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Nepal: top UN envoy says conducive climate for upcoming elections crucial

Nepal: top UN envoy says conducive climate for upcoming elections crucial

The senior United Nations envoy to Nepal said today that while the peace process in the Himalayan nation is on track, it is vital to create a conducive political and security climate for the holding of credible elections next month.

Preparations for the upcoming Constituent Assembly election – slated to be held on 22 November – are underway, but “considerable challenges” remain, Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Nepal Ian Martin told reporters in New York after briefing the Security Council.

Although the country’s peace process started out focused primarily on ending the conflict between the Maoists and the State, it has become increasingly more complicated as traditionally marginalized groups ask for fair representation in the process, Mr. Martin noted.

“Dialogue with these groups needs to continue to ensure that there is a consensus so that the electoral system will operate fairly so far as all groups are concerned,” he said.

While satisfying these groups’ concerns will contribute to improving public security, cooperation among local political parties is also crucial.

“I don’t believe that public security can be assured by policing alone,” said Mr. Martin, who also heads the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).

Since the Nepalese police are “significantly demoralized, political parties have to cooperate amongst themselves to create a situation in which they respect each other’s rights to campaign and to avoid the intimidation of voters,” he added.

Hoping to take full advantage of the international presence in the country both before and during the election, the Government and the Election Commission have invited as many international observers as possible, he said. UNMIN itself is also increasing its presence in Nepal.

Regarding the second stage of registration at Maoist cantonment sites, Mr. Martin noted that there have been difficulties. However, after discussions with Maoist Chairman Prachanda, there is now an “agreement in principle to proceed.”

In a related development, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that over a million people in Nepal are in danger of food insecurity after a series of natural disasters have wreaked havoc on crop production.

According to a joint report, prolonged drought, hail storms and flooding in the most agriculturally productive areas has led to a grain deficit 225,000 metric tons, with 42 of the country’s 75 districts reported to be food deficient.

“This is particularly troubling during this highly sensitive post-conflict period,” said Richard Ragan, WFP’s representative in Nepal.

He added that those living in the remote areas of mid- and far-western Nepal are suffering as a result of consecutive years of drought and enduring impacts of the 11-year insurgency.

WFP hopes to reach 1.2 million people through a new $49 million Peace and Recovery Programme, and appeals to donors for support.

“The process of national reconciliation can only make headway if the whole country shares in improved access to food and markets, lower rates of malnutrition and a determined risk management strategy for food security,” said Henri Josserand, Chief of the FAO Global Information and Early Warning System.

The report recommends bolstering irrigation availability, strengthening the Government’s agricultural monitoring systems and providing immediate food support for drought and conflict-affected communities.