The top United Nations political official arrived in Nepal today for a three-day visit to assess the state of the peace process which ended 10 years of fighting between the Government and Maoists.
The visit comes as the peace process that ended the country’s civil war, which claimed some 13,000 lives, remains largely stalled, threatened by tensions and mistrust between Maoists, the Government and the army.
The signing of a peace accord ended the conflict in 2006. After conducting Constituent Assembly elections in May 2008, Nepal abolished its 240-year-old monarchy and declared itself a republic.
B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, held talks today with Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala and other congressional leaders, as well as with Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), and Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.
During these meetings, Mr. Pascoe underscored the importance of rebuilding trust and pushing ahead with the peace process.
He also conferred with the officials on the continuing contribution made by the UN political mission in Nepal, known as UNMIN, to the process.
UNMIN was set up at the request of the Government in 2007 to support the peace process, as well as to monitor the management of arms and armed personnel of the former Royal Nepal Army and the Maoists. Its current mandate runs until 15 May.
While in the Asian nation, Mr. Pascoe will meet with leaders of other political parties, the Defence Minister and the Army Chief of Staff. He also plans to travel to a Maoist cantonment site in Shatikhor in southern Nepal to witness UNMIN’s work in arms monitoring.
In his latest report on the mission, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the political positions of these groups has “hardened at the opposing ends of the political spectrum, which has seriously eroded the common middle ground that had, from the outset, defined the peace process and remained its driving strength.”
Prior to visiting Nepal, he stopped in India for a one-day meeting with Government officials in that country for discussions on a range of regional and international issues related to the UN.
In a related development, a UN-backed appeal was issued today for more than $120 million to help 3.4 million people across Nepal in need of life-saving food aid.
Nearly half of the country’s districts are short of food and the aid workers estimate that nearly 2.5 million people face extreme food insecurity, mainly in the Mid- and Far-Western Hill and Mountain Regions of western Nepal.
“As a country emerging from conflict, Nepal needs sustained international humanitarian support to see it through this fragile period of transition,” said John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.
With some 28,000 children dying every year from preventable diseases, including from the consequences of severe malnutrition, “most of these problems can be solved with adequate donor support,” he stressed.
Bolstering preparedness and early warning systems to reduce the number of people affected by future natural disasters has also been identified as top priorities by the humanitarian community.
Nepal is highly vulnerable to floods, landslides and earthquakes. Last year alone, some 152,000 people were affected by monsoon floods and landslides. Preparations in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene are also vital after a severe diarrhoea outbreak hit western Nepal in 2009.
According to a press release issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 70 per cent of household budgets are put towards food and dependence on subsistence agriculture remains high, rendering rural households especially vulnerable.
Funding for agriculture last year did not match needs, compounding the effects of the severe winter drought. OCHA said that had there been sufficient investment in this sector, the current food crisis could have been alleviated.
The Office also noted that while economic growth and development will take to take root in the wake of conflict, generalized poverty and the lack of social services have created widespread needs.
Seven UN organizations and three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are taking part in the appeal launched today. The funds sought – $123.5 million – will be used to improve food security, improve nutrition, strengthen disaster preparedness and assist refugees, including the nearly 90,000 refugees from neighbouring Bhutan.
These refugees had fled ethnic tensions in their home country in the early 1990s and are sheltering in seven camps in eastern Nepal.