NEPAL: Drought compounds food insecurity in western regions
Drought has severely impacted many farmers in the west of the country
KATHMANDU, 24 June 2008 (IRIN) - More than 300,000 people in nine hill districts of far western and mid-western Nepal face a precarious food situation after the crops failed this year due to drought, the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.
Although the Himalayan nation is largely dependent on food imported from neighbouring India, the local grain output provides vital reserves in many food-deficit districts.
However, the crop yield this year has been so poor it has left many without coping mechanisms, according to the UN food agency.
"The food security situation for many communities living in these regions is very worrying," WFP's country director Richard Ragan told IRIN in the capital Kathmandu.
Nepal is divided into five development regions - east, west, central, mid-west and far west. Of these, the latter two are considered the least developed due to their difficult terrain and remoteness.
These food-deficit districts include Accham and Bajura in the far west and Kalikot, Mugu, Dolpa, Humla, Jajarkot, Dailekh and Rukum in the mid-west. Most lack navigable roads and are 500-700km north of the capital.
The districts also have the country's highest rates of child malnutrition, according to government health statistics. Food shortage risks
"[The] food crisis could get worse this year because of the combined factors of drought-led crop failures and high food prices," said Rajendra Khadga Chettri, director of Support Activities for Poor Producers of Nepal (SAPPROS), a local NGO involved in agricultural technology and irrigation projects, which helps food-insecure communities.
"Hunger and starvation are increasing samong villagers. In addition, more villagers are at risk of food shortage as their food stocks will not even last for two months," said Chettri.
WFP field monitors reported that nearly 50,000 people in three districts of Bajura, Dailekh and Jajarkot were experiencing an acute food security situation.
Since the beginning of June, an estimated 252,000 people in Kalikot, Dolpa, Bajura, Accham, Dailekh, Rukum and Jajarkot are facing food insecurity with little chance of recovery.
Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
|Local villagers in Accham District in Nepal's far west often suffer from undernutrition|
WFP believes the food situation could remain serious for the next two months, as households run out of meagre food stocks.
Moreover, rising food prices throughout the country could exacerbate the problem.
According to a WFP assessment, the mountainous nation is high on the list of countries where rising food and commodity prices could have a huge impact on the population.
This is primarily due to heavy dependence on food and oil imports and a high level of chronic food insecurity and poverty. More than 41 percent of the 28 million inhabitants are under-nourished and 31 percent live below the poverty line.
About 2.5 million people in rural Nepal in immediate need of food assistance are highly vulnerable to food price increases and already have very low food intake levels, according to the report.
"An additional 3.9 million people are at risk of becoming food insecure due to increasing food prices," added WFP's Ragan.
Local food traders report that over the past six months alone, the price of cooking oil has risen by 30 percent, rice by 23 percent and kerosene by 17 percent.
Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
|Much of the affected area is remote and geographically isolated|
"The food items now cost more and this has pushed most families into severe food insecurity as they have limited cash to buy the food they desperately need," said Chettri. Government action
"We have been conducting a joint assessment [with WFP] and sent our teams to nine districts in the far west and mid-west regions and will take emergency measures once we have all the information," Hari Dahal, a senior government official and spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives
He explained that the government and WFP had already made rice deliveries to the affected communities and would now conduct a rapid food security assessment mission.