Foodless festival

The news that Bajurelis are suffering from an acute food crisis — that, too, on Dashain eve — tells a lot about the food distribution system of the government. Food shortages in some other remote areas have also been reported in recent weeks. The government allots 5,100 quintals of rice to Bajura’s 27 VDCs a year and it is stocked in the Nepal Food Corporation’s (NFC) godowns at Kolti and Martadi. A report says the Kolti godown is now left with just 62 kg of rice. Officials say efforts are under way to collect food for the district. Bajura is just a case. Stories of acute food shortages in other remote districts have also appea-red in the press year after year. But this cycle of shortages goes on. Besides, many of the people in remote areas who suffered from the recent floods and landslides or were subsequently displaced are reportedly reeling under shortages. Achham is another example.

Everybody knows the remote hills are chronically food-deficit. It is not that there is a lack of agencies and mechanisms for supplying foodgrains. The state-owned NFC is the main agency for the purpose. The fact that shortages occur year in and year out is sufficient proof of the government’s indifference to the plight of those people. To a large extent, it is true for many poor people in the remote districts that they get to have rice, dal and curry only during

festivals like Dashain. The failure to reach food to the needy seems to deny them even this rare luxury. Almost every year, Bajurelis, including the elderly and children, are forced to migrate southwards to flee the food crunch. This is a matter of utter shame for the government.

The problem persists not because the authorities cannot anticipate food shortages, but because they simply do not have any interest in taking preventive measures. Last year, too, it was reported that some Bajurelis were surviving on water for days on end, as there was nothing left in the village to eat, and some 700 people migrated from one VDC alone to beat hunger. What is even more appalling is the lack of official action despite the local residents’ repeated warnings about the shortages. Every year, most of these food-deficit areas experience snowfall, blocking all access to them. That should be all the greater reason for those in positions of responsibility to ensure timely delivery of food. As officials have displayed this criminal negligence of duty almost every year, they cannot hide behind lame excuses. The main reason why this happens repeatedly is the failure of the government to take action against the defaulting officials. Food shortages have rarely occurred because of inadequate national food reserve. The government needs to take extraordinary measures to supply food to those areas. Perhaps it may be too late for the Bajurelis and others to count on this supply to have some merry-making this Dashain. Nothing but action will win back the confidence of a people fed up with empty assurances of successive governments.