Child rights groups warned Tuesday that shortages of fuel, medicine and other supplies in Nepal due to a border blockade with India are putting millions of children at the risk of disease and even death.
Sumnima Tuladhar of the Kathmandu-based CWIN Nepal said that supplies of medical were running low and some parents were not able to take their children to hospital for treatment because of fuel shortages.
“The risk to children with chronic diseases is really high and shortages have compounded the problems for children in Nepal who were already suffering from earthquake earlier this year,” said Tuladhar, adding it was becoming difficult to get even basic medicines for children in rural areas.
The blockade has been in place for weeks as members of the Madhesi ethnic community protesting Nepal’s new constitution block the main southern border point with India, preventing fuel and other essential items from entering the country.
India, which has close cultural ties with the Madhesi, has restricted fuel and other exports to Nepal. Nepal gets most of its fuel from India.
Nepalese doctors say trucks carrying medicine have also been stuck at the border.
The fuel shortage has led to schools cutting back on classes, with many closing in southern Nepal.
Tuladhar said with schools closed they are getting reports of children looking for jobs instead.
“Children are not getting enough cooked food and the risk of malnutrition among children is also high,” she said, adding that smoke from burning wood for cooking instead of using cooking gas was causing respiratory problems.
The United Nations’ children agency has warned that more than 3 million children under the age of five in Nepal are at risk of death or disease during the winter due to a severe shortage of fuel, food, medicines and vaccines.
UNICEF said in a statement Monday that the government’s regional medical stores have already run out of vaccines against tuberculosis. Stocks of other vaccines and antibiotics are critically low.
Children still recovering from two major earthquakes in April and May could be the worst hit. More than 200,000 families affected by the tremors are still living in temporary shelters, at an altitude above 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) where weather will be harshest this winter, the statement said.
The 125,000 newborns expected in Nepal in the next two months are also at risk. Ambulance services across the country have been hit by the fuel shortage, resulting in a drop in births in hospitals and health centers.