As the Covid crisis pushes millions of Nepalis back below the poverty line affecting their nutritional status, the UK government is funding supplemental food for mothers and children affected by the monsoon and Covid-19 pandemic in Nepal.
The additional £788,000 (Rs130 million) will allow the World Food Programme (WFP) to support 100,000 mothers and children with specialised nutritional supplement ‘super cereal’ for two months in eight districts in Province 2, Sunsari in Province 1, Jajarkot in Karnali and Kanchanpur in Far West. Mothers in target areas will also receive counselling on Covid-19 and nutrition.
“Natural hazards affect marginalised communities disproportionately, including women and children. Protecting the health of the Nepali people is a top priority for the UK Government,” says Nathanael Bevan, Director of Development at the British Embassy in Kathmandu. “The UK is glad to be supporting WFP’s efforts to make sure vulnerable Nepalis, especially mothers and children, receive proper food and nutrition.”
The Covid crisis has reversed Nepal’s gains in poverty reduction and childhood malnutrition achieved in the past ten years.
Children as well as pregnant and breastfeeding months in rural Nepal are among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Currently, over 15% of households in Nepal are food insecure, while around 39% of children between 6 to 23 months do not meet minimum dietary requirements.
A WFP report earlier this year found that Nepal had up to 1.84 million pregnant and lactating women who were malnourished. This in turn affects the growth of their children as they receive inadequate nutrition even before they are born.
And as newborns they get mothers’ milk lacking in nutrition, leading to a greater risk of dying before the age of five. More than one-third of children under five face stunted growth.
Many of the older children also relied on school lunches for a nutritious meals but prolonged school closure means that they are also deprived of this.
In addition to reduced food intake, children and young mothers have been unable to access health services and immunisation facilities for the better part of the last year and a half due to restrictions of the movement.
“The pandemic and its socio-economic impact have put unrelenting pressure on Nepali families’ food security. Between December 2020 and June 2021, the number of households experiencing income loss has doubled – from 21 to 45% – making food increasingly out of reach for many,” says WFP Nepal Country director Jane Pearce. “This aid will enable us to reach the most vulnerable mothers and children whose lives have been made harder by Covid and now the monsoon.”
Since the start of the first nationwide lockdown on 24 March 2020, and the subsequent widespread disruption to normal economic activity, Nepalis have faced increased strain on household income, directly impacting their food intake.
In fact, they have reported increased job losses and a reduction in income over the past year and a half. While in December 2020, 5% of households reported job loss, it was nearly 14% in June 2021. Similarly, 21% of households reported a reduction in income in December 2020 while it was 45% in June 2021.
But most families have received little to no support from the government to tide them over the long months of pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.
Moreover, Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries to natural calamities and the impacts of climate change, tens of thousands of people are displaced by the floods and landslides every monsoon in lack of timely preparedness.
A part of the contribution will also go to help WFP conduct a new round of cross-country household food security surveys. This funding is in addition to the £4.49 million (Rs678 million) WFP received from the UK Government in December 2020 towards the agency’s response to Covid-19.