SURKHET, Feb 9
The government has yet to ensure basic facilities such as safe drinking water and hygienic living conditions for the victims of flood and landslide in Surkhet district.
The flooding that had ravaged many areas of the district six months ago claimed 34 lives and displaced 6,577 people, while 91 people were declared missing.
But in lack of drinking water and proper sanitation at the temporary shelters they are housed in, they are at a risk of a disease outbreak.
Every day, at around five in the morning, they queue up at the drinking water tap. After waiting in the line for hours, all they get is just two buckets of water per family.
“Early in the morning, tension runs high among people who come to collect water because there’s always somebody who tries to breach the line,” says Bishnu BK, 50, who resides on the premises of Zonal Public Health Office. Her eight member family was displaced from Khorke-6 of the municipality by the flooding.
Bishnu’s family had been doing just fine raising cattle. But the floodwaters, which had breached the river banks on August 2 following three days of heavy rainfall, washed away her home and all the belongings.
The family is now pushed to a hand-to-mouth existence with the lack of water and open defecation adding to their misery.
Out of the total displaced people, very few have been able to find better options for livelihood, with 5,603 people still living inside the tent. As per the recent data collected by the struggle committee formed by the flood and landslide victims, a total of 1,358 households reside at the 25 temporary shelters set at various places across the district.
“Some NGOs have installed a tap at our shelter that supplies water from the Kanse Gadh River just for two hours a day,” complained Bal Bahadur Thapa, secretary of the struggle committee.
Those who had been using proper toilet and drinking water facility at home before the flooding have also been forced to compromise with the sanitation at the shelter.
Ram Chandra Puri and his family members are sheltered in Gairi Dhara settlement along with 173 other displaced families. Puri had a tourism business and a hotel at Surkhet Bazar both of which was swept away in the flood, making him landless overnight.
The inhabitants often blame each other for defecating in the open. On the premises of the Skill Development Centre for Women at the district headquarters, where 91 households live, there are just three temporary toilets.
At the shelter in Chhinchu, 138 households are compelled to use four toilets. No wonder, people defecate in the open.
Gap between govt data and reality
The status report produced by the MoUD in October last year shows a remarkable improvement in supply of drinking water and toilet facility.
In 2010, 77.5 percent of the total population in the district was said to have to access drinking water. The sanitation coverage was merely 36.5 percent at that time. The latest status report, however, shows significant improvement.
The government’s current data claims that drinking water facility covers 82.5 percent of the district’s total population of 384,579, whereas the sanitation coverage has expanded to include 93 percent of the population.
Pictures show shelters for flood victims in Surkhet district. Lack of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities have added to the misery of the victims. (Nirjana Sharm/Republica).
According to the ministry officials, the government’s data includes in its coverage figure areas where pipelines and taps have been installed.
“It is certain that sooner or later those areas will be supplied with drinking water, thus, it is included in the status report,” claimed Kabindra Bikram Karki, assistant spokesperson at the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).
The report does not take into account the damages caused by the flooding to the infrastructure for drinking water. When asked, officials shrugged off the damages as insignificant.
“Since the damaged infrastructure will be rebuilt soon, it will not change the present data,” Karki claimed.
Meanwhile, the problem of drinking water in 35 VDCs presented a different picture than what officials sought to portray.
“During my field visits to the flood-affected areas, I found drinking water pipelines swept away in many places,” said CA member Tapta Bahadur Shrestha.
Over 13,000 suffer from diarrhea
At least 13,000 cases of diarrhea were recorded in the last six months in the district, with most of the cases surfacing during monsoon.
As per Surkhet District Public Health Office’s data, around 9,000 of them were treated by female community health volunteers, whereas around 3,000 could make it to health posts. Around 1,100 were treated at rural clinics, according to government’s Health Education Officer Basanta Shrestha.
The local health office is planning to form a team that would operate a mobile health camp every week and distribute free medicines. “The program will begin by the end of this month,” said District Public Health Officer Bhogendra Raj Dotel.