EDITORIAL: Cost of displacement

The three tiers of government have to work in tandem to rehabilitate the displaced families to engage them in the productive sector

Landslides and floods are the major reasons behind people’s displacement from their villages in the country. Every year thousands of families are displaced as a result of natural disasters, a yearly phenomenon mostly taking place during the monsoon that lasts for four months. Landslides displace people in the hills and mountains while floods create havoc in the Tarai region, rendering them homeless every year. According to the Nepal Disaster Report, 2017, published by the Ministry of Home Affairs, 2,628 houses were damaged by floods while as many as 7,141 households were affected by landslides during the fiscal year 2015/16. The accumulative financial loss caused by the natural disasters across the country during the period stood at around Rs 1.28 billion, according to the report. As many as 244 incidents of floods and 290 incidents of landslides were recorded during the period. The report states that 377 people lost their lives in the same period. These figures speak volumes about the loss of lives and property taking place in the country year after year.

However, most of the families once displaced by the landslides and floods tend to languish for years due to the government’s apathy towards addressing their plight. The Home Ministry collects donations from both within the country and outside for only rescue and to provide immediate relief to the affected families. Once the rainy season is over, the government turns a deaf ear to their plight. Most of the displaced families will then live either on the roadside or in temporary shelters, with hopes that the government will rehabilitate them to a safer place. But it is rare for them to get long-term support for their survival. The 300 plus flood victim families from Surkhet’s Harihar, Taranga  and Punathari villages of Bahrahtal Rural Municipality are a case in point. It has been four years since they were displaced after their homes were swept away by a heavy flood in August 2014. But they continue to languish in three temporary settlements in Birendranagar. Four years after their displacement, a committee formed by Karnali Province five months ago has just started collecting data of the victims. When the committee will prepare its report and what sort of action the provincial government will take about their future are uncertain.

The committee has set the criteria for those families whose houses and land were destroyed to be relocated to a safer place. Others whose houses and land were damaged but need not be relocated are to be provided financial support by the provincial government. Relocating the displaced families is no easy task. The federal government must have a long-term rehabilitation/ relocation plan, based on which the concerned provinces can act accordingly. As the figures show, the cost of being displaced forever from one’s village can be much higher than the cost of their rehabilitation. The families displaced by the natural disasters cannot actively take part in economic activities and also cannot support their children in health and education because of their looming uncertain future. The three tiers of government should work in tandem to effectively rehabilitate the displaced families in safer areas so that they can lead a normal life and engage in economic activities.

Mental health

It’s a typical story about a mentally ill person from the countryside, which the media tends to pick up once in a while. This time, a woman who is mentally ill has been in chains at Aansidobhan of Nilkantha Municipality in Dhading district for the past two months as the family can ill afford her treatment. One can well understand the dilemma the breadwinner of the house is in – he cannot attend to her if he wants to make a living and he cannot make a living if he attends to her day and night.

It’s natural to feel sorry for the woman who must remain in chains, but is there an alternative? There must be thousands of people across the country who are mentally ill but have not come to the notice of the media and need help badly – in whatever form - to tide over the problem. But in a country where people still die of simple diseases like diarrhea, treatment for mental health can only receive lip service from the authorities. Until mental health becomes a national priority, the community and non-government organisations should chip in to ease the plight of both the sick and the family.