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Winter drought worsens food insecurity in Nepal

Winter drought has led to a severe drop in crop production in Nepal, placing more than two million people at high risk of food insecurity, according to a joint assessment released this week by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MoAC), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

The 2008/2009 winter drought - one of the worst in the country’s history - has destroyed crops across Nepal, with wheat and barley production reduced by 14 and 17 percent respectively. Crop yields in some districts in Mid- and Far-Western Nepal – which received less than 50 percent of average rainfall during the period from November 2008 to February 2009 - have dropped by more than half.

The report – which was produced by MOAC, WFP and the FAO – estimates that 40 of the 75 districts are food deficit because of the drought and also expresses serious concerns about the nutrition situation across Nepal. Half of children under the age of five in these districts are stunted, while 39 percent of children are underweight and 13 percent are severely malnourished.

In response to the crisis, WFP plans to increase the number of people it is assisting in the most food insecure areas of Nepal from 1.5 million to 2.2 million in the coming weeks. WFP will provide food assistance for an additional 700,000 persons while helping drought-affected communities build up assets through a variety of Food for Work and Food for Training projects. At the same time, FAO plans to work with local communities to expand irrigation networks while distributing seeds for the next harvest.

“We are extremely concerned with the present food supply situation,” said Bui Thi Lan, FAO Country Representative. “We urge more efforts from the Government of Nepal and the international community to provide immediate support for the next season crop to farmers in Far and Mid –Western regions where 75 percent of the cultivated land is un-irrigated,” Lan continued, adding that timely support in terms of agricultural inputs, especially seeds, fertilizers and repair of small irrigation schemes will help needed farmers in these areas get a better harvest for their own food security.

“We are already noticing that people have started to sell their assets, migrate for work and in some cases skip meals,” said Richard Ragan, WFP Representative in Nepal. “This is very worrying. We are also concerned about the impact that road blockades and increased food and fuel prices are having on mountain and hill markets. The supply of food stocks in local markets is insufficient and in some cases depleted,” he said, adding that farmers – who make up more than 60 percent of Nepal’s population – depend upon the country’s winter crop production to tide them over until the main crop is harvested in September/October.

by S. C.
03 june 2009, World News > Africa