It´s common for Nepali politicians to evoke the great hardships faced by those living in the Mid West and Far West regions. These regions, we are repeatedly told, represent the worst of Nepal: Record unemployment, lack of basic infrastructure, absence of electricity and clean drinking water, widespread illiteracy, the unaccountability of its politicians, all of which, we are assured, will change once the old way of doing politics is ditched for good in federal Nepal. Sadly, things are not so straightforward.
Take the Karnali zone in Mid Western Nepal. Yes, all the problems that dog the worst managed regions of the country ail it too. But the region, the country’s worst performer on almost all measures of human development, most often comes in the news these days for its chronic food shortages. Again, there are many reasons attributed to this sad state of affairs: Climate change which has played havoc with crop production, the region’s failure to revamp its outdated agriculture techniques and absence of proper roads among the laundry list. As if that were not enough, yet another problem has cropped up. The contractors tasked with supplying vital food material to the region have stopped their operations unless transportation fares are brought in line with the increased petro-prices.
There have been some hopeful interventions too. For instance, three years ago, the government announcement of a new program to combat malnutrition in the region by supplying under-two children with fortified flour had brought some cautious hope. Cautious because the Karnalibasis have time and again been sold tall dreams, only to leave them bitterly disappointed in the end. Three years on, their reservation seems perfectly justified. In 2011, fortified flour was available for only three months. This year, the situation is little better. Most under-two children in Karnali continue to be deprived of fortified flour; even what little is available is being consumed by the adults who have nothing else to eat.
In order to achieve MDG-4 goal, an important marker of a county’s socio-economic progress, infant and under-five mortality have to be cut down to 32 per 1,000 live births (from 41) and 38 (from 50) respectively by 2015-end. This will be hard to achieve unless the dire food security situation in Karnali improves drastically. For one, there is no guarantee that a change in political system will guarantee a level of food security (much less overall prosperity) for the people of Karnali. In fact, the region is more likely to be ignored as the focus of national politics shifts to the Tarai plains, the country’s bread basket and where more and more people are migrating to from up in the hills and mountains.
Sadly, things are likely to get worse before they get better in Karnali. Long term solutions are undoubtedly needed. For the time being, the government should ensure the resumption of vital supplies at the earliest. That is the least the neglected people of Karnali deserve