KATHMANDU – Major disruptions in food and fuel imports across its southern border with India have severely affected Nepal’s supplies and caused a worrying increase in food prices, says the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).
A border blockade to protest Nepal’s new constitution began in September. Trade has now slowed to a trickle in the landlocked country, causing a food and fuel shortage that is in its third month. With Nepal heavily dependent on imports, especially from India, severe shortages are now being felt in local markets. The cost of some basic food staples, such as cooking oil, rice, lentils, sugar and salt have soared in recent weeks as supplies dwindle.
“If trade remains restricted and food prices continue to rise, a serious humanitarian crisis will be hard to avoid,” said David Kaatrud, WFP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
“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.”
On average, the prices of lentils, pulses and cooking oil have increased by more than 30 percent since August and more than 50 percent since last year. In remote areas, including parts of the country worst hit by the 25 April earthquake and aftershocks, the price of food commodities has increased even further, doubling in some cases. For example, in Gorkha, a community close to the earthquake epicenter, a 25 kg sack of rice now costs 5,000 Nepali Rupees (US$46.80) – up from 2,500 Rupees (US$23.40) before the blockade. The price of cooking oil and sugar has also doubled in the town.
At the same time, the price of fuel has sky rocketed across the country. The cost of refilling a cylinder of cooking gas has increased from 1,500 Nepali rupees (US$14.00) before the blockade to between 8,000 and 11,000 rupees (US$75 and US$102) today, an increase of as much as 630 percent.
“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,” said Kaatrud.
A quarter of people in Nepal live on less than US$1.25* a day, and on average spend 60 percent of their income on food. This means that most have only a limited capacity to cope with shocks such as disasters and soaring food prices.
Last month, WFP warned that the fuel shortage caused by the border blockages was hampering earthquake relief efforts. There have been severe delays in WFP efforts to provide food assistance to more than 224,000 earthquake-affected people. WFP has only been able to deliver one-third of food supplies earmarked for distribution by the end of the year. The delivery of non-food items, such as medicine and shelter material for winter, has also been severely affected by the dispute.
The constitution which has been adopted by almost 90 % of the deputies is a big success and a proof that after years of conflict and struggle, the way to a new and modern society is paved. The constitution comprises all basic rights which we in Europe esteem essential for a free and democratic society. Nepal can be proud of this document which symbolizes a cornerstone in its development.
How do you see the current situation in Nepal following the promulgation of new constitution?
First of all allow me to congratulate Nepal for the promulgation of its new constitution. The constitution which has been adopted by almost 90 % of the deputies is a big success and a proof that after years of conflict and struggle, the way to a new and modern society is paved. The constitution comprises all basic rights which we in Europe esteem essential for a free and democratic society. Nepal can be proud of this document which symbolizes a cornerstone in its development. Unfortunately, there seems to be a deficit in communicating its substance to the people. In my eyes, there is a lot of ignorance and misunderstanding about some of its articles. Moreover, as someone who has studied law, I can assure you that in the years to come, many of the clauses will be reviewed and clearly defined by the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court. There will be, as well, amendments of the constitution in future according to the needs of the society. It needs responsible political leadership to communicate this to the minds of the people instead of allowing the spread of rumors that create an atmosphere of public confusion.
As an Ambassador to this country I can assure you I would be happy if more would be done to inform the broader public about rights and duties of the new constitution and I appeal all relevant parties, after three months of different forms of protests, to reach a political compromise and bring an end to the ongoing horrible crisis.
People have already suffered too much, particularly all those who were affected by the heavy earthquake and are still fully dependent on support from the outside world. The present situation with its strangulation of people in need, children, elderly people and those living under harsh conditions in the mountains is showing signs of a violation of human rights.
With the promulgation of the new constitution, there is unrest in Madhes with border blockade; the supply of essential commodities is negatively affected, which is developing into a major humanitarian crisis. How do you look at it?
From my point of view, there is no doubt that the international community should raise its voice to prevent a major humanitarian crisis which will go beyond the suffering of the people after the heavy earthquakes in April/May. The borders to India must be opened as soon as possible to allow in medical supplies and shelters needs for the people living under critical conditions. By opening the borders, the transport sector of the country which has almost come to a complete stop because of the shortage of fuel, should start activities again and secure distribution of all essential goods to the people in need. It cannot be accepted that suffering people are held hostage in the name of a future design of the country. I’m very worried about the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable people of Nepal.
As Federal Republic of Germany has been supporting institution building at Municipal and VDC level for last many years, do you have any plans to support developing provincial institutions in the present context?
I really hope that the ongoing supply crisis will end soon and leaders will thereafter focus more on reconstruction of the country and implementation of its constitution. Both efforts will show if Nepal will be capable of proceeding to a brighter future and safeguard stability. Institutions will have to be strengthened; there should be more delegation of decision-making processes. Nepal needs a service-oriented administration; wide-spread practice of immunity for misbehavior on all levels of the society should end. This requires a strong and independent justice system.
Regarding your question on a possible support to the development of provincial institutions, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that a federal system in its true sense needs a sound foundation of well-functioning municipalities. It is the municipalities to which citizens have the closest and direct contact with administrative structures. It is the municipalities from which citizens expect the best services for their daily needs such as access to water, waste and waste water treatment, health care, school facilities and much more. These services can be replaced neither by provincial nor by federal authorities. It is therefore obvious that first of all administrative structures on municipality level must be strengthened so that they can operate to everybody’s satisfaction.
In my eyes, a federal system finds its justification only if it leads to an improvement of services to citizens. The functions of provinces are focusing more on rules and regulations of regional matters. There is less direct contact of provincial authorities with citizens, same as for federal institutions. Therefore I’m convinced that the process of implementing federalism into the Nepalese environment could only and should start with all kinds of support for the municipalities. Since Germany and Nepal have a longstanding cooperation in support of institution building at municipal and VDC level, there is every reason to look into continuing this support.
As the new constitution demands new institutions and new legal system for its implementation, what do you suggest?
In discussions a team of German experts recently had with representatives of Nepalese authorities involved in the process of implementation of the new constitution, the focus was on three fields of possible support from our side: support of the legislative process, training of judicial staff and advisory services for establishing well-functioning administrative structures. The German IRZ, Institute for Judicial Cooperation, will be in charge of defining future projects in shaping new federal structures. There might be as well support for training facilities for trainers of administrative personnel. For the time being we have not yet concluded specific projects of cooperation but we are preparing them in the near future.
One of the problems in Nepal is the weak institutions at all levels. How is the German experience in this, from which Nepal can benefit?
Weak institutions are an obstacle for the development of a country. Progress and success of a society very much depends on qualified staff on all levels of the administration, on a set-up of rules and regulations understood and respected by the majority of people and a clearly defined mechanism for self-rule and availability of financial resources on municipal level. These are some of the most important sectors for stabilizing a country bottom-up.
Federal Republic of Germany has been providing much needed support to earthquake victims, how do you support in the post reconstruction phase of build back better?
The German Government has supported Nepal from the very beginning after the earthquake. In addition to 5 Million Euro humanitarian aid, amounts of 30 Million Euro for recovery and rehabilitation- on top of our ongoing bilateral programs- have been granted. Our rehabilitation support will mainly focus on three districts: Nuwakot, Dhading and Rasuwa and support primarily the health and energy sectors. We will, for example, ensure the reconstruction of several district hospitals and construct more than 40 health posts. We have also agreed to rehabilitate the central Load Dispatch Centre in Kathmandu and will work on the repair and extension of electrify transmission lines in quake-hit areas. For the past six months, we have also supported shelter and immediate needs of affected communities. Now it is important to move from recovery towards long-term rehabilitation.
As the Reconstruction Authority is yet to establish, has it made any difference in implementing the projects?
German Development Cooperation focuses its recovery and rehabilitation programs on those sectors in which we have been engaged in for a long time, such as health and energy. Hence, we have been fortunate to benefit from already-existing partnerships and networks. This has allowed us to deliver faster than others and to effectively support the people in need immediately after the earthquakes happened. However, the lack of an effective coordination mechanism and the lack of GoN guidelines for the reconstruction process severely limit the impact of what the international support could achieve. It is urgent that the authorities in Nepal step up efforts to put in place the institutional framework for a coordinated, accountable and effective reconstruction process. Otherwise, “Build Back Better” will remain only a slogan and the lessons learned from the recent disaster might quickly be forgotten.
Is Germany providing additional support to Nepal along with regular programs?
The commitments made for recovery and rehabilitation after the earthquakes came on top of our ongoing programs and will be implemented mainly in three of the earthquake-affected districts as I have already stated. At the same time, it is important for us to maintain our existing projects in the energy, health and economic development sectors with a geographical focus on the Mid and Far West.
What are the priority areas for German support in the context when Nepal has been facing a lot of challenges like poverty, food insecurity, climate change and disasters?
With the current priorities of Nepal-German Development Cooperation (health, renewable energy / energy efficiency and economic development and trade), we hope to contribute to addressing these problems and challenges that are most pressing for Nepal’s development. The ultimate goal of all our programs is poverty reduction and a more sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development of the country. Let me take the example of our long-standing support for renewable energies and energy efficiency in Nepal: progress in these areas translates both into positive social and economic impacts, while at the same time also addressing the issue of climate change.