NEPAL: Government "must focus on food"
A young girl in Nepal's western Jumla district suffering from chronic malnutrition (file photo)
KATHMANDU, 4 August 2009 (IRIN) - Nepal’s government must pay greater attention to food security - recognizing people’s human right to food as a top priority - say specialists.
“Simply providing food aid is not enough to help the food-scarce population in the remote villages because we still see them suffer from hunger every day,” Adheep Pokhrel of the Right to Food Network (RtFN), which comprises 36 NGOs advocating food sovereignty and rights in the Himalayan nation.
RtFN is advocating that the government fulfil the human right to food enshrined in the UN’s International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Nepal is a signatory.
But despite food insecurity and one of the highest rates of child malnutrition
in the world, the country lacks a coherent food security policy, say activists, underlined by a 2007 Human Right to Food in Nepal-International Fact-Finding Mission
. It was led by a Canadian institution, Rights and Democracy, with the University of Geneva, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the FoodFirst International Action Network (FIAN
Although the government faces tough obstacles to provide sustainable access to food for all citizens, there were several areas where the state had failed to take minimum action to implement its food obligations, the mission team concluded.
These included failure to adopt a comprehensive right-to-food strategy, including adoption of a food security policy. In addition, the state failed to coordinate food-related policies and programmes between the capital, regions, districts and government ministries, the report said.
Cost of coping
Compared with other countries in South Asia, Nepal’s food security has suffered badly over the past three years mainly due to the severe winter drought, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
“The cost of coping with insecurity has increased dramatically,” Richard Ragan, WFP country representative in Nepal, told IRIN.
“In rural areas, one in three families is regularly removing children from school; eight out of 10 households are borrowing money or buying food on credit, and almost half of all Nepalese are eating less.”
He added that these coping mechanisms were not sustainable and that hunger in Nepal was no longer merely a household issue.
“Rather it is an issue of national and international concern, a reality which is destroying the future prospects of an entire generation of Nepalese,” explained Ragan.
Most of Nepal’s food-insecure live in the mid- to far-western hill and mountain areas, among the most remote and isolated communities in the world. Thus the cost of hunger remains largely hidden as few journalists, government officials or even aid workers venture to these areas, according to WFP.
“Even within Nepal, there is often publicly displayed denial, acceptance or ambivalence towards the absolute seriousness of the situation and the critical cost of coping,” said Ragan.
Severe crisis looming
Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
carry WFP food assistance to their villages in the mountains in western
Nepal. Access to Nepal's food-insecure Jumla district remains
problematic (file photo)
“The food security situation has become so alarming that it has caught the attention of the human rights community,” prominent human rights activist Subodh Pyakhurel, director of the NGO Informal Sector Service Centre
, told IRIN.
He explained how traditional thinking in government as well as the aid community did not consider food as falling under human rights; however, according to WFP, more than 3.4 million people, out of a total 28 million, have become severely food insecure due to food price increases in 2007 and 2008 and the 2008-2009 winter drought.
Another five million people have potentially fallen below the poverty line in Nepal in the past three years.
The government maintains it is taking the food crisis seriously and is planning to develop a food security strategy; however, representatives were not available to comment.
But according to food security experts, the government’s focus seems to be more on agricultural production and commercialisation than food security at the household level.
According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
, Nepal - like all parties to ICESCR - has a core obligation to take all necessary action to mitigate hunger.
“It is therefore obliged to ensure that everyone under its jurisdiction has access to the minimum essential food, which is sufficient to ensure their freedom from hunger,” Richard Bennett, OHCHR representative in Nepal, told IRIN.