UN warns of food crisis

7 August 2009: Millions more people in Nepal are suffering severe food shortages after a “sharp and sustained decline in food security” in recent years, the United Nations warned Friday. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said 3.4 million Nepalese people had become “highly to severely food insecure” due to sharp food price rises and the 2008-09 winter drought, the worst in 40 years.

“In recent years, Nepal has experienced a sharp and sustained decline in food security,” the WFP said in a report released here Friday. “Compared to neighbouring countries and indeed countries around the world, Nepal food security situation has suffered considerably over the past three years.” Nepalese people are becoming more vulnerable to hunger every year as food production fails to keep pace with a growing population, the report said. It said the global economic crisis had exacerbated the food shortages caused by 10 years of civil conflict and ongoing political instability.

Nepal last year held its first elections since the end of the civil war in 2006, but the Maoist-led administration lasted just eight months and the coalition government that replaced it is widely viewed as weak. “Even prior to the recent deterioration in food security, the rate of malnutrition was alarming,” said the WFP. “The rate of chronic malnourishment in children under five is estimated at 48 percent, with an average rate of 60 percent in mountain areas. “This is the worst level of malnourishment in Asia, and is comparable to the worst countries in Sub-Saharan Africa… Yet Nepal is not internationally associated with harrowing images of hunger.”

While food insecurity was once limited to certain parts of the country, the majority of families in Nepal are now being forced to take “desperate measures” to sustain themselves, it said.

Many households have been forced to sell land and reduce portions or cutting the number of meals they ate daily.