In today’s fast paced world of technological evolution, it is easy to think that delivering food has become easier. However, in the extreme mountain terrain of Nepal, technology has had no place, at least not until now. Delivering food using yaks and mules along impervious trails and paths through the mountains has been common practice for WFP Logistics, sometimes taking cargo up to three weeks to reach the most remote locations.
Since September 2008, WFP Nepal has been delivering mixed food commodities, mostly rice, to Jumla and Mugu, two of the most remote and inaccessible districts in the far western Himalayas. Relying solely on Nepal’s commercial operators’ was not enough to cover WFP’s requirements. With an average capacity of 400 metric tons (mt) per month, WFP Aviation had to contract two MI-8 MTV helicopters to supplement deliveries with another 200 or more mt per month and allow emergency deliveries to locations not efficiently served. In 2009, the Nepal operation was the largest sustained cargo delivery operation by helicopter for WFP. To date, our aviation officers delivered 5100mt of WFP food to heli pads as high as 11,300 feet above sea level, and flew approximately 100,000 nautical miles in one of the world's most demanding but spectacular aviation environments. All together, 12,400(mt) were successfully delivered since the beginning of the operation to help feed the most remote beneficiaries.
And then it happened! In March of this year, after two years of work, the Karnali Highway in its entirety became accessible for tractor transport. Prior to this, only sections had been available. Hard to miss, the Karnali Highway redefines the meaning of the word highway… lacking emergency and surpassing lanes, road signs and painted road markings, billboards and commercial area exits, the Karnali Highway is cleverly designed for driver’s minimized distraction.
WFP Logistics has been able to arrange commercial multimodal surface transport (truck, tractor and mules) to already deliver approx 1,350mt at only 30% of the cost of air deliveries. The Highway is only open between March and June, so further dispatches are being arranged prior to the start of the monsoon season in July, when landslides will again cut the road off.
WFP Logistics will continue to use any method of transport to deliver food to the hungry poor.
Many thanks to Nigel Sanders and the Nepal Country Office. Thank you also to Dinesh Wagle, a journalist in Nepal, for the use of some of his fantastic photos. Read his story about his own journey along the Karnali Highway.