A rehabilitation programme, similar to the one carried out after the 2015 quake, is needed to bring normalcy to the area
Three months after the devastating floods displaced entire settlements in Melamchi and Helambu in Sindhupalchok district, their inhabitants are returning to their damaged homes to start living there after carrying out some repairs. The flooded Melamchi and Indrawati rivers in June and August had inundated what were once bustling settlements, rendering them uninhabitable. After being displaced by the floods, the people of the area had moved to make-shift huts in the vicinity to tide them over at least until the monsoon rains were over. They are now returning to their homes, even though the authorities have cautioned that the houses are unfit for living, not because they want to but because they have no option. With the winter fast approaching, the people cannot be expected to weather the cold in the temporary huts for long. The people are facing a double whammy, because not only have their houses been badly damaged, but they are also having to do the repairs on their own.
The floods caused by the incessant monsoon rains had not only turned the settlements into rubble overnight but also swept away concrete and suspension bridges, while destroying large tracts of cultivated land. The Melamchi Drinking Water Project, which was just being completed and was supplying water to the Kathmandu Valley on a trial basis, has also been damaged. True damage done to the Melamchi project will be ascertained only after the access road to the headworks is built, for which the government last week released Rs 1 billion. According to Melamchi Municipality, the flood swept away 247 houses in the municipality and washed away 1,700 ropanis of land, causing Rs 3 billion in damage.
Many of the houses still standing have developed cracks, while the windows and doors are broken.
In Helambu Rural Municipality, the flood had washed away 227 houses while eroding more than 2,100 ropanis of land. These are just preliminary figures, and the real extent of the damage will be known once a thorough study of the area is carried out.
The monsoon rains this year have continued for a longer period than in normal times, and is likely to exit only in the first week of October. This makes it difficult for the authorities to start a rehabilitation programme in earnest. But to leave the inhabitants to fend for themselves in this difficult period is doing injustice to them. Some of the residents are paying hefty sums to clear the debris and rubble from their homes with the help of excavators and workers. The repairs are being done individually without consulting an engineer, hence how safe the houses are is anyone's guess. At the moment, the municipalities or the central government must immediately start categorising the standing houses to see whether they are fit for living or can be made livable with minor repairs, as they did soon after the big earthquake in 2015. Still many people have lost both homes and land, rendering them homeless and landless. A rehabilitation programme, similar to the one carried out after the 2015 quake, will be necessary to bring normalcy in the lives of the people. But any future construction must see to it that it is well planned so as to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the area.
The decomposed body of a 10-year-old school boy, Ujwal Bishwokarma, was recovered several kilometres downstream of the Bagmati River after he fell into an open sewer in the middle of the road at Kapan, Kathmandu five days ago. The people in the social media have termed the incident a 'murder', and they have held the concerned authorities accountable for letting the contractor dig the road to lay humepipes in the middle of the road without placing a warning sign around the area. The boy was returning home from school when he fell into the ditch filled with flood water.
This is not the first time that a boy has lost his life due to negligence of the concerned agencies. Three people have already lost their lives after falling into uncovered ditches and manholes inside the valley in the last five years. The government must take legal action against the contractor for not erecting putting up warning signs around the construction site. The contractor must be made to pay compensation to the bereaved family for causing the tragic death of the boy. Such incidents can be easily prevented if the concerned agencies make the road contractors comply with the guidelines set by the government.
A version of this article appears in the print on September 28 2021, of The Himalayan Times.