Famished Nepal villagers feast on rotten grain

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : While Nepal's finance minister was holding meetings with donor agencies in the capital to raise money for development, famished villagers in the far west were looting and feasting on rotten grain declared unfit even for animal feed.

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Dozens of enraged men and women rushed with sacks to a village in Dailekh district in farwestern Nepal and began grappling with officials who had been instructed to burn hundreds of rice sacks after they were found to have rotted beyond salvaging due to inadequate storing for nearly four years.

The villagers, who have been living with famine for decades, fell on the trucks laden with the tainted rice, stamped out the fire meant to destroy the stock and began carting the grain away.

Some of the women cooked and ate with relish the rotten rice, certified unfit for consumption even by livestock, right under the eyes of the officials who had come to destroy the stock.

The matter came to light after Kantipur, Nepal's largest selling daily, reported the incident that occurred earlier this week.

About four years ago, nearly 700 quintals of rice was dispatched for Jumla, one of the most underdeveloped districts in Nepal. The grain was meant to be distributed among villagers building a road, a project undertaken by the UN agency, World Food Programme.

The grain stock was first taken to Dailekh, from where it was to be sent to Jumla by the local officials.

However, due to bad roads, lack of transport, violence and political instability, some of the stock was never sent and began rotting in a warehouse in Dailekh.

A recent inspection found that over 150 quintals had become unfit for even animal feed and had to be destroyed, Kantipur said.

The rot was so severe that the grain could not be even thrown into rivers or buried for fear of causing an environmental hazard, the report said.

The officials were therefore asked to burn the tainted stock.

When they took the rotting rice to Chupra village Tuesday to set it on fire, the villagers came to know about it.

Dozens of them began rushing to intercept the trucks and began looting the decayed grain.

"The government can't destroy food while people are starving," one of them told the daily.

"We learned about it a few days ago and have been trying to advise local officials on how to best proceed,' said Richard Ragan, WFP representative in Nepal.

"The reaction of the people confirms our view that there is a serious food problem in this part of the country as demonstrated by the lengths that people will go to feed themselves."

Ragan said the WFP, that has been running an emergency operation in the region for over a year, is now planning a new $50 million programme to provide food aid to people most impacted by the decade-long communist insurgency.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world with its remote northern and farwestern districts suffering from an acute scarcity of food, medicine and other essential supplies.

The report comes close on the heels of another report published by a weekly recently that said the influential daughter of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala had splurged thousands of rupees during a shopping spree in Germany where she had bought branded luxury items like a handbag and sunglasses.