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Nepal: UN agency says 2.5 million in need of immediate food aid

Nepal: UN agency says 2.5 million in need of immediate food aid

Richard Bennett of the human rights office (OHCHR)  in Nepal  (file Photo)
Around 2.5 million people in rural Nepal are in immediate need of food assistance and an additional 3.9 million are at risk of becoming food insecure because of rising prices, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said in a report released today.

An additional 500,000 people in urban areas are also at risk, the agency said, with the country as a whole facing low economic growth, high unemployment and rising prices, all of which pose a serious threat to the ongoing peace process.

In the past six months the highest price increases have been for cooking oil (26 per cent), coarse rice (19 per cent) and kerosene (13 per cent). Supplies in basic commodities have also decreased, by as much as 44 per cent for kerosene, 30 per cent for coarse rice, and 20 per cent for lentils, cooking oil and fine rice.

WFP says Nepal is facing a serious fuel shortage, heavily affecting transportation costs which have risen by 27 per cent.

Although wage rates for unskilled labour have risen, the purchasing power of households for food has gone down because of the rise in commodity prices. People in Nepal are buying smaller quantities and buying cheaper food items, according to WFP, which says higher malnutrition rates may be on the way.

The UN agency concludes that Nepal’s farmers are unlikely to overcome in the near future the challenges posed by limited irrigation coverage, limited use of fertilizers and improved seed varieties, and increasing input costs.

In a separate development, the representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR-Nepal) has called for a commitment by those in authority to implement laws banning torture.

Referring to Nepal’s recent civil conflict, Richard Bennett said: “Ill-treatment and torture of detainees were systematically used during the conflict, but it would be wrong for us to think that their use ceased after the conflict ended, or even that it did not occur before the conflict. In many parts of the country, these violations of human rights continue in places of detention. Thus, ending ill-treatment and torture remains as important today as it has ever been.”

Mr. Bennett was speaking at the launch of a practical guide to detention monitoring, which took place yesterday in the capital, Kathmandu.

“The State has an obligation to make torture a criminal offence and to encourage investigation and prosecution of acts of torture. However, it is not enough to have a good legal framework – the law must be implemented, and established patterns of behaviour have to be changed. This requires commitment from those in positions of authority, and the tireless efforts of civil society,” he added.

Meanwhile, at UN Headquarters in New York Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon tonight opened a photo exhibition about the peace process in Nepal, stressing that “the hard work has only just begun” in the Asian country.

“Drafting a new constitution over the next two years will be a major achievement and challenge,” he said. “There are many other complex questions that remain to be addressed, including delivering new economic opportunities for the people.”

Mr. Ban urged Nepal’s political parties to overcome partisanship and work together.

“Achieving an ‘inclusive peace’ may be the biggest challenge of all,” he added. “It will not be easy to unite this mosaic of a nation behind a shared vision for the future.”