UN food body flags concern over situation in Nepal

RSTV Bureau
FILE: BIRGUNJ: A man walks near a truck at Birgunj, a town on the border with India, Nepal, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. Nepalese police removed protesters from a key border point Monday to allow more than 200 vehicles stranded for the past 40 days to cross into India. Photo - PTI

FILE: BIRGUNJ: A man walks near a truck at Birgunj, a town on the border with India, Nepal, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. Nepalese police removed protesters from a key border point Monday to allow more than 200 vehicles stranded for the past 40 days to cross into India.
Photo – PTI

Flagging deep concerns over the situation in Nepal where an on-going agitation against Constitution has led to the border blockade, the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme has warned of severe shortages of food and fuel. The border blockade and major disruptions along the southern borders have led to choking of supplies as trucks carrying essential consignment are still waiting for the normalcy to return.

Urging “all sides” to allow free flow of food items in Nepal, the global body stated that the land-locked country could face extreme hardship if prices of basic food staples continue to soar.

“If trade remains restricted and food prices continue to rise, a serious humanitarian crisis will be hard to avoid,” WFP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific David Kaatrud said in a statement.

“WFP urges all sides to once again allow the free flow of food items across the border to ensure that Nepalis, especially those who struggle on a day-to-day basis to feed their families, are not the ones who bear the burden of this protracted political stand-off,” Kaatrud added further.

According to WFP, the border blockade that began in September with Madheshi ethnic community protesting against Nepal’s new constitution has already slowed trade, causing a food and fuel shortage since the last three months.

“People are struggling to feed their families as the cost of food rises beyond their grasp. Coming so soon after the recent earthquake, this crisis could severely test people’s ability to cope, and may lead to an increase in malnutrition,” David Kaatrud said.

Madhesis, who claim to represent the interests of the Indian-origin inhabitants of Nepal’s Terai region (plains), have been protesting against the new constitution adopted by Nepal government. They have been all claiming that the new Constitution will not be able to address the issues of indigenous Terai region people.

Their agitation has led to a halt in supply of essential goods through the main Indo-Nepal trading point near Raxaul, causing shortage of fuel in Nepal. The situation has also led to the jump in the cost of some basic food staples, such as cooking oil, rice, lentils, sugar and salt in recent weeks.

The global agency have also flagged concerns that the fuel shortage was hampering earthquake relief efforts and that there have been severe delays in WFP efforts to provide food assistance to over 224,000 earthquake-affected people.

The agency said that it could only deliver one-third of food supplies earmarked for distribution by the end of the year and added that the delivery of non-food items, such as medicine and shelter material for winter, has also been severely affected by the dispute.

Earlier this week, UN agencies in a joint statement had said that the “health and humanitarian implications of the present scenario are grave in Nepal”.

(With inputs from the PTI)