Nepali Times
"Disaster in the making"

Nepali Times: Nepal has always had a food crisis, why is this one so serious?

Richard Ragan: Even prior to this crisis, every other child under five in Nepal faced chronic malnourishment which means they can't reach their full mental or physical potential because they don't have enough food to eat. These figures are comparable to many Sub-Saharan countries. Now add to the hunger problem the recent crises: successive years of drought, double digit food inflation, paused development because of conflict, and the global economic meltdown. It's a country-wide disaster in the making that could undo hard won gains Nepal has made during the last two decades against poverty and hunger.

When will we start seeing the impact?
We are already seeing the impact. More than 40 per cent of Nepal's population is undernourished and more than 30,000 children die every year of malnutrition-related diseases, yet this has yet to grab headlines here or in the world.

What does the government need to do urgently?
There are millions of people hungry now that need help to save their lives. Addressing hunger and providing basic services like medical care needs to be a national and international priority. Both the government and the international community need to address immediate hunger and medical and sanitation needs, while at the same time investing in basic infrastructure so that people can pull themselves out of the hunger trap. I believe food for work activities are a key part of the response because it meets hunger needs while enabling people to build infrastructure that contributes to longer-term food security.

And in the longer term?
The government should make household food security as important as macro-production. People often look at national production figures without a focus on how this translates to what a family is able to put on the table, particularly for the most poor. Producing enough food at a macro-level isn't enough if the majority of the population doesn't have access to it because they can't afford it or find it in the local market. This means focusing on ways to help rural communities grow enough food to feed themselves by providing access to seed, building community irrigation, improving post harvest storage, and building roads that support markets for farmers. In short, government should view small farmers like national assets, after all, more than 80 per cent of Nepal's people are involved in some aspect of agriculture.

How much time do we have before Nepal's silent food emergency turns into famine conditions?
I'm hesitant to use the word famine because it evokes pretty strong reactions. They are usually caused by a combination of political, economic and environmental factors all of which are prevalent in the country today. Nepal is already facing a "silent food crises" and it won't take much to nudge things over the edge.

Early warning - FROM ISSUE #463 (07 AUG 2009 - 13 AUG 2009)
Less food, more mouths to feed - FROM ISSUE #463 (07 AUG 2009 - 13 AUG 2009)
Confusion in the time of cholera - FROM ISSUE #463 (07 AUG 2009 - 13 AUG 2009)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)