Residents close to the epicentre of the catastrophic Nepal earthquake are paying as high A$ 65 (US$ 46, Rs 5,000) for a sack of 25 kg rice as opposed to their expatriate brothers and sisters in Australia who pay somewhere between A$ 55 to A$ 60 for the same amount of the staple food, depending on the brand your family prefers.
However, it is but a matter of common sense that the Nepalese people living seven seas away earn astronomically high compared to those who live in the far-flung villages of the devastated Gorkha district. A simple, unofficial comparison of incomes should put things into a better perspective.
A newly-arrived immigrant in Australia with a basic job will spend only three hours worth of income to buy that sack of rice (approximately A$ 55 to A$ 60) but a labourer in country Nepal (if privileged to have a job in the first place) would probably work 10 hard days to buy the rice bag (Rs 5,000) in question.
These soaring food prices are likely to cause a large-scale malnutrition and humanitarian crisis in the landlocked nation, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.
India and Nepal have been locked in a diplomatic imbroglio for months with the former blockading the major trade entry points between the two neighbours. As Nepal is heavily dependent on India for its supply of essential commodities, the Himalayan nation is currently experiencing acute food and fuel shortage. India argues it has placed no blockade, which it claims is the result of the Madhesis agitating against the new constitution.
WFP’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific has expressed serious concern about Nepalese people increasingly not being able to cope with the ‘extreme hardship’ created by the ‘major disruptions in food and fuel imports across its southern border with India’. The UN body claims there has been a 50 percent increase in the prices of staple food items compared to last year, and 30 percent since August this year alone.
The cost of cooking oil, rice, lentils, sugar and salt have soared in recent weeks as supplies dwindle, WFP said in a press release yesterday, December 11.
This has particularly alarmed WFP’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific David Kaatrud, “If trade remains restricted and food prices continue to rise, a serious humanitarian crisis will be hard to avoid. People are struggling to feed their families as the cost of food rises beyond their grasp. Coming so soon after the recent earthquake, this crisis could severely test people’s ability to cope, and may lead to an increase in malnutrition.”
Ironically, WFP’s account appears to show, victims of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake who were hit the hardest are paying the most exorbitant prices. On the other hand, ideally speaking, they should have been the ones paying the least. Similarly, the cost of fuel has gone up by a whopping 630% with a gas cylinder costing anywhere between Rs 8,000 and Rs 11,000.
Mr Kaatrud urged all sides to immediately end their diplomatic tussels so that the miseries of the Nepalese people may come to an end, “WFP urges all sides to once again allow the free flow of food items across the border to ensure that Nepalis, especially those who struggle on a day-to-day basis to feed their families, are not the ones who bear the burden of this protracted political stand-off.”
WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian agency which assists some 80 million people in 80 countries, further pointed out that a quarter of the Nepalese population live on less than US$1.25 a day, and on average spend 60 percent of their income on food.
“This means that most have only a limited capacity to cope with shocks such as disasters and soaring food prices,” the press statement pointed out.