Authorities at all levels must step up efforts to provide immediate relief to those who have been rendered homeless by a fire in Khanda

As many as 87 houses were reduced to cinders when a fire broke out on Sunday midnight and spread through Khanda village in Palanta Rural Municipality of Kalikot. Luckily there was no human casualty. Seven persons were injured while trying to douse the fire, while 87 cattle died. The fire could be put out only on Monday afternoon. But by that time, of the 197 houses in Khanda, an ancestral village of the Neupanes, 87 had turned into ashes in one of the worst fire disasters in recent times. The fire, reports suggest, had started from the house of Nabin Neupane. Since most of the houses had thatched roofs, it took no time for the blaze to rip through the settlement and the winter wind made it even more difficult for locals to control it. Authorities are yet to ascertain the cause of the fire.

Fire is a major disaster in Nepal. Settlements in remote and village areas are quite prone to fire. Fire disaster usually occurs during summer months — between April and June — mostly in the rural areas of the Tarai and mid-Hill region. But this incident of fire has occurred in peak winter, leaving around 540 people homeless and out in the cold. When fire incidents take place in rural areas like Khanda, controlling them is always difficult. Thatched roofs of the houses which are close to each other make it easier for fire to spread. In the lack of proper equipment to fight fire, leave alone big fire engines, the only way to contain blaze is pouring water from pitchers. But locals in Khanda said scarcity of water made it extremely difficult to contain the fire. “At a time when villagers can hardly manage water for drinking purposes, you wouldn’t expect us to get water to douse the fire,” a local said in what reflects the whole situation.

While it’s easy to call on the government and authorities to work on disaster preparedness, given the situation — the way settlements are scattered and based in different remote locations — it will always be difficult to stop the incidents of fire completely. Measures to prevent or reduce the likelihood of fire  must be taken in first place. Then come response and recovery. That the police learned about the incident almost after two hours shows the lack communication system, one of the most important tools in disaster situations. In places where the possibility of taking fire under complete control immediately is not possible, focus should be on saving lives and property. And effective communication can play an important role. This incident in Khanda should serve as a reminder, once again, to authorities that they should at least work to ensure proper communication system for management of disaster of all kinds. Now in the aftermath of the disaster, governments at all levels must set their priorities right and work in a war footing to provide relief to the victims. Arrangements should be made immediately for proper treatment to the injured. There should be no delay in relief distribution. With more than 500 people rendered homeless, there is an urgent need to secure shelters for them. The provincial government should take the lead role and act without delay. As reports suggest, the village was ancestral land of the Neupanes, the authorities should also look into it and support them to restore the settlement.

Drought hits hard

The arable land in most parts of Bajura, Humla and Mugu districts have remained fallow due to protracted drought and erratic rainfall. A report from Bajura says four rural municipalities in Bajura and two each in Humla and Mugu have been affected by the continued drought resulting in serious food crisis in the already impoverished districts. According to the locals, it was the longest drought they had witnessed in 41 years. As a result of drought, most youths from these districts have migrated to India to take up seasonal jobs leaving behind their families.

Ensuring food security and food sovereignty should be the state’s top priority. The government also has a land use policy under which no arable land should be left uncultivated. But the farmers should be provided with irrigation facilities to grow crops. The provincial governments must work out an integrated plan of irrigation. Tapping waters from rivers below the farmlands can be a better option. Small scale irrigation facilities can lift many families from abject poverty. The farmland, where the prospect of irrigation is impossible, can be used for other cash crops that require less water. The provincial governments must find solution to this problem.