by Barsha Dharel

After a stalemate of 8 long years, the first ever constitution written by people’s representatives was promulgated on 20th September 2015 in Nepal. The country, however, remained divided, especially on few contentious issues on social inclusion and federal demarcation.

Madhesi (indigenous group based predominantly in the Terai Plains region in Nepal) and Tharu (ethnic group indigenous to Terai) parties opposed the new constitution stating that it curtailed the rights of Madhesis, Tharus, Dalits (so-called-untouchables), Janajatis (indigenous groups) and other marginalised communities. This led to violent protests and political unrest, leading to the deaths of more than 40 protestors, civilians and security officers in various parts of the southern plains.

Indefinite general strike called by Madhesi parties, amidst curfew, continues to cripple life across the region. In this context, Nepal’s southern neighbor and major trading partner, India, expressed their dissatisfaction with the constitution, leading to unofficial ‘trade blockade’ that resulted in acute shortages of basic supplies such as Petrol, Diesel, Kerosene and Cooking Gas in the landlocked country which is recuperating after the recent earthquake. The mountainous geography in northern side means limited trade routes with China, and almost all trading points were destroyed during the earthquake.

India has however denied placing an embargo on Nepal and has cited security reasons in the border areas for making the trucks and other vehicles carrying essential supplies impassable. Over 4,000 trucks are said to have been stranded near Indo-Nepal border.

Following this, the government has introduced fuel rationing by only allowing vehicles with odd-number plates to operate on odd days and even ones on even days. In addition, quota system has also come into effect wherein each vehicle is allocated certain amount of fuel per week.

Many airlines have temporarily suspended flights to Nepal stating that without refueling at the Nepal’s only International Airport in Kathmandu, they wouldn’t be able to operate. Jet fuel crisis is likely to deepen in days in come.

The current fuel crisis has especially impacted humanitarian aid efforts in Nepal that began following the devastating earthquakes in April and May. In absence of basic supplies, many organizations are struggling to continue their ongoing efforts of reconstruction and rebuilding in various earthquake-affected areas.

Real Medicine Foundation, a humanitarian organization based in Los Angeles, USA, that was engaged in providing immediate relief through distribution of food, shelter supplies, water filtration, solar lights and other basic needs to many communities in Sindhupalchok, Kavre, Gorkha and are currently implementing longer term projects to support health posts and schools in close collaboration with government, INGOs/ NGOs and local stakeholders, explained that the ongoing major fuel crisis will hinder the efforts of various international and national development organizations and will impact the communities recuperating from the recent devastation.

Schools in the valley have begun closing down, as the school authorities aren’t able to provide food and continue their operation due to shortages in cooking gas and fuel for school buses. Many of these children were already studying at the temporary learning centers. More than 16,000 public and private schools were destroyed and thousand more damaged due to the earthquake (UN OCHA, 2015). In Gorkha district alone, 90% of the 500 schools have been destroyed or badly damaged, affecting 75,000 schoolchildren. (Save the Children, 2015).

Therefore, in this light, the international community must advocate for the peaceful resolution of the contentious issues through political dialogue to resolve the current crisis, which if left unsolved, will have dire consequences leading to acute shortages of food, closing down of schools, hospitals and other critical services to the people already affected by the disaster.

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