The border blockade and disruptions in imports from India are leading to severe shortages of food and fuel and rise in prices of essential items in Nepal, the UN agency on food said, calling on all sides to allow the free flow of food items across the border.
The UN World Food Programme warned of severe shortages of food and fuel in Nepal caused by the ongoing major disruptions in imports across its southern border with India, saying that the landlocked country could face extreme hardship if prices of basic food staples continue to soar.
“If trade remains restricted and food prices continue to rise, a serious humanitarian crisis will be hard to avoid,” WFP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific David Kaatrud said in a statement.
According to WFP, the border blockade that began in September to protest against Nepal’s new Constitution has already slowed trade, causing a food and fuel shortage since the last three months.
“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,” Kaatrud said.
Nepal is heavily dependent on imports, especially from India, and the border disruptions have led to the cost of some basic food staples, such as cooking oil, rice, lentils, sugar and salt to soar in recent weeks as supplies dwindled, the agency said.
“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,” Kaatrud said.
The UN agency said the average price of lentils, pulses and cooking oil have increased by more than 30% since August and more than 50% since last year and in remote areas, including parts of the country worst hit by the April earthquake and aftershocks, the price of food commodities has increased even further, doubling in some cases.
It said a quarter of people in Nepal on less than USD 1.25 a day, and on average spend 60% of their income on food, which means that most have only a limited capacity to cope with shocks such as disasters and soaring food prices.
Moreover, WFP warned that the fuel shortage caused by the border blockade was hampering earthquake relief efforts and that there have been severe delays in WFP efforts to provide food assistance to over 224,000 earthquake-affected people.
The agency said that it could only deliver one-third of food supplies earmarked for distribution by the end of the year and added that the delivery of non-food items, such as medicine and shelter material for winter, has also bee severely affected by the dispute.
Earlier this week, UN agencies in a joint statement warned that the “health and humanitarian implications of the present scenario are grave” in Nepal and urged all sides to ease the virtual blockade of the southern border.