Fuel shortages see Catholic groups struggle to deliver aid

Pragati Shahi, Kathmandu, Nepal / ucanews.com

November 20, 2015 : Earthquake-shattered Nepal is facing a humanitarian crisis due to an acute shortage of vital supplies, including fuel and medicine.

The scarcity of lifesaving drugs and medical supplies has become so severe that several large private and government-run hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley have been forced to scale back important treatment this week, news reports say.

"We’ve run out of essential drugs and medical supplies, so we have been forced to reduce the number of lifesaving operations," said Dr. Bhagwan Koirala, senior heart surgeon at Manmohan Cardiothoracic Vascular and Transplant Centre in Kathmandu.

The shortages are a result of a months-long Indian border blockade being waged by indigenous Madeshi and Tharu ethnic groups angry at a new constitution they say robs them of their identity and representation.

At least 45 people have been killed in various protests in the landlocked nation since August, when the blockade at the Indian border began.

Much of Nepal’s imports enter the country via India.

It is estimated that about 60 percent of Nepal’s essential drugs are imported from India while the remaining 40 percent are locally manufactured.

While imported medical supplies are failing to get across the border, the distribution of locally produced drugs and equipment are being hampered by a shortage of fuel.

The shortage of surgical supplies is most critical when compared with other medicines and it will get worse as long as the blockade continues, according to Shankar Ghimire, president of the Association of Pharmaceutical Producers of Nepal.

 

'We don’t have fuel to run our vehicles'

Concern over the worsening conditions in the country is mounting among aid organizations battling to help victims of the deadly earthquakes that rocked the nation in April.

Catholic aid organizations say their activities in earthquake-affected districts, such as Sindupalchok, Dolakha and Ramechap, have been seriously affected for more than a month now.

"All work related to the earthquake, including the distribution of supplies, training locals to rebuild schools and houses, school materials for students and supplying needy families with necessities, have been affected as we don’t have fuel to run our vehicles," said Salesian Father Jijo John of the Nepal Don Bosco Society.

"We were providing training camps for locals to help them rebuild villages … destroyed during the earthquake. But with no fuel or cooking gas available, training has had to be suspended for a month now," he added.

Much of the funding for these projects has come through donors who are now asking about how the funds are being spent, Father Jijo said.

"We are not able to spend the funds as we would like. Donors are becoming increasingly anxious that their donations are not being spent as expected," he said.

Similarly, Caritas Nepal, which is trying to work in 15 of the worst affected districts, is feeling the heat from the blockade as well.

Almost 70,0000 households are suffering because vehicles are not transporting relief materials and aid workers are unable to reach remote areas due to the lack of fuel.

The organization was sending 12 to 15 vehicles each day to deliver relief materials, but now it can only muster two vehicles, said Prakash Khadka, communication, monitoring and evaluation coordinator at Caritas Nepal.

"If the crisis continues, we will be unable to help earthquake victims or conduct other regular activities," he said.

On Nov. 20, in response to a growing public outcry and mounting concerns about a humanitarian crisis, the protesters at the Nepal-India border posts agreed to allow trucks carrying medical supplies to cross at one checkpoint only.

The decision was taken on humanitarians ground, they said.

"However, this would not solve the crisis," according to Ghimire.

"The acute shortage of fuel means we will still struggle to deliver the supplies to where they are most needed."


Catholic News from Nepal

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