The political deadlock in Nepal and the blockade at the country’s border with India is putting the lives of more than three million children at risk in the Himalayan nation this winter, The United Nations Children’s Fund has warned.
The Madhesi people have imposed a trade blockade in the Terai region of Nepal in protest against the country’s new constitution, passed on September 19, in which they claim to have been left out.
Protesters for over two months have blocked key checkpoints from India, its largest trading partner, causing shortage of cooking gas, fuel, food, medicines and other essential supplies.
The disruption has also caused shortage of medicine, leaving aid organisations scrambling to deliver relief to homeless quake victims seven months after the April 25 disaster killed nearly 9,000 people.
The important meeting between the main political parties and protesters from the southern plains, which was scheduled for Wednesday evening was postponed indefinitely after politicians failed to made consensus on the demands of protesters.
UNICEF in a statement said that children under the age of five are at risk of death or disease during the harsh winter months due to a severe shortage of fuel, food, medicines and vaccines.
“Risks of hypothermia and malnutrition, and the shortfall in life-saving medicines and vaccines, could be a potentially deadly combination for children this winter,” said Anthony Lake, the agency’s executive director in the statement.
Nepal has blamed India for backing the protesters and using them to create an unofficial blockade because it is unhappy with its smaller neighbor’s new constitution.
India has denied the allegations by Nepal and on Wednesday reiterated its stand that problems facing by the Nepal are their internal affairs and should be solved through political dialogue between all the stakeholders.
Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal Chairman Upendra Yadav said “Our primary demands are redrawing state boundaries, delineating electoral constituencies based on population, inclusiveness, linguistic right and addressing issues related to citizenship.”
This deadlock has affected the Nepal’s vulnerable economy which is struggling after massive earthquake earlier this year.
The excessive use of firewood by people because of shortage of cooking gas could also endanger the health of Nepal’s children, the UN children’s agency warned.
Indoor pollution caused by the fires could lead to inflammation of children’s lungs. And this may cause infections including cases of pneumonia.
“The risks of hypothermia and malnutrition, and the shortfall in life-saving medicines and vaccines, could be a potentially deadly combination for children this winter,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s executive director.