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NEPAL: 2006 - Food crisis in the west growing - NGOs


International development agencies in Nepal are seriously concerned about an acute food shortage in several hill and mountain districts in the western region of the Himalayan kingdom.

Queueing for government food - many parts of Nepal do not grow enough to feed the population

The Dutch development agency (SNV) and Action Contre la Faim (ACF), the French international NGO, have said that lack of food is very visible in several remote districts of the impoverished Karnali province in northwestern Nepal.

Nepal's worst food deficit districts: Mugu, Humla, Kalikot, Jumla and Dolpa - all in Karnali, where most Nepalese live on less than US $1 day - have had a history of food shortages for many decades.

Food production from farming in these districts barely lasts six months each year. But now the situation has become much worse with significantly less food being produced, recent assessments show. The region suffered the worst drought in 40 years from February to March 2006.

"Due to a lack of rains, all the fields have gone to waste and look barren at a time when they were supposed to be filled with greenery and crops," said SNV's Rick van Keulen, who went to Humla to observe the food security situation there.

"There is no more food stock left with most families. We will be launching our emergency supplementary food feeding programme as soon as possible," explained Mireille Seneclauze, head of ACF in Nepal.

ACF, which had conducted a food security assessment in 10 villages around Humla and Mugu earlier this year, also reported that there was widespread acute malnutrition in the area, particularly affecting children.

Nepal already has one of the world's highest rates of chronic malnutrition: affecting nearly 63 percent of Nepalese children, according to the 2004 UN Human Development Report on Nepal.

"The main aid agencies for Nepal have not given much attention to this issue," said Chandra Shahi, a member of the Nepalese parliament from Mugu district. He has been lobbying the newly formed Nepalese cabinet in the capital, Kathmandu, to act to end the hunger.

"Many villagers don't even have a single wheat grain in their houses, they are now forced to eat aromatic and herbal plants to survive," he added.

Until now, the Ministry of Local Development (MLD) had been flying rice from the capital to the isolated region, but these supplies are limited to the district centres and hungry villagers often have to walk for up to six days to get to the food aid.

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP), along with the Swiss Development Corporation (SDC) and UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has sent assessment teams to seven of the food deficit districts to collect information and will present the findings in 10 days.

"We are starting to have a contingency plan for a possible or potential response," said Jean Pierre de Margerie, acting director of WFP in Nepal.

Source:IRIN 2006
Copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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