India trade blockade
Nepalese students holding placards take part in a protest to show solidarity against the border blockade in Kathmandu, NepalReuters

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has warned that more than three million children below the age of 5 in Nepal may face death and disease if the shortage of food, medicines, vaccines and fuel to the earthquake-hit nation is not met before winter.

The Madhesi people — a disadvantaged group in Nepal — have imposed a trade blockade in the Terai region of Nepal in protest against the country's new constitution, passed on 19 September, in which they claim to have been left out.

The blockade of trade from India has caused an acute shortage of fuel and cooking gas and also affected hospitals as they are running short on supplies, including medicines. India accounts for about 60% of the total imports in Nepal.

"The government's regional medical stores have already run out of BCG vaccines against tuberculosis. Stocks of other vaccines and antibiotics are critically low," a UNICEF press release has said.

According to UNICEF, the blockade is likely to affect children the most as more than 200,000 families displaced by major earthquakes in April and May are staying in shelter camps "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," he added.

UNICEF fears indoor pollution caused by increasing usage of firewood due to fuel shortage may result in an increase in cases of pneumonia among children.

The threat to life looms large over 125,000 "newborns expected in Nepal in the next two months" if the trade blockade does not end any time soon.

"The plight children and their families are facing in the country has been worsening by the day, and will deteriorate further in the winter months. Children need to be protected from disease, cold and hunger," said Regional Director of UNICEF for South Asia Karin Hulshof.

"UNICEF urges all sides to address the restrictions on essential imports of supplies to Nepal. There is no time to lose," Hulshof added.

Also read