UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
NEPAL: Maoist blockade hits vulnerable rural communities
KATHMANDU, 5 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - Rights activists, international aid workers and local NGO staff in Nepal are seriously concerned over the humanitarian consequences of a nationwide transport strike organised by Maoist rebels to block routes to the capital Kathmandu and other major cities.
The strike began on 2 April and is set to last for 11 days.
"Some three weeks ago, the UN and bilateral donors expressed their concern that blockades restricted and stopped humanitarian and development activities. Children are especially threatened as essential medical supplies such as vaccines and vitamins may not reach them in time and schooling is interrupted," UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nepal, Matthew Kahane, told IRIN on Tuesday.
While there is no sign of the strike or its immediate impact in the capital, other centres of population have been paralysed, according to human rights workers, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
In Nepalgunj, a key border city about 500 km west of the capital, the streets are totally deserted, local journalists told IRIN. Markets and shops have been shut down. There is no sign of public transportation, taxis or private vehicles anywhere. A handful of ambulances have been seen on the streets, and then only when they are escorted by army jeeps. On Saturday, the first day of the blockade, an ambulance was torched and destroyed at Satari village in Surkhet, nearly 50 km north of Nepalgunj.
"The Maoist blockade is already making the food situation worse as people are unable to travel from their villages to reach market areas," explained a rights worker in the city.
Villagers are dependent on market places in big towns and cities for the purchase of necessary supplies. Many have to travel for days to places like Nepalgunj, only to find all food outlets closed due to the strike.
"I repeat our call for free, safe and unhindered access for all groups providing emergency, humanitarian and development assistance to people at risk, and for aid workers to be protected," Kahane added.
Food security is also poor in Jumla district, about 600 km northwest of Kathmandu. The mountainous district is one of the poorest in Nepal and relies heavily on the provision of essential food by the government and some international donors. There are few roads in the region and private airlines that delivered food by air stopped flights on Sunday after rebels warned them not to fly for at least three weeks.
"The international community is as ever concerned at the impact of the Maoist blockade and bandh [strike]. This not only impedes development work carried out by international partners of Nepal, but also affects most of those who are the weakest and most vulnerable in society and risks bringing a humanitarian crisis," Mark Mallalieu, head of the UK's Department for International Development (DfID) office in Nepal, told IRIN.
Vulnerable communities are also being affecting in the remote, food-deficient area of Jajarkot, which lies 400 km northwest of the capital. Even traditional means of transport, like mules and porters, have stopped moving there due to fear of looting by the rebels.
In Butwal city, nearly 300 km west of Kathmandu, the shutdown of local transport is already affecting villagers, who say they only have a few days' supply of food to fall back on. There are around 70 Village Development Committees (VDCs) around Butwal where local people go to purchase essential supplies. "The situation looks very worrisome. It's especially the people living in hill areas who are made to suffer the worst," a local newspaper editor in Butwal told IRIN.
The strike is also having an impact on education, especially in rural areas. Many school children have to walk for hours to reach their schools and the same amount of time to return home due to the lack of transport.
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