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WFP warns of food crisis in Nepal

Sep 02, 2010

Nepal stands on the brink of a food crisis owing to chronic drought like conditions that have severely impacted overall food production. As per a World Food Programme estimate, currently around 3.6 million people are grappling with food insecurity in the country.

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Farmers may reap as little as half of their normal harvests this year due to late monsoon rains in Nepal, a country constantly battling malnutrition and food insecurity, the World Food Programme (WFP) warns.

"What we’re concerned with is the mid and far west - the hills area,” said Dominique Hyde, deputy country director of WFP in Nepal. The regions are home to 600,000 of the country’s estimated 3.6 million food insecure, according to WFP’s August food security bulletin.

Production losses above 50% were reported in seven out of 24 mid- and far-western districts, attributable to several local disasters, including drought, heavy snowfall and a hailstorm. Now, an unpredictable monsoon season - normally June to August - has caused additional concern.

“Since 2006, there have been three droughts. Now, they’ve had an erratic monsoon due to climate change, and they’ve had a lot of delays in planting in the mid and far west. We’re expecting 30-50% loss of harvest because of this year’s monsoon,” Hyde said.

Experts disagree on how much climate change causes such weather variability.

The mid-western Karnali region is considered the poorest, least developed and most food insecure of this Himalayan nation. According to WFP, nearly 70% of under-five children have stunted growth and nearly half are underweight - the worst malnutrition figures in the country.

With almost no irrigation and a mostly dirt track “highway” often blocked by landslides during the monsoon season, Karnali's rain-fed production typically gives the local population enough sustenance for at most six months of the year.

Food deficit since 2005

According to The Food Security Atlas of Nepal, the country has not produced enough food to feed its population since 2005.

The report, published in July by the government, WFP and NGO Nepal Development Research Institute, said that with the burdens of years of drought, high food prices since 2007, and no economic growth, food insecurity has increased among the most vulnerable people in the mid and far west.

Unemployment and underemployment have increased from 42% in 2004 to 46% in 2008, the report said.

“You have people who have been trying to deal with drought over the past three to four years, and have depleted their assets,” said Hyde. “What do they do? How do they cope? They have used most of their assets, so they pull their children out of school. They send their relatives to India, so it’s one less mouth to fill.”

Since 2008 when global food prices soared, WFP has worked in 22 districts in Nepal, with 1.6 million food insecure in the mid and far west.

On August 18, the Nepalese government signed over a US$36 million World Bank grant to WFP, but the UN agency is still $21 million short, Hyde said. The organisation plans to scale back to 16 districts in November, and if funds do not come through, it will decrease its scope to 10.

Source : IRIN
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