Daily wage labourer Krishna Rai is reeling under severe financial hardship as frequent strikes in his area result in market shutdowns and road blockades.
“What are poor people like me supposed to do? How can we survive if this situation goes on?” asked Rai, frustrated over the impact of the ongoing strikes on poor Nepalese like him – most of whom depend on subsistence income to support their families.
Rai travelled for more than 12 hours by bus to Kathmandu from Jhapa District, nearly 400km southeast of the capital, where he hoped for a regular income as a labourer on a new housing complex.
However, between 1 July and 8 August, the economy and daily lives have been disrupted by more than 20 strikes and road blockades in various parts of the Himalayan nation by 10 different groups - including armed groups, political parties, student unions, the business community, medical workers, transport associations and indigenous ethnic organisations, according to daily media reports.
Since January there have been more than 100 strikes by 20 different groups.
Most groups stage a strike for a day or two, while others last for up to two weeks in a row – raising serious concerns among local and international aid workers over their impact on health services, food supplies and livelihoods of local communities.
Among the worst to affect civilians was a 13-day strike in western Nepal, organised by the Kailali Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) to end the transport syndicate system, imposed by the Seti-Mahakali Truck Operators’ Association.
Despite a ban imposed by the Nepalese government in 2001, the practice continues, inhibiting free and competitive transport business, says the KCCI.
From 12-25 July, the strike seriously affected most of the hill regions in the far west and mid-west, preventing food supplies, medicine, materials and other necessary commodities from reaching their destinations, according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Thousands of residents were stranded, patients were deprived of medical services and a severe shortage of medicines was experienced in certain remote districts, which are often at high risk of disease outbreaks due to the advancing monsoon season, the report explained.
In July, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) noted the strikes’ impact on the food supply to markets in the far western hills and mountains.
Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
|WFP says blockades have been affecting its ability to deliver food aid to outlying areas|
Key transit points were unable to deliver supplies to the food-insecure districts such as Accham, Bajura, and Bajhang because of market closure and depleted stocks.
“Although the strike has ended now, the poor communities are still living with the damage done to them during the period,” said Ashok Shrestha, a community health worker in Accham District, nearly 600km northwest of the capital.
Another major strike that crippled the lives and livelihoods of the civilians was called during the same period for nearly 13 days by student unions belonging to the largest political parties in protest at higher transport costs in more than eight districts of west Nepal. Hundreds of people were stranded along the highways while essential supplies were curtailed.
“These strikes will never end as long as the political parties do not work together in consensus to end the ongoing political deadlock,” said a government official, who requested anonymity.
The government’s presence had been diminishing, especially in the Terai, where most of the strikes have been staged by various armed and non-armed political groups, he added.
Insecurity and political instability have been increasing nationwide, said government officials working at the district level.
Four months since the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections, the elected political parties have failed to reach a political consensus to form a new government, resulting in mass unrest throughout the country, explained political analysts.