The common people in the remote hills of the far west are currently having to cope with a severe shortage of food and fuel. Weeks of political demonstrations and strikes in the region have affected regular supplies. Humla, Mugu, Bajura, Kalikot and Jumla, according to news reports, are facing a shortfall in foodstuffs. Continuous snowfall has worsened the situation in some of these places. Nepal Food Corporation (NFC) officials say they are making efforts to reach the supplies via Chinese roads to places like Humla. These efforts highlight the level of difficulties in the delivery of goods in the region. Keeping in view the possibility of strikes and shutdowns, the Commerce and Supplies Ministry had directed the NFC to reach foodstuffs there in a timely manner. But officials are now ruing over the lack of budget, which, they say, was slashed by one fourth to Rs. 370 million. This has apparently affected the NFC’s work.
The scenario throws bare some distinct aspects of the sufferings of the people in the far west. One, food and fuel supplies to the far west have always been difficult, shutdown or no shutdown, budget or no budget. The terrain is difficult for transportation, and snowfall hampers efforts. The Chinese roads are better, but using them involves extra efforts. So preparing a long-term plan for delivery of goods and services in the region and implementing it with urgency are imperative at one level. At another, more immediate level, the government should enable the local authorities to check the black market that springs up to take advantage of each situation of scarcity in the region. Two, the local political parties and groups, which are continuing their protests over weeks to press for their demands, should be sensitive to the immediate needs of the people they claim to represent.
It is not the job of the government alone to reach food and fuel to this region. The local leaders will also need to play a proactive role and work with the local authorities to regulate imports, exports and markets. The leaders’ first job is to ease the hardship of their constituents, not to add burdens to them, such as causing a famine-like situation by way of shutdowns. Normally, it is sad to talk of food shortage in regions of a nation that has harped on agriculture as being its mainstay for decades and decades. This is a stark reminder that we better adjust our national rhetoric. There are funds being invested to promote seasonal and off-seasonal farms. Maybe, the government and non-government funds should target production of crops in areas and times that will meet the needs such as those of the far-west districts when they routinely suffer shortages due to natural reasons and disturbances. As manmade disturbances are adding to their sufferings at the moment, we can only say, let reason prevail among the local leaders and authorities. For the NFC, it should give up its habit of citing budget and snowfall excuses every time food runs short in the far west. It should have put a working supply system in place a long time ago.