04/14/2009, 00.00
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Food crisis in Nepal, two million people without nourishment

by Kalpit Parajuli
The winter drought and the overflowing of the Koshi river last August have brought the agricultural industry to its knees. Unrest is exploding in the country. The government is violently repressing demonstrations, but has no practical plan for addressing the crisis.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Nepal is in danger of a serious food crisis. The meager harvest in the southern plain region of Terai has caused a food shortage in 41 out of 75 districts. Experts from the United Nations warn that the situation is bound to deteriorate: the Nepalese are accusing the government of not confronting the problem in a serious manner, and are asking for guarantees for the future; but Kathmandu is not offering any concrete proposals for addressing the crisis.

The districts of Terai, a fertile river plain along the southern border of Nepal, are the country's main food producing region, in addition to providing food for export to India, Bangladesh, and other nearby countries. For the first time in the country's history, local production is not capable of meeting its needs.

The overflowing of the Koshi river last August displaced tens of thousands of people, and compromised most of the crops. "In addition, other Terai districts . . . are likely to face food deficit in the near future," the spokesman for Nepal's agriculture ministry says. According to the ministry, the crisis in the harvest is due to the rise in population and the decline of agricultural productivity "due to low use of organic fertilizers."

The Nepal Food Corporation (NFC) is supplying food to 30 hillside districts, which are hardest hit by the crisis. Beni Bahadur Karki, the general manager of the NFC, stresses that "the government has allocated a budget that can meet only half of the demand," and adds that at least 10 more tons of food will be needed before the beginning of the monsoon season. "We have already made our request to the government," he says, "but no green light has been given so far."

Experts of the UN's World Food Program warn that the winter drought could cause a drop in of 30-70% in the harvest. Food stockpiles are 20% lower than in 2008, and two million Nepalese (out of 23 million total) are in danger of being left without food.

The United Nations agency warns that the food shortage could cause revolts in the country, and the first signs of unrest are already evident: last Sunday, a protest against the government, which was violently repressed by the police, injured 40 people, three of them seriously.

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