.
It may take more than vaccines, however. Officials are debating how fully and permanently to rewrite the rules of crisis response – and specifically how much and what elements of the Biden administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion rescue plan to approve.
Fiscal leaders last year cast aside many old totems, including fear of public debt and a preoccupation with “moral hazard” – the bad incentives that generous public benefits or corporate bailouts can create. For Republicans, that meant approving initial unemployment insurance benefits that often exceeded a laid-off worker’s salary; for Democrats, it meant aiding airlines and temporarily relaxing banking regulations.
It worked, and so well that an odd consortium of doubters has emerged to question how much more is necessary: Republicans arguing help should be aimed only at those in need, and some Democrats worrying that so much more government spending in an economy primed to accelerate may spark inflation or problems in financial markets.
If the outlook is improving, however, it’s in anticipation that government support will continue at levels adequate to finish the job.
“Rock on,” Bank of America analysts wrote in a Feb. 22 note boosting their full-year GDP growth forecast to 6.5%, an outcome premised on approval of $1.7 trillion in additional government relief, “unambiguously positive” health news, and stronger consumer data. Given all that, “we expect the economy to accelerate further in the spring and really come to life in the summer.”
And the view back at VRBO? In most prime vacation spots, Hurst said, “You won’t be able to find a home.”
Graphic: Business sales outlook improves – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ECONOMY/REBOUND/xklvyoonnvg/chart.png
(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Dan Burns and Paul Simao)
Turkey emerges from COVID-19-hit 2020 with 1.8% economic growth – TheChronicleHerald.ca
By Ali Kucukgocmen
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s economy grew 5.9% in the fourth quarter https://tmsnrt.rs/3dVombP and 1.8% in 2020 as a whole, annual data showed on Monday, emerging as one of only a few globally to avoid a contraction due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Propelled by a burst of credit in mid-2020, fourth-quarter GDP grew 1.7% from the previous quarter on a seasonally and calendar-adjusted basis, the Turkish Statistical Institute said.
A surge in gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the second half of the year that surpassed Turkey’s potential rate was driven by a near doubling of lending by state banks to face down the initial wave of the virus.
While outperforming all emerging market (EM) and G20 peers except China, Turkey’s growth came at a price: The cheap lending accelerated a record drop in the lira, drew down the country’s foreign currency reserves and helped push inflation to 15%. Also, few jobs were created.
Graphic: Turkey grew in 2020 despite pandemic – https://graphics.reuters.com/TURKEY-ECONOMY/GDP-ANNUAL/oakperrkbvr/chart.png
The recovery was “unbalanced and ultimately exacerbated some of the country’s external vulnerabilities,” said Jason Tuvey, senior EM economist at Capital Economics.
Financial sector activity surged more than 21% last year, driving overall growth, the data showed. Tourism and other services activity dropped by 4.3% and the construction sector, an engine of growth in years past, shrank 3.5%.
The lira firmed to 7.351 against the dollar after the GDP data and was 1% stronger on the day.
The volatile currency tumbled last week after a rally that began in early November when Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan promised a new market-friendly economic era. A new central bank chief has since hiked interest rates, cutting credit dramatically.
Finance Minister Lutfi Elvan, appointed in November, said on Twitter Monday that Turkey would prioritise price stability this year. Analysts say the economy should expand by roughly 5% in 2021 despite tight monetary policy.
In a Reuters poll, GDP was forecast to have expanded 7.1% year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2020, despite new curfews and curbs on the service sector to address a second COVID-19 wave, and 2.3% for the whole year.
Graphic: Turkey’s economy kept up hot growth in Q4 – https://graphics.reuters.com/TURKEY-ECONOMY/GROWTH/qmyvmwwzjvr/chart.png
World economies mostly contracted and tumbled into recessions last year, with emerging and developing nations shrinking by some 2.4% according to the International Monetary Fund.
The major EM economy has cooled in recent years https://tmsnrt.rs/3r40BSx from an average 5% growth rate in the last two decades. The rate plunged by 10.3% annually in the second quarter as the pandemic bit, but rebounded sharply by 6.3% in the third.
Ankara is considering lifting some of the latest virus restrictions as of this month.
Tuvey of Capital Economics said the shift in November to more orthodox policies helped Turkey avoid “a full-blown balance of payments crisis”, and he predicted a sustained recovery may not come until the second half of this year.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Daren Butler and Hugh Lawson)
Pandemic Binge Helped Turkish Economy Outperform Most Peers – BNN
(Bloomberg) — Turkey’s economy outperformed all but one major competitor in the final quarter, as rate cuts and a spending-and-credit binge beat back pandemic restrictions even as the lira collapsed.
Gross domestic product rose 5.9% from a year earlier, more than all G-20 nations except China. The median of 20 forecasts in a Bloomberg survey was for 6.9% growth. The seasonally and working day-adjusted figures showed an expansion of 1.7% in the last quarter from the previous three months. The economy grew 1.8% in 2020.
The growth push weakened the currency by 20% in 2020 and kept headline inflation in double digits for the entire year. The data expose the challenge facing central bank Governor Naci Agbal as he looks to cool growth and restore price stability without triggering a steep slowdown in activity and a jump in unemployment.
The government had pushed banks to ramp up lending to help businesses and consumers ride out the Covid emergency. The credit boom was coupled with a front-loaded easing cycle that helped prime the economy.
Agbal raised the benchmark interest rate by a cumulative 675 basis points to 17% following his appointment in November, signaling a return to more market-friendly monetary policy. The lira has strengthened 15% since his appointment.
The International Monetary Fund raised its growth forecast for Turkey’s economy to 6% in 2021 amid the coronavirus vaccine rollout, while warning the pandemic response worsened pre-existing financial risks despite leading to a strong rebound in economic activity.
“With some stability in the currency market, Turkish exporters can finally enjoy the price competitiveness accumulated over recent years,” said JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s London-based analyst Yarkin Cebeci. “Depending on the pace of vaccinations, tourism will most probably be stronger than last year as well.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.
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