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Remote poor face hunger in Nepal as food aid is cut

A lack of funds means the United Nations (UN) food agency is having to cut back operations in Nepal, leaving around half a million poor facing extreme hunger.

Food aid has been provided to remote villages in Nepal’s western regions for over five years. But with provisions needing to be taken in by helicopters, the operation to feed 1.2 million Nepalese will cost the World Food Programme (WFP) 98 million dollars this year. With a shortfall in the necessary funds because of the economic recession and donor fatigue, the WFP’s deputy country director told the news agency AlertNet that only 700,000 people in Nepal could now be supported.

The problem in Nepal is a long-term one. Many villagers live in remote areas, where the lack of roads and inaccessible terrain make development extremely hard. Solving the problem of food insecurity would require sustained investment. But in one of the poorest countries in the world, where over half of people are estimated to live on less than a dollar a day, money is more likely to be spent on populous areas.

The aid from the WFP provides remote villagers with food for around three months. For the rest of the year, many rely on sending workers to neighbouring India. According to the WFP director, children are frequently removed from school to work or help gather food and many households go without meals during lean agricultural months. Malnutrition rates among young children are high, with 70 per cent of under-fives undernourished compared to a national average of around half. This can lead to a lifetime of poor health and lower productivity and the average life expectancy in the region is just 47.

A BBC reporter visited the remote mountainous village of Joripani, a ten-day climb from the nearest road. She discovered that crops of wheat and millet are poor, thanks to unpredictable rainfall and old methods of farming. One father showed the reporter his store of food, which consisted of a bag of rice donated by the food programme. “Children are not healthy in this area”, he told the BBC.

When outside aid is scaled down and the helicopters no longer arrive, one farmer says the village will not survive. Prem Bahadur Malla told the BBC that even if villagers work all year round, conditions are such that they can only grow enough food to feed their families for three months. Here, many feel angry against rich landowners of higher castes who control much of the fertile land in Nepal, while people from lower castes are pushed to the margins. Agencies admit that without longer-term investment in these remote regions, once the helicopters stop flying in six weeks time, the villagers will have to look to the Nepalese government. But despite promises from politicians before elections, the poor families of this region doubt their government will help them, saying they have been forgotten.

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