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Further hunger looms for Nepal’s poor

While some of the far East suffer from too much rain, experts are concerned about the situation in Nepal, where three major droughts over recent years are taking their toll on the food supply. 2010 has not been a good year either, with an erratic monsoon in some parts of the country. In the mid and far west regions, the World Food Programme (WFP) warns that farmers are reaping as little as half their normal harvests because of late rains.

These kinds of losses in production are being reported in 7 out of 24 mid- and far-western districts of Nepal. This area is already home to around 600,000 of the estimated 3.6 million Nepalese who face regular food insecurity. And with another poor harvest, the WFP predicts that nearly 70 per cent of children under five in the region will have stunted growth and nearly 50 per cent will be underweight, the worst malnutrition rates in the country.

A report published in July by the Nepalese government, WFP and NGO Nepal Development Research Institute, acknowledges that the country has not produced enough food to feed its population since 2005. Supplies have been affected by severe droughts, high food prices and no economic growth as the country continues to battle political instability. In 2008, unemployment in Nepal rose to 46%, so many families are struggling to feed their children. The situation is worse in certain areas and sections of society. A survey in Nepal found that 23 per cent of children from the majority Chinese community were underweight, but the figure was even higher for other groups. Among ethnic minorities in the northern mountains, 35 per cent of children were underweight and this rose to 45 per cent in the central highlands and coastal areas.

The situation has not been helped by an acute lack of fertilizers. Budget cuts have limited the supply of fertilizers which the government buys from neighbouring India. Supplies of fertilisers have long been dwindling to the north of the country, where experts within the UN’s Food and Agriculture division stress there is an urgent need to train farmers how to best utilise their soil without chemicals. And now fertilizer shortages are hitting the Terai region, Nepal’s breadbasket.

With such threats to food security, it is to be hoped that some breakthrough will be made in the political situation within Nepal. The UN Security Council has recently agreed to remain in the country for monitoring purposes for another 4 months, terminating its mandate in January 2011. By then it is hoped that a new prime minister will have been chosen and the deadlock in government can come to an end. There is certainly much work waiting for Nepal’s politicians and measures need to be taken if the situation among the poor and hungry is to find any improvement.

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