Boosting local food production — cereals, vegetables, fruit and meat—and linking Humla and other food deficit areas by road should receive high priority
Some remote districts produce far less food than their requirements, so they are labeled as food-deficit districts. They largely depend on food supplies from outside, but those supplies are so irregular that often those food-deficit areas hit the headlines for acute food scarcities. Some of those areas still do not have road access to the rest of the country, but have been road-linked, such as Jumla. Areas still without road access continue to face the food problem. Take the latest case of Humla, some of whose newly elected representatives are now in the capital pushing for resumption of rice supplies, stopped last month, as soon as possible. They are now doing the rounds of Nepal Food Corporation, the Ministry of Supplies and other government offices responsible in one way or other for ensuring food supply to Humla.
Remote areas without road access have been getting their supplies by air since 1975. But food supplies to remote districts, a government responsibility, have become erratic more often than normal for one reason or another. Bureaucrats have ready answers to escape responsibility, blaming others rather than themselves for perennial food shortages. Currently one of the reasons for the halt to the rice supply is the disagreement between government and airlines over the rates for carrying a kilo of rice to Humla. The government is ready to pay Rs. 79 to carry a kilo of rice from Surkhet to Humla and Rs. 89 from Nepalgunj airport, but airlines have rejected the offer. It is also reported that local residents recently persuaded airlines to carry a kilo of rice from Surkhet for Rs. 105 and from Nepalgunj for Rs. 115, but the government has turned it down. Government officials think these new rates are too high. Furthermore, the government could not agree on this rate without calling for tenders for rice supply. But the faults lie with the government agencies for making ad hoc arrangements without taking into account any possible disruption of supply and keeping ready an emergency plan to resume supply with minimum of delay. Over the past years, various excuses have been offered for the failure to supply food to deficit areas in time, and next year too, there is likely to be another excuse for any failure to supply food.
It is sad to say that the government agencies have failed to learn any lessons from the past. That is why the same problem recurs again and again over decades. Infrastructure building, particularly linking remote areas with roads, has not received the attention it deserves. Without transport links, the development of remote areas is not possible. Whatever development possibilities those areas possess remain untapped, and the things in which they abound cannot be marketed outside those areas without adequate transport. Humla produces about half of the food it needs and depends for the other half on outside production. When drought strikes, the situation becomes even more difficult for Humlis. Therefore, boosting local food production — cereals, vegetables and fruit and meat – and linking Humla and other food-deficit areas by road should receive high priority. In the meantime, the government must improve its food delivery system for the remote areas.
The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology is setting up nine lightning detection stations at different places to collect accurate information about lightning. A German technology is being used to collect information about lightning with support from the World Bank which granted Rs 40 million for the project. After the installation of equipment in the designated areas they will provide real time information about lightning that will also predict lightning.
Lightning detection stations will also help make weather forecasts more accurately. The latest technology will also help the weathermen to forecast which cloud might cause lightning. With the help of such information the department can warn people about the possibility of lightning. The five-year data show that as many as 553 persons were killed while 1,132 others injured due to the impact of lightning from 2011 to 2015. Lightning is the second biggest cause of deaths after floods and landslides. The best way to be safe from thunderbolts is to remain inside home during the lightning and install a metal bar on top of the roof and connect it with the earth in every household.
A version of this article appears in print on June 28, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.