Thursday, April 4, 2019

Strengthen, implement right to food law: AI

Nepal must strengthen and implement its new law on right to food, if it is to meet its commitments to rid the country of hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity, according to a report published by the Amnesty International (AI) today.
The report, which is made public today, presents a detailed analysis of the Right to Food and Food Sovereignty Act, enacted last September in order to implement the rights relating to food guaranteed under the Constitution. According to Article 36 of the Constitution, every citizen has the right to be safe from the state of being in danger of life from the scarcity of food, and every citizen has the right to food sovereignty in accordance with law.
Hunger was one of the root causes of Nepal’s decade-long internal conflict, and it persists across the country. Nearly half of all the households in Nepal face food insecurity, and a tenth are ‘severely food insecure’. More than a half of all children under five years of age are anaemic, while more than a third of them have stunted growth.
In an important step towards realising its goal of ‘zero hunger’ by 2025, the Nepal government enforced Right to Food and Food Sovereignty Act in September.
However, as per AI’s briefing, Right to Food and Food Sovereignty Act requires amendment to make it effective. Besides, rules and regulations necessary to implement the provisions of the law need to be formulated.
“If the government of Nepal wants to ensure that no one goes hungry in the country, it must strengthen the law. The mechanisms, such as the rules and regulations, need to be crafted in a way that makes the right to food a reality for all,” said AI South Asia director Biraj Patnaik.
The law needs to be amended to clearly define terms and avoid unnecessary confusion and misinterpretation, which could weaken its effectiveness. As the law stands, it remains unclear what constitutes ‘hunger’ and ‘starvation’.
The report presents recommendations under 16 different topics, covering a range of issues such as increasing scope of legal protection to ensure that the right to food is extended to non-citizens; amending the Act to require an inquiry into any deaths resulting from starvation; and guaranteeing accountability against breach of duty to prevent starvation.
Nepal must also take meaningful steps to prohibit public authorities from interfering with people’s efforts to feed themselves. The law, in its current form, provides little protection to the people as stated in the AI briefing.
It also recommends that the law be specific on how the government will address the threat of starvation. There must be inquiries into any deaths resulting from starvation. It calls for marginalised communities, such as Dalits and land-dependent indigenous peoples, including Tharus, to be granted access to cultivable land.
The briefing recommends that specialised food councils be established throughout the country at national, provincial and local levels to monitor the implementation of the act.
“The authorities have an obligation to prevent malnutrition in all its forms," Patnaik said, adding, "Without addressing these weaknesses of the Right to Food and Food Sovereignty Act and consulting the appropriate stakeholders, Nepal will not be able to rid an estimated two million people of malnutrition in the country." He also stressed on the urgency to implement the act.
Right to Food was first recognised as an international human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. In 1966, the International Covenant on Socio, Political and Economic Rights endorsed Right to Adequate Food. Since then, several other international conventions have endorsed this as a fundamental right. 
Nepal currently ranks 72nd out of 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) which scores countries based on an assessment of the progress and setbacks they have incurred in combating hunger. Over 50 per cent of Nepal's households is food insecure, according to 2016 National Demographic and Health Survey.

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