November 18, 2015
Beginning last Sunday, the Nepali government began selling firewood to the public to augment the absence of cooking gas – just the latest sign that, with the onset of winter, India’s “unofficial blockade” at Nepal’s border has painted the country into very serious corner. Many life-saving medicines either have been used up or will be gone within weeks, perhaps less. Only 60% of private and boarding schools have reopened since the Diwali holidays and many of those are dubious as to how longer they can hold out. Ambulances have no fuel. Food prices continue to rise. Domestic air-flights have been reduced by half. 90% of factories have shut down, according the Rederation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Nepal Oil Company has announced that it cannot distribute any more fuel because it has run out of stock. And the earthquake survivors from the hardest hit districts – 400,000 people (80,000 families) remain in desperate need of shelter and food, more so each day as cold weather moves in.
Astoundingly, the standoff between the Indian and Nepali governments and the Madhesi groups (that are protesting ethnic-related clauses in the new constitution rushed into law) seems ever more intractable. It has been over 50 days since the 21 September blockade was created, with no signs of significant reconciliation between parties.
Nepal has focused on China as at least a partial solution. Petroleum products have come in from Nepal’s northern border. But until Chinese entry routes can be repaired, which were destroyed by the spring earthquakes, Beijing’s ability to assist is limited.
Suresh Acharya, a member of a high-level committee formed to draft the Common Policies and Programs of the present coalition government, wrote in yesterday’s The Himalayan Times:
It is also notable that the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Emergency Response Preparedness approach has been also rolled out in Nepal and it remains a priority country for emergency response preparedness. According to UN yardstick, Nepal is the fifth country in the world today with incidence of severe humanitarian crisis after Iraq, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Syria.
As far back as November 5, when a delegation of donor countries and aid agencies called on Prime Minister Oli, complaining that they had reached critical difficulties in providing assistance to earthquake survivors because of the fuel crisis, the alarm was sounded, to no avail. The delegation included heads of the EU, the British mission, the Japanese mission, the Asian Development Bank, USAID, among other aid agencies.
In the meantime, the Nepali government seems primarily interested in proving to the international community that the country’s problems are no one else’s business.