Nepal border blockade: Hospitals running out of drugs

Nepalese activists receive medical treatment at a hospital near the Nepal-India border on November 4, 2015.

Story highlights

  • Two-month blockade of the Indian-Nepal border is causing severe shortages
  • Nepal is rationing fuel and local hospitals say medical supplies are running low
  • Blockades started after Nepali lawmakers passed a new constitution

New Delhi, India (CNN)For weeks, blockades along the border between Nepal and India have caused fuel shortages.

Now the tiny South Asian nation says it's running out of medicine.
    "We are running critically low on drugs used in the emergency, ICU and operation theater," said Dr. Swayam Prakash Pandit, director of Bir Hospital, Nepal's largest public medical facility in Kathmandu.
    He predicted the hospital could run out of medical supplies within a week.
    "The stockpile of cooking gas in the hospital is also running low. We are largely relying on firewood to cook meals for patients," he said.
    Indian trucks line up near the India-Nepal border at Panitanki on November 3, 2015.

    The blame game

    "India's blockade is more inhumane than war," Nepal's Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli, said on Friday.
    India has vehemently denied orchestrating the standoff.
    The blockade started during the third week of September when Nepal's parliament passed a new constitution. More than two thirds of lawmakers ratified the document, but a few minority groups were left unhappy.
    One of the protesting indigenous groups -- the Madhesi -- started protesting at several India-Nepal border checkpoints and have refused to leave.
    Nepalese police face off with protesters during clashes near the Nepal-India border at Birgunj, some 90 km south of Kathmandu, on November 2, 2015.

    Crucial supplies running low

    The Nepal Red Cross Society told CNN it is running out of empty blood packets. The recent supply received from China is only expected to last for around 10 days.
    "We are not even been able to run mobile blood donation camps due to fuel shortages. We don't have petrol to run our vehicles," said the society's spokesperson, Dibya Raj Paudel.
    Nepal's Chemists and Druggists Association told CNN the medical stock in Nepal was mostly consumed after disastrous earthquakes earlier this year. The border disruption started before stock could be refilled.
    "(The) condition in villages is getting more critical. We can't even transport the medicine that we have to rural parts of the country because of fuel shortages created by the unofficial trade blockade from India," said association president Mirgendra Meher Shrestha.
    Long queues form as motorists wait for fuel, which has been rationed in Nepal, on October 15, 2015.

    Medicine trucks held at border

    At Raxaul checkpoint, one of the six commercial crossings along the India-Nepal border, Shrestha says more than 300 trucks carrying medicine have been waiting to enter Nepal for weeks.
    The Nepali government on Monday ordered all international flights to give priority to airlift medical supplies to the country. Nepal produces 40% of its medical needs but since all the raw materials are stuck at the Indian border, its pharmaceutical industry can't even manufacture, according to Shrestha.
    The landlocked country, sandwiched between India and China, largely depends on its southern neighbor India for its imports. The rough mountainous terrain on its northern border with China makes it difficult for the country to bring in goods. Most commodities enter Nepal via India -- a process that has been mostly halted for more than eight weeks.

    Fuel supplies rationed

    The Himalayan nation is solely dependent on India for fuel. Currently, only a fraction of the usual supply is being let through the border, forcing Nepal to ration what it has. Aviation fuel for domestic flights is being airlifted in. Long-haul flights carry their own fuel or stop by nearby countries to refuel.
    China jumped in to help -- donating 1,000 metric tonnes of fuel to Nepal.
    "It is a very admirable gesture from China but that will do very little to solve the fuel crisis of Nepal," Deepak Baral, a senior official at Nepal Oil Corporation, told CNN.

    Who are the protesters?

    After the constitution was passed, activists from the Madhesi group started protesting at several India-Nepal border checkpoints.
    The Madhesis -- inhabitants of the southern plains of Nepal, also known as Tarai -- are culturally closer to India. Their leaders claim their fight is not directed by India, and that the protest will continue until their demands are addressed in a new constitution.
    Their main demand is representation equal to their population and federal redistricting that maintains Madhesh provinces -- which would guarantee the groups a bigger representation in parliament.

    Blaming India

    Several top level members of the Nepali government, however, have publicly accused India for orchestrating the protests, and using the blockade to disintegrate the southern plains.
    "India wants to annex Nepal's Tarai region. The blockade is a tool that India is using to pressurize Nepal in making the changes in the constitution for India's longer-term political benefits," said Nepal's deputy prime minister, Chitra Bahadur KC, during a television interview.
    The Indian embassy in Kathmandu denounced the deputy PM's comment in a statement.
    "The Embassy condemns the comments made by Mr. Chitra Bahadur KC, which are completely baseless and provocative, aimed at vitiating the age-old historical, familial and civilizational ties between the people of India and Nepal," the statement said.