India’s ‘blockade’ snuffs out Nepal’s medical lifeline

Border turmoil has led to an acute shortage of life-saving medicines, Red Cross Society says.

People have queued from dawn to dusk to get fuel rationed by the government [Niranjan Shrestha/AP]
People have queued from dawn to dusk to get fuel rationed by the government [Niranjan Shrestha/AP]

The three-month closure of Nepal’s main border crossing with India has led to a dangerous shortage of essential medicines and other supplies, including oxygen, the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) said on Saturday.

The landlocked Himalayan nation imports more than 50 percent of its medicine with the bulk of it coming from India.

“Nearly 95 percent of Nepal’s population is affected by the shortages as most of the medicines and fuel is imported from India,” Dibya Raj Paudel, spokesman of NRCS, told Al Jazeera.

Paudel said the situation was deteriorating by the day with no resolution in sight to end what Nepalese politicians say is an “unofficial blockade” of the South Asian nation of 30 million people.

“People in the capital, Kathmandu, are queuing from dawn to dusk to get fuel rationed by the government,” Paudel said.

Analysis: The blockade politics in Nepal

According to media reports, some hospitals in Kathmandu have cut down on the number of surgical operations because of a shortage of supplies.

Tulsi Dhahal, coordinator of emergency operations in the health ministry, told Al Jazeera that “more than 300 trucks carrying medicines are stuck at the border”.

The Red Cross, which runs more than 100 blood transfusion centres across the country, is facing shortages of blood bags.

“If the supply is not restored the stocks are going to dry up in another 15 to 20 days,” Paudel said.

The ethnic Madhesi minority say Nepalese politics dominated by the ethnic majority needs to change [Bhusan Yadav/EPA]

Nepal’s government has started selling firewood to make up for cooking gas shortages that the country relies so heavily on its southern neighbour for.

People from the Madhesi ethnic minority in the southern plains have protested since September against a new constitution which they say leaves them underrepresented and politically marginalised.

Tensions and violence have spread with anti-Madhesi and anti-India sentiment rising in the south. Several rounds of talks have failed to resolve the issue.

On Friday, a truck loaded with locally produced medicine was torched in the southern border town of Birgunj.

A Nepali journalist, who did not want to be named fearing reprisals, said it was unknown who was responsible, but politicians could use the incident to fan the flames of anti-Madhesi sentiment, he told Al Jazeera.

India has urged Nepal to amend its constitution in line with the demands of the Madhesi people. New Delhi denies any role in the border blockade.

“The issues facing Nepal are political in nature. They are internal to Nepal and the Nepalese leadership has to resolve them through dialogue with agitating parties,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup was recently quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

Birgunj is the main crossing between the two South Asian neighbours [Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters]

Protests have claimed more than 50 lives, mostly Madhesis, and come months after a catastrophic earthquake killed nearly 9,000 people.

“The situation for the survivors of the April earthquake is even worse as many of them still stay in relief camps while winter has arrived,” Paudel from NRCS said.

A health ministry official told Al Jazeera that “right now the situation is under control. We are trying to manage the supply, but things will get worse if the blockade continues”.

Dr Guna Raj Lohani, chief of the Curative Division at the health ministry, said it was exploring alternative ways of getting crucial medical supplies into the country.

“In the long run, we are trying to find alternative sources of importing medicines. We may try to get medicines from China and Bangladesh,” he said.

“Our only worry is that medicines from other countries will cost more.”

Some hospitals in Kathmandu have reportedly slowed down the number of surgical operations amid low supplies [Niranjan Shrestha/AP]
Source : Al Jazeera


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