UNITED NATIONS (IPS): A coalition of independent Nepali citizens – including diplomats, journalists, women’s rights leaders, medical doctors and former U.N. officials – is calling on the international community and the United Nations to take “effective steps” to help remove an “economic blockade” imposed on Nepal.

The appeal expresses deep concern over the de facto economic blockade of the past two months by India, which they say, has resulted in ”a serious humanitarian crisis in Nepal”.

“We appeal to the concerned parties of Nepal, and to the international community, including India, to take effective steps to bring this crisis to an immediate end,” says the joint message released Oct. 30.

Asked what the U.N. can do, Kul Chandra Gautam, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of UNICEF, told IPS the United Nations can call for an end to the Indian blockade – “or whatever diplomatic phrases it wishes to use” – on humanitarian grounds.

The world body, he said, can also call on various protesting parties to allow free flow of essential goods without any disruption.

Additionally, he said, the U.N.’s ‘Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures with Serious Negative Impact on the Enjoyment of Human Rights’ can look into the impact of India’s de facto blockade on Nepal

Even during wars and conflict, Gautam pointed out, the U.N. has often called for humanitarian cease-fires, days of tranquility, humanitarian corridors, etc. especially during Christmas and other holidays.

“This is Nepal’s most important holiday season of Dasain/Dussehera, Tihar/Deepawali, Chhat.”

These holidays are commonly observed in India, as well as Nepal and other neighbouring countries. India should be extra magnanimous during such festive periods of family reunion, he added.

The Indian government has denied it has imposed a blockade, and says the obstruction at the border is solely the result of agitation within Nepal.

Disagreeing with this claim, the signatories say there is ample evidence to the contrary, as observed in the go-slow at custom checkpoints, the refusal by the Indian Oil Corporation as monopoly supplier to load fuel tankers from Nepal, and reports in the Indian press quoting Seema Shuraksha Bal (border security force) officers that they have been asked to block shipments.

Asked for his comments, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told IPS Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed this issue when he met on Oct. 2 with the Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal Prakash Man Singh.

The Secretary-General, Haq said, “expressed concern about the obstruction of essential supplies on the Nepal-India border and the difficulties resulting from it.”

In an appeal to the international community, the signatories say: “As is well known, the people of Nepal have been struggling to overcome the impact of the devastating earthquake of six months ago.”

Coming on the heels of such a catastrophe and disruptions caused by political unrest in the southern plains, the extended blockade by India has crippled the economy of Nepal and led to great human suffering, the appeal says.

The signatories paint a grim picture of the humanitarian situation in Nepal.

Vital social services have been disrupted, hospitals have run out of essential drugs and supplies, and UNICEF estimates over 1.6 million children have been deprived of schooling over the past two months.

All over, industries as well as small businesses are closed and development activities, including construction of infrastructure, are at standstill.

Tourism has been severely disrupted during what would have been peak season. Employment prospects have diminished nationally, forcing hundreds of thousands more to consider job migration to India, the Gulf and Malaysia.

Moreover, says the appeal, the fuel crisis caused by the blockade has cut the supply chain causing food shortages all parts of the country. It has disrupted transportation at the height of Nepal’s national holiday season, preventing millions from travelling to ancestral homes.

There have been many deaths from traffic accidents caused by dangerously overcrowded public transport, with passengers including women, children and the elderly forced to travel precariously on rooftops of buses.

“We are pained that India, a country that extended such unstinting support in the aftermath of the Apr. 2015 earthquake, has seen fit to carry out a blockade that has halted the urgent reconstruction efforts that will make people even more vulnerable during the imminent winter season.”

If the earthquake hurt the Nepali economy to the tune of 7.0 billion U.S. dollars, it is estimated that the cumulative loss from the blockade thus far significantly exceeds that amount.

Nepal, a friendly neighbour with deep historical and cultural ties with India across the open international border, is being penalised for something as above-board as adopting a progressive, federal, republican constitution through an elected, representative, inclusive Constituent Assembly, the appeal says.

Meanwhile, an entire generation of young Nepali citizens, born after the earlier Indian blockade of 1989-90 and harbouring only goodwill towards the neighbour, has been exposed to New Delhi’s harsh action.

The signatories to the joint appeal include Nilamber Acharya, former ambassador to Sri Lanka, former Minister and former member of Parliament; Chandani Joshi former Regional Director for UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and prominent women’s rights leader; Kedar Mathema, former ambassador to Japan, former Vice-Chancellor of university and prominent academic; Dr. Bhagwan Koirala, one of Nepal’s most respected medical doctors; Anuradha Koirala, winner of CNN Hero award, former minister and women’s rights leader; Kanak Dixit, senior journalist and former UN staff member; and Kul Chandra Kautam, former UN assistant Secretary-General.