Time running out to get aid to parts of Nepal before winter arrives

Trucks stand stranded at Raxaul, in East Champaran district of India's Bihar state, near the India-Nepal border. (AP Photo/Aftab Alam Siddiqui)

With political protesters blocking a critical passageway from India to Nepal and main roads from China destroyed by landslides, fuel and aid supplies have been cut off – and a critical delivery window is about to close with the coming winter weather.

Only a few weeks remain to deliver aid to high-altitude areas of Nepal before they are cut off, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator warned last week.

“The humanitarian organizations in Nepal are facing a race against time to ensure delivery of urgently required supplies such as food and shelter materials to these high-altitude areas that will soon be cut off with the onset of winter,” according to the statement. “It is of critical importance to deliver supplies to the trailheads by end of October as the passes in the Himalayas will be at increased risk of being blocked by snowfall.”

Aid groups say they are unable to continue providing support because the flow of supplies suddenly stopped. The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) needs to reach approximately 224,000 people affected by the earthquake with shelter supplies and food.

“Because of the fuel crisis we’ve only been able to deliver 40 percent of the actual needs,” said Seetashma Thapa, communications officer for WFP, to Agence France-Presse on Sunday. “The situation is particularly critical as we are in a race against time to reach 84,000 people with vital food and supplies before the snow sets in.”

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Protests began in late September with the adoption of a new constitution. The thrust of the dispute is over the formation of the country. The new constitution establishes a secular government and seven provinces. The lines cut off majority ethnic Tharus and Madhesis provinces along the border with India. Opponents cried foul, calling for increased rights for the states and more territory. Protests stopped many vehicles from entering Nepal and opened a new dispute between Nepal and India.

India says that it is unsafe for its trucks to enter Nepal and that protesters are making it impossible to pass. Nepal says India is making excuses and withholding vehicles from entering. The result is the current fuel shortage, a lack of aid supplies and increased food prices. People are waiting for hours just to get fuel and are not using vehicles to save what little they have – disrupting everyday life and business in Nepal.

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Soon after the protests started, aid groups warned of the effects of being cut off from supplies. In early October, aid group Cordaid said its staff could not reach people living in and around Rasuwa on a regular basis. Scheduled truck deliveries of aid supplies were held off to the region because of the instability, the group said. The U.K.-based Our Sansar also struggled to reach the children it supports. Plan International is also stalled.

“We have to suspend most of our work,” said Ninh Nguyen, Plan’s Nepal’s field area manager, to TIME. “Our car is on hold for emergency cases, there is no supply transport and no materials. Most of the work was supposed to be completed by the monsoon season but we can’t move our materials from India, so now we have 5,000 families still waiting for shelter.”

Three weeks have passed and the problem persists. A meeting among government representatives over the weekend may help alleviate the problem. India will allow 300 trucks carrying fuel to enter through the country – away from the highly protested Raxaul.

Without a quick resolution to the conflict, time is running out.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.