Food shortage looming large in Mugu, Dolpa districts of Karnali ProvinceThe Food Management and Trading Company Limited could not transport food to Mugu due to lockdown and disruption of Namga-Gamgadhi road by floods and landslides.
Kaushila Rokaya of Soru Rural Municipality Ward No.6 in Mugu walked for two days to reach the depot of Food Management and Trading Company Limited in Gamgadhi, the district headquarters, last week. She walked all the way there to buy rice since the shops in her village had run out of the foodgrain. However, she returned home empty handed, as the depot did not have any rice.
"We cannot buy rice in shops or the food depot," said 47-year-old Rokaya. “Poor people like us would die of famine than of disease during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
According to the Food Management and Trading Company Limited, there are five food depots in Mugu and all of them are now empty, as they could not bring in rice during the nationwide lockdown and also due to disruption of vehicular movement along the Namga-Gamgadhi road section by floods and landslides.
"We could not bring in rice due to the nationwide lockdown. And the road section was disrupted for one-and-a-half months," said Karna Bahadur Rawal, the district chief of the Food Management and Trading Company Limited. The blocked road section came into operation last week.
With food shortage looming large in the mountain districts of Karnali Province, many like Rokaya are scrambling to buy food to feed their families. New crops are yet to be harvested in the region while almost all the food depots are now empty, as they could not bring in subsidised rice due to disruption in Karnali Highway.
"We have already used up our stock of old grains and new crops are yet to be harvested," said Gaukala Nepali, a resident of Soru Rural Municipality Ward No 4. "I walked all day to Sorukot to buy rice but returned home with some beans instead, as there was no rice there. I am very worried about how to manage food for my six-member family."
The depot of the Food Management and Trading Company Limited in Sorukot has been empty for the past three months. The short supply of subsidised rice in the depot has affected the locals of Narthapu, Jima, Sorukot, Purumure and Photula, among other settlements in the area.
"There used to be enough rice in the local shops in Sorukot. Now, we can not even buy even a few kilograms of rice here. The local traders hide rice and create artificial shortage," said Takka Bahadur Shahi, a local of Sorukot. He said his family has been consuming boiled potatoes, as he could not get any rice.
Similarly, Pulu food depot in Mugamkarmarong Rural Municipality, which is often hit by food insecurity due to less crop production, has been empty since May.
"The situation in the local unit has gotten worse in the past month," said Chhiring Kyapne Lama, the chairman of Mugamkarmarong Rural Municipality. He urged the concerned authorities to supply rice to the remote areas of the district at the earliest. “All four local bodies in Mugu have been facing food shortage since the start of the lockdown in March.”
Keeping in view the food shortage, the district food management committee has demanded the government to supply 6,000 quintals of food in Mugu district immediately. "The food quota demanded by the committee has been approved. We will transport food to the district within a week," said Rawal, the district chief of the food management company.
Meanwhile, the depot in upper Dolpa has been empty for the past year. The local people of Dolpobuddha, Shey-phoksundo and Chharkatangsong rural municipalities are compelled to buy rice in the market at a high price, as there is no food at the depot.
The District Food Management Committee in Dolpa had allocated 3,000 quintals of foodgrains for upper Dolpa last year. But the food company has yet to transport the food.
"Last fiscal year ended without us receiving even a single sack of rice. This year as well, the authorities have yet to bring in food," said Pema Gurung, a local of Dolpobuddha. According to him, a kg of rice costs Rs 52 at the foot depot while the same amount of rice costs Rs 80 in the local market.
However, the food shortage is affecting only the upper Dolpa region, as four food depots in the lower Dolpa region have enough subsidised rice.
“We have enough rice at the depots in the district headquarters and three others in lower Dolpa. Only the upper Dolpa region is reeling under food shortage," said Kamalraj Pandey, the district chief of the Food Management and Trading Company Limited. “The central office, which is responsible for transporting rice in the region, has not done anything to address the problem.”
Upper Dolpa is a remote region in the Karnali Province which is not connected with the road network.
"Only potato, wheat and Uwa can be grown in the region and the local food production is not enough for the villagers," said Temba Gurung, the chairman of Dolpobuddha Rural Municipality. “The only way to transport food in the region is via air services. We have urged government authorities to supply food to the region but our requests have gone unheard.”