Government selling rice donated for quake victims

Kathmandu, July 6

Nepal is selling thousands of tonnes of rice donated by China and Bangladesh to help earthquake victims, an official said today, despite aid agencies warning that survivors remain at risk of food shortages.

Nearly 9,000 people lost their lives when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake ripped through the Himalayan nation in April 2015, destroying more than half a million homes and leaving thousands without food or shelter.

Initial estimates by the World Food Programme said that around 1.4 million people were in urgent need of emergency food supplies, prompting governments to spring into action to help the desperately poor country.

According to the state-run Nepal Food Corporation, Dhaka and Beijing donated around 11,200 metric tonnes of rice, only 20 percent of which was distributed by the government to quake victims.

“The remaining rice has been sitting in our warehouse for 10 months and now that Bangladesh has donated even more rice to us, we don’t have enough space to store it all,” said Pawan Kumar Karki, NFC spokesman.

“So we started selling the rice last month and will deposit the proceeds in a fund operated by the government,” Karki told AFP.

No further details about the fund were available.

Kathmandu stopped distributing rice across quake-hit districts last June, just weeks after the disaster, according to Karki.

Yet more than a year later, disaster victims continue to be at risk of food shortages, aid officials told AFP.

“We were distributing rice, lentils and other supplies right until February... while there have been improvements, there are still pockets of food insecurity among households headed by single mothers or belonging to marginalised communities,” said a WFP spokeswoman.

The NFC’s Karki said that authorities also plan to dispatch 3,400 metric tonnes of donated rice to the remote Karnali region following last year’s poor monsoon and a prolonged winter drought, but no supplies have been sent yet.

With an estimated four million people still living in temporary shelters, Nepal has asked for $8.4 billion in aid to help rebuild the country.

But delays in formulating a reconstruction plan mean Kathmandu has received just $1.6 billion so far, around 40 percent of the $4.1 billion pledged by international donors.

Stung by criticism, the government has vowed to kick-start the rebuilding of schools and hospitals and speed up the distribution of a $2,000 payout to homeless households.

So far, some 24,000 families have received the first $500 instalment of the promised payout, fewer than five per cent of those left homeless by the disaster.