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Food insecurity in Nepal's Karnali: the 'silent emergency'

Mar 20, 2013

There is rampant food insecurity in Nepal's Karnali zone. Despite, the government of Nepal increasing its own development spending in the agricultural sector from US$9.4 million in 2005 to almost $13 million in 2011 the situation remains bad.

Development assistance on its own will not resolve chronic levels of food insecurity in Nepal’s western Karnali Zone, described by many as a “silent emergency”. Rather, a more measured and integrated approach is required in some areas, including relief, say experts and government officials.

“We can’t just stop relief all at once. There are still thousands of people in the Karnali that still need some form of relief assistance at least in the short-term,” Jagannath Adhikari, an agricultural scientist and author of the book Food Crisis in the Karnali, told IRIN.

Of the 400,000 people in Karnali, one of Nepal’s 14 zones and comprising five districts (Humla, Jumla, Mugu, Kalikot and Dolpa), about one third of the population is severely food insecure, while half are moderately food insecure, Adhikari said.

“Development is the goal. However, in certain areas, some component of relief is still needed,” said Hem Raj Regmi, undersecretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Agricultural Development. “We’re keen to receive more development assistance. At the same time, however, we can’t ignore these ongoing needs.”

The authorities have long stated their preference for development assistance over relief, citing its predictability and sustainability. In recent years, Nepal has increased its own development spending in the agricultural sector from US$9.4 million in 2005 to almost $13 million in 2011 - a figure expected to double in 2013, according to government data.


Many believe that unless livelihoods in general are improved, food security in Karnali can never be boosted.

More than 42 per cent of Karnali residents live below the poverty line, almost double the national average (25.16 per cent), while all five districts rank among the lowest in the Human Development Index (HDI), with average scores of 0.35 - lower than Ethiopia and the Central African Republic.

At the same time, more than 60 per cent of Karnali children under the age of five are stunted (low height for age), which is a measure of chronic under-nutrition, against a national average of 41 per cent.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the region is the poorest and most food insecure in Nepal, with food production sufficient for only 3-6 months of the year. Except for Jumla District, irrigation is non-existent and there are pockets of the zone where food insecurity is running at 40 per cent compared to a national average of 15 per cent.

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Source : IRIN
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