KATHMANDU, 9 March 2009 (IRIN)
Food insecurity is increasing in poor areas of both eastern and western Nepal due to poor harvests and high prices for imported food, oil and transportation
Agricultural experts are expressing concern that people in already food-insecure Nepal will have to further tighten their belts unless food, transport and other costs can be curbed.
Local food traders told IRIN that in 2008 prices of the main staple, rice, had increased by 24 percent, cooking oil by 30 percent and wheat flour by 18 percent.
High dependence on imports during a year of rapidly rising global food prices, an Indian export ban on key food commodities, and increased transport costs were the main reasons for the price rises. Natural disasters and civil unrest had made matters worse.
"Many people are skipping meals and eating less nutritious food," said Ragan.
According to WFP, the price increases had seriously affected people in western hill regions, with worsening child malnutrition rates in many areas.
Nepal has one of South Asia's worst malnutrition rates, with almost 50 percent of children under five stunted and suffering from chronic malnutrition, according to the government's Demographic and Health Survey (DHS). Acute malnutrition rates start increasing after six months of age and peak at 12 months; the main reason for this is poor feeding, according to the DHS.
Floods and landslides in several districts throughout the country had affected summer crop production in 2008, damaged farmland and severely cut crop yields, particularly of rice and millet.
For example, Jumla, Mugu, Humla, Bajura and Dailekh districts in the northwestern hill region had suffered at least 30-50 percent crop losses due to excessive rainfall, landslides and strong winds, WFP told IRIN.
Worse to come?
According to a February 2009 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the food security situation is expected to deteriorate in western areas. It said Nepal was one of 32 countries with food crises requiring significant external assistance.
"There has been erratic rainfall and the coping mechanisms have become challenging," said local agricultural adaptation expert Dinnanath Bhandari.
At the beginning of 2008, Nepal became vulnerable due to drought, over-reliance on rain-fed cultivation, heavy dependence on food and oil imports, poor transportation infrastructure, and a high percentage of average household income - 60 percent - spent on food, according to WFP.
Regional Information Networks (IRIN), part of the UN Office for the Coordination
of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).