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Sinking into slough of despond

Victims of floods and landslides continue to suffer as the state remains largely apathetic

NIRJANA SHARMA

KATHMANDU, Sept 12

Caption: In this photo, a local commuter helping a Chinese tourist to wade through the swampy track at Jure in Sindhupalchowk district soon after the dam created by the massive landslide in the region burst on September 7

Carrying his three-month-old child, Saral Pakhreen wades through the same narrow, slimy and swampy track at Jure of Sindhupalchowk where Minister for Home and Affairs Bam Dev Gautam got injured a few days back while on his way to take stock of the situation following the outburst of the dam created by the August 2 massive landslide.

Gautam who was heading to the affected region — 40 days after the landslide — abandoned the trip and returned to Kathmandu following the injury.
But Gautam has highlighted the plights of the locals — unintentionally.

If a home minister of the country, assisted by dozens of security personnel, could not escape the danger, one can easily assume how tough the life must be for the poor locals epitomized by Pakhreen here.

But Pakhareen does not have the choice that Gautam had, and can only hope and pray that he could carry his child safely through the precarious path to relative safety of Bahrabise from Lamosanghu.

With the child in a silky sling knotted and strapped around his shoulders, Pakhreen does not pause to look at the extent of devastation unleashed when the landslip virtually blocked the mighty Sunkoshi River last month. All his attention and energy is focused on wading through miles of the track or rather an ankle-to-knee deep swamp.
Though the Nepal Army and the Armed Police Force had paved the track with flat stones to ease the movement of commuters, the water flowing though the loosened hills above the track has already swept away such stones at several stretches, leaving the track muddy and slippery.

As if these challenges were not enough, Pakhreen encounters droves of commuters and porters loaded with quintals of goods coming from the opposition direction in the narrow track. Neither the porters nor Pakhreen feel confident to let the other pass first.

Thus the security personnel are the only hope when it comes to manage the human traffic along the track.Thousands of commuters, including porters travel have to rely on the same track every day as there is no other alternative way to Tatopani, the busiest customs for Nepal-China trade. The track has been busier these days as the traders are hiring porters to transport goods to the capital and other parts of the country with the major festive season round the corner.

After a stretch of the Aranika Highway, which is considered as the lifeline of trade between the two countries, was also swept away following the landslide-triggered flood, the Nepal Army as well as local entrepreneurs have been trying to open two separate tracks to resume the vehicular movement. But the efforts have been thwarted after the dam suddenly broke open on September 7.

“Apart from supplying some essential commodities and relief packages collected through various organizations, the government seems too sluggish to begin the reconstruction work,” complains CA member Amrit Bohra who represents Sindhupalchowk.

Following the landslide and eventual flooding 1,297 people of three Village Development Committees in the affected region are still taking shelter under temporary tents and surviving upon whatever relief package the government and other humanitarian organizations have been offering to them.

“The CA members representing this district have urged the government to focus its effort on opening the route. But the government has turned a deaf ear,” Bohara charges.
“The government used to collect Rs30 million of revenues from Tatopani customs a day which has now gone down to a few hundred thousands,” he adds. “How could it be so lethargic when it comes to resuming such an important route?”

The massive landslide at the wee hours on August 2 eventually led to death of 174 people. At least 52 were badly injured and 130 houses were completely damaged. Forty seven houses were partially damaged. Altogether 18 houses, which got completely submerged in the lake caused by the blockage of the Sunkoshi, are now visible after the lake outburst. The Sunkoshi disaster has caused a loss of property worth Rs 1.4 billion, according to estimations.

“Instead to working separately, all the three stakeholders, Department of Roads, Nepal Army and private sector need to come together to optimize time and resources needed to restore the road,” Bohara opines.

Dang, Surkhet, Bardiya and Banke alike

As Nepal tries come to terms with Sindhupalchowk tragedy, more natural disasters have struck other parts of the country. As a result, total 42 districts have been affected from the flood and landslide this monsoon.

After Sindhupalchowk, Surkhet, Bardiya, Dang and Banke are in the top disasters in terms of disaster this year. Property worth Rs 7.2 billion has been destroyed nationwide, out of which the home ministry estimates that property worth Rs 6.8 billion was destroyed in these districts alone.

Parliamentarian from Dang, Raju Khanal says that the government has been too sluggish to beginning reconstruction work at the affected areas of his district.
He adds that parliamentarians representing Dang have urged the government to not to keep the construction working lingering for policy-wise issue and to fast track decisions.
“Disconnected roads have been adversely affecting the movement of victims for their livelihood, forget other problems,” Khanal fumes.

At least Rs240 million is required to arrange new settlements and engage the affected in some income generating activities to that they have their own means of joining hand to mouth before Dashain, adds he.

The only visible intervention in the flood-ravaged Dang is that it has managed some food and temporary tents for the victims. CA member elected from Banke, Dev Raj Bhar tells Republica that at least Rs160 million is required to repair roads, construct house to relocate victims and create income generating environment for them. However, only Rs5.7 million has been allocated by the government till date.

More than 50,000 people have been awaiting rehabilitation. At least 15 people have lost lives and five are still missing, and the government has not been able to declare whether they are dead, as it did in the case of Sindhupalchowk. “The government’s reluctance has even got the victims against us,” complains Bhar.

Published on 2014-09-13 08:54:30
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About nirjanasharma

Journalist.

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