KATHMANDU, Nepal, 30 November 2015 – More than 3 million children under the age of 5 in Nepal are at risk of death or disease during the harsh winter months due to a severe shortage of fuel, food, medicines and vaccines, UNICEF warns.
In the past 10 weeks, vital imports of essential commodities have been severely restricted at Nepal’s southern border due to unrest over the country’s new constitution.
The government’s regional medical stores have already run out of BCG 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 metres where weather conditions will be harshest this winter.
“The risks of hypothermia and malnutrition, and the shortfall in life-saving medicines and vaccines, could be a potentially deadly combination for children this winter,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “During my recent visit to Nepal, I witnessed first-hand the precarious living conditions of many of the earthquake survivors. They could now be facing a new disaster – without adequate food, protection from the cold, or healthcare.”
Fears are also growing that the rising dependence on firewood because of the fuel crisis is increasing indoor pollution, which in turn could lead to a spike in cases of pneumonia. Last year more than 800,000 children under five suffered from the condition in Nepal and around 5,000 died.
The 125,000 newborns expected in Nepal in the next two months are also at particular risk. Ambulance services across the country have been hit by the fuel shortage, resulting in a drop in births in hospitals and health centres. The lack of fuel for heating also increases the risk of hypothermia and death for newborn babies who are not fully capable of controlling their own body temperature.
“The plight that children and their families are facing in the country has been worsening by the day and will deteriorate further in the winter months,” said UNICEF Regional Director of UNICEF for South Asia Karin Hulshof. “Children need to be protected from disease, cold and hunger. UNICEF urges all sides to address the restrictions on essential imports of supplies to Nepal. There is no time to lose.”