Nepal warns of humanitarian crisis as India border blockade continues [courtesy: The Guardian]

in Kathmandu

Deputy prime minister Kamal Thapa tells UN that restrictions on import of essential supplies are jeopardising lives of children, elderly and infirm

Nepal is facing a humanitarian crisis due to the blockade of its border posts withIndia by groups opposed to the new national constitution, according to the country’s deputy prime minister, Kamal Thapa.

Speaking at the UN in Geneva on Wednesday, Thapa warned that the future of Nepal’s children is at stake if the blockade is not lifted.

“Lives and livelihoods of the entire population have been adversely affected,” said Thapa, speaking during Nepal’s universal periodic review. “Schools and hospitals have also had to bear the brunt of the current circumstances, exposing millions of children, elderly and sick persons to greater risks.”

The blockade, which is now into its second month, has severely restricted the amount of fuel and essential supplies reaching the country from India. Nepal relies heavily on India for a substantial proportion of its imports.

In Kathmandu, mile-long queues for petrol twist through the capital’s streets, and many residents are now using firewood to cook their food, having run out of cooking gas.

Politicians have been widely blamed for the impasse. “It’s the government’s fault,” said Mitthe Thapa Magar, a taxi driver who had been queuing for petrol for five days. “It has affected daily life a lot. We haven’t been able to work. We are queuing here for weeks when we should be working … No one is listening to us.”

The impact of the crisis is felt even more keenly in the Terai, the country’s southern plains, where the Madhesi and Tharu ethnic groups, together with political parties who oppose the new constitution, have enforced a general strike for almost three months.

Hopes of resolving the crisis were dealt a blow on Monday when police attempted to clear the blockade at the border town of Birgunj. During clashes between security personnel and demonstrators, an Indian citizen was shot dead by the police.

Laxman Lal Karna, the leader of Sadbhavana party, one of the political groups leading the demonstrations, accused the Nepal government of trying to suppress their protest by force.

“The recent incident in Birgunj shows the government doesn’t want to resolve the issue by peaceful talks,” Karna said. “With that incident there’s no point in holding talks with the government.”

The crisis is also disrupting efforts to bring relief to survivors of the earthquakes that struck Nepal in April and May. Oxfam has called on the government of Nepal to resolve the standoff as a matter of urgency.

John Augsburger, Oxfam humanitarian programme director in Nepal, said: “The fuel crisis is narrowing the window we have to reach communities before the cold winter sets in. Temperatures frequently drop below zero in mountainous Nepal and this is going to take its toll on earthquake survivors – particularly the elderly, pregnant women and children.”

The petrol shortage may have caused more casualities when an overcrowded bus fell off a mountain road in Rasuwa district, north of Kathmandu, on 3 November. Local media reports said that 36 people were killed.

Bus accidents are commonplace in Nepal, but the chief district officer of Rasuwa, Shiva Ram Gelal, said the petrol crisis had meant that rules banning passengers from travelling on the roofs of buses were no longer being enforced.

“In recent days the lack of fuel has forced buses to carry more passengers than their capacity,” Gelal said. “Considering the current situation we cannot force the bus drivers to follow the law of carrying passengers according to the seat numbers.”


[Konviktion’s note: the situation is not in the hand of common people only ministers from two countries could solve this problem sooner. Hope things should not head towards a man made disaster which is thoroughly against India’s reputation]

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