An opportunity arose for me to visit Humla situated in the most remote and northerly region of Nepal. It was necessary to travel by air so I took a flight aboard Sita Airlines, and when I entered the small cockpit, my fellow passengers were a little boy with his mother. Inside the plane there were sacks of rice ready to fly with me to my destination. At first I was completely surprised and wondered, “These rice packages are as lucky as I, flying the skies with someone paying $120.” There were 52 rice sacks in total, which the air-hostess told me were sent by the government to feed the people of rural Humla.
After landing on the bumpy runaway, I heard noisy whistling by the locals from across the tarmac. I couldn’t understand why these villagers were whistling, but later I realised it was their expression of happiness and joy to welcome those rice sacks as their special guests in light of the rampant food crisis.
The whistling amused me and reminded me of the leftover food on my plate I would throw into the dustbin back home. But here, almost 20 villagers were desperately ready to carry this aid to their village. It stunned me knowing this as I had never seen such a welcome for food in this manner. Arriving at the headquarter of Simikot, I saw nearly 200 locals were waiting in the premises of a one-storey mud house office for the local food department.
45-year old Danbahadur Shahiwas was one of them. He said he had been waiting since day before yesterday for rice but had been unable to.
“I have come from very far; it took a 2-day long walk from my village Chhipra, but I know it is unlikely to get the ration for family. However, I am waiting to receive at least a small package of rice. Many times I returned empty. Fighting with other people is like a regular activity here.”
The next day I saw a 7-year old boy carrying a 10 kg rice package on his back. Stopped him, I asked “Why are you carrying rice instead of a school bag?” He was nervous at first, uttering that he was supposed to carry rice. He missed school but can’t forget to go to the headquarters of the Food Corporation.
45-year old Badma Raut from Khaddak also told me that her 3-year old grandson looks thinner than other children his age due to the malnutrition. Weighing 8.5 kgs, her grandson had become weak, since she was unable to feed him due to the food crisis.
“Those with access to politicians, administration, and hotel business-persons received food easily compared to commoners. There is a marked irregularity in food distribution,” she said.
According to the Nepal Development (NHDP) for 2004, nearly 63% of children under five suffered from chronic malnutrition.
Humli have to pay $5 per kg of rice for which they are restricted to merely 5 kg a month depending on availability. The Food Corporation is supposed to distribute sufficient rice to them but this practice fails due to corruption. Rice production in Nepal rose 12% last fiscal year. However, the rice crisis is rampant in Himalayan regions like Humla.
Nisha Rai is a Nepali journalist.