Stories from the East: Itahari

COVID-19 and Food Insecurity in Nepal

Countries worldwide went into lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19. Which brought threats to various sectors and gave rise to unemployment and food security issues in Nepal.

Nepal went into lockdown on March 25, 2020 due to the COVID-19 threat. Life in lockdown has been a tremendous challenge. The lockdown significantly reduced economic opportunities and worsened the country’s food security situation. Additionally, the government banned events, parks, temples, and other forms of gatherings.

According to the Nepal Demographic and Health Survey 2016, food security has improved in the country, showing that 20% of the households remain mildly food insecure, 22% moderately, and 10% severely food insecure. However, these were pre-pandemic numbers and are undoubtedly lower than the current levels.

Impact of Lockdown

The lockdown, limited the supply of necessities such as rice, lentil, vegetables, and salt has been limited and has caused Nepalis shortages throughout the country. Lack of economic opportunities amplified the issue of procuring goods for individuals, further restricting their ability to obtain goods.

“The lockdown affected my family a lot. We didn’t have a source of income; how are we supposed to get through this?” shared a local woman from Itahari. “We ran out of food and tried to talk to officials so we could get the government provided emergency food. Unfortunately, the government didn’t provide adequate packages, and some of our friends didn’t receive them.”

“Our savings and food are finished.” Ram expressed. With a heavy heart, he continues, "We were forced to take credit from neighbors." “We needed to survive, so the only option was taking credit. But the individual we were taking credit from, ran out of money as well,” he chuckles. “All of us are in need, but we have been grateful that organizations have provided us with relief packages. It has helped us get by for a few months.”

The community in Itahari, Pakali area have experienced food insecurity , and have been solely relying on relief packages after the beginning of the nationwide lockdown. Stating that even though things are beginning to return to normal, there still isn’t an adequate means of income opportunities. Evident when community members shared, “We are happy to do any work, but it hasn’t been enough to sustain our families.”

Employment Hardships

The government requested that all people stay at home to slow the spread of the virus. This strategy meant hardships for the daily wage earners. Thousands of daily wage earners had no income sources resulting in difficulties in food security. There was widespread fear of starvation due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

According to the ILO report, approximately 80.8% of workers in Nepal have informal jobs. A UNDP report also showed that three out of five Nepalis lost their jobs during the lockdown.

“We have finished our money, and we have finished our food,” stated Ram. The pandemic is far from over, and recently Nepal has seen a surge at the community level. People like Ram will continue to face issues of food insecurity in Nepal, as the country begins to see a rise in cases and areas engaging in lockdown.

Written by: Pooja Gurung