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Nepal: Conflict area assessed

13-01-2003 News Release 03/06

The ICRC has completed a survey of the districts worst affected by the conflict in Nepal. In a six-week multi-disciplinary operation, the organization gauged economic security in much of the country's remote west-central region.

Since fighting escalated between Nepal's security forces and Maoist insurgents, followed by the government's declaration of a state of emergency in November 2001, large areas of the country's west-central region have become very difficult to reach. Alarming newspaper articles have reported a looming food crisis in the area, which is among the country's poorest. However, little first-hand information from independent sources has been available.

In the course of their survey, ICRC staff visited both areas controlled by the government and by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, talking to villagers and representatives of both parties.

They concluded the following.

  • For the time being there was no acute food crisis in the areas surveyed; agriculture was being pursued fairly normally and families'overall economic security remained comparable to that of normal times.

  • Restrictions imposed by both parties, a chronically poor transport system, and insecurity arising from the fighting were all inhibiting commerce and transport.

  • If the above-mentioned problems persist or worsen, they could deprive families of their primary coping mechanisms and interfere with local men's practice of seeking work abroad or in wealthier areas of Nepal. This could precipitate an acute crisis by preventing migrants from returning home to help with the planting and harvesting, and inhibiting the passage of goods essential to the economy.

In view of these findings, the ICRC plans to:

  • step up dialogue with the government and the Maoists with a view to ensuring or restoring freedom of movement for people and goods, and improving overall civilian security;

  • regularly monitor economic security in areas affected by the conflict, and build up and maintain its capacity to act in the event of an emergency;

  • refrain, for the time being, from undertaking large-scale food distributions, which could undermine existing coping mechanisms, and thus engage in food aid only if the situation warrants it;

  • share its information with the Nepal Red Cross Society and other humanitarian organizations in the country and coordinate its work with them.

The ICRC is planning to strengthen its field presence in the areas worst affected by the conflict by organizing more field surveys and stepping up cooperation with the Nepal Red Cross. Meanwhile, it continues to visit detainees held in connection with the insurgency; to assist health-care facilities treating the wounded; to monitor the water-and-sanitation situation; to promote ratification of international humanitarian law; to help the armed forces train their personnel to implement that law; to support university-level study of and research into humanitarian law; and to help the Nepalese Red Cross augment its ability to meet the needs of the conflict's victims by building an efficient network of Red Cross messages (brief personal messages to relatives made unreachable by the fighting), developing first-aid services in conflict areas, and generally strengthening its conflict-preparedness.

 Further information: Eros Bosisio, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 21 01