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Nepal Border Blockade and Humanitarian Issues

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16 November 2015

15 November 2015, Kathmandu, Nepal

Thir Koirala is national coordinator of Micah Nepal as well as recognized journalist in Nepal

The dream of Nepalese people came true when the federal republic Nepal ratified a constitution on 20 September 2015 after two elections and 8 long years of deliberation. Nepalese citizens around the world celebrated with candlelight to display their support of the new constitution. However, the Madhesi, a people group in southern Nepal, was not satisfied with the constitution and they began to form protests. The Nepali government formed a dialogue committee consisting of high-level authorities and the leaders of the Madhesi. Four rounds of dialogue transpired without problems. This dispute is solely an internal issue in Nepal.

Currently the Border between Nepal and India is blockaded. The blockade started on the 20th September 2015, which is the same day that Nepal's constituent assembly passed the new constitution. As a small land locked country, Nepal imports over 70% of its supplies from India and other countries. Due to this blockade and its dependency on imported goods, Nepal is now on the verge of running out of essential commodities, fuel, and medicine.

Because of this blockade, there is a mammoth fuel crisis, minimizing the use of vehicles and cooking stoves. All gasoline stations are closed and only about 30% vehicles are running on the road. According to Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), the storage of fuel in Nepal has been completely consumed. China’s government sent 1,000 metric tones of petrol as a donation but this only puts a tiny dent in finding relief from this huge crisis. The shortage of cooking gas has also started to severely affect Katmandu and other cities in Nepal. People often wait in line for up to seven days, but are unable to obtain the gas that they so desperately need. According to NOC report the country's daily gas demand stands at 25,000 cylinders. About 165 bullets of gas (LPG) have been stuck on the Nepal-India border due to India's unofficial blockade. The NOC has failed to ship the LPG for the last few weeks. People started to cook food and firewood and Nepal government is planning to provide some firewood from the Kathmandu valley. 60% restaurants are closed in Kathmandu due to shortage of cooking gas. It severely affects the day to day life of the Nepalese people as well as public businesses, causing severe damage to the tourist industry, a large source of revenue for the country.

The amount of emergency medical supplies and life saving medicine in hospitals is also beginning to dwindle. According to the media status report, many hospitals in Kathmandu valley are facing many difficulties. For example there is an inability to supply the oxygen due to unavailability of diesel. Ambulances are also unable to make emergency trips, as they also do not have fuel.

Included in the long list of effected activities in Nepal, is the airline industry. Due to fuel crisis over 50% domestic flights are directly affected and cancelled. Most of international flights to Nepal are stopping somewhere to fill fuel in aircraft.

What is the interest of India?

There are different arguments about the Nepal-India boarder Blockade issue. The Nepali government and political leaders are stating that this is an inhuman act on behalf of the Indian Government. New Prime Minister of Nepal K.P. Oli said that the boarder blockade is “more inhuman than war. Medicine and foodstuffs come into priority as humanitarian aspect even during a war.” But India disagrees and states that the blockade is not one set up by the Indian government.  India didn't will not officially make the claim that this is a blockade but they continue to prevent vehicles to transport goods across the border into Nepal.

India continues to try and be the big brother of Nepal, insisting that Nepal acts according to the needs of India. Particularly while Nepal was in the process of developing the new constitution, the Indian Modi government tried to influence the Nepali government to alter it to meet the India party’s interest. First and foremost, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu fundamentalist government in Indian, vehemently desired that the Nepali constitution would establish Nepal as a Hindu nation as opposed to the secular nation. During the drafting of the constitution, he sent several Indian leaders to lobby for the creation of a Hindu kingdom. But Nepali political leaders instead declared Nepal as a secular state. This has been the main cause of frustration on behalf of Indian PM Modi and the Hindu leaders of India. India government has been facing big criticism on religious freedom and minority rights issue even in India. Second reason is India tries to control Nepal as a dependent nation in India. So that India government doesn't like the new constitution and didn't welcome it officially. Now, India is blocking the border and stuck essential commodity to Nepal and giving political color. This is not problem between Nepal and India, Nepalese and Indian citizen this is only cause of PM Narendra Modi's personal ego and interest of his fundamentalist Hindu political party.

International law and concern

As a landlocked country Nepal has rights to import essential commodities and fuel from neighbors or other countries. There are over 700 containers are blocked at the Kolkata port of India which were coming from outside countries. Now this is not only issue simply concerning relations between Nepal and India but it is also a violation of international law. This is against The Vienna Convention, Law of the Seas, WTO Laws, Transit Treaty, Bilateral Trade Treaty, Asian Highway agreement, SAFTA agreement and the Convention on Transit Trade of Land-locked states. But the Indian government is unofficially continuing to block all boarders to Nepal and breaking international law with closed eyes.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concerns on Nepal India boarder issue. The Secretary General is concerned for Nepal's right of free transit, as a landlocked nation as well as for humanitarian reasons.  

The government of the US, the UK and other countries also show concern in this humanitarian issue in Nepal. The US embassy and some humanitarian organization released statements expressing deep concern for humanitarian crisis in Nepal. But the question is why India the government is not hearing or responding to any international declaration for the protection of human rights?  

Prayer for solution

Nepalese people are facing this unexpected critical crisis and struggling in daily living. This is not a political and diplomatic issue of two neighboring country but also a humanitarian concern. People are deprived of daily foodstuffs, medicine, cooking gas and fuel. The Nepali government needs to be very quick to address this issue and find a solution for the political and diplomatic tension between India and Nepal. The Nepali government should go to international court to establish the rights of land locked country. International society also can play vital role to solve this problem.

Despite the difficulties of this situation, there is a massive opportunity to develop and sustain Nepal as an independent county in the world. We are rising up from the damage of the devastating earthquake. Nine thousand lives were lost, thousands injured, and many were left without homes. However, this border crisis is causing more struggles than the earthquake. But I personally believe that God has plan for our country and that He will reestablish, reconstruct and restore our small nation and its people. He is giving us more strength to stand and rise up from difficult situation. He is bringing a new sunrise out of the darkness of this critical condition. Now is the time to pray for Nepal and permanent solution.