EDITORIAL: Grave offence

The authorities should own up for inordinate delay and they owe an explanation for the tragedy which could have been averted had the works been completed timely

In the aftermath of the disastrous earthquake that shook the nation on April 25 and several strong quakes the people residing particularly in the affected areas have still to receive proper shelter and warm clothing and live in makeshift ones. Snowfall hit Gorkha district hard and higher up in the mountains blizzards have severely affected life in Manang district. The victims in Gorkha living in makeshift shelters have to cope with leaky roofs and the severe cold which is expected to last till the end of February as rain and hailstorm lashed the district. The mercury has dipped and the severe cold is causing additional hardship. The whole district of Manang saw snowfall of two or three feet and the temperature there was as low as minus 6 degree Celsius. Yet it is a matter of shame that the earthquake victims do not have adequate warm clothing although the 6000 affected households were supposed to receive about Rs. 6 billion of warm clothing that did not reach them.  Mainly the children, elderly and lactating mothers are experiencing immense hardship and dozens of them have already died.

Even after eight months after the devastating earthquakes adequate relief has not reached the victims. The authorities knew that this would happen much in advance but did little to avert the tragedy as the earthquake victims continue to suffer as the winter season in the mountains can be very harsh. About 200,000 families are presently living in temporary shelters above 1,500 meters, and they continue to suffer. However, the rescue and relief should have been completed by now. This delay cannot be forgiven, moreover, as the country is to start the reconstruction and repairs next week which is a long delay considering the gravity of the situation which has clearly gone out of hand as human casualties continue because of the cold. Nine months have passed since the quakes left 9,000 people dead, over 22,000 injured, many of them seriously, and damaged or destroyed 900,000 houses, leaving hundreds of thousand people homeless. The inordinate delay in the appointment of the CEO of the National Authority for Reconstruction had added to the woes. Although the Authority had to be formed by September this could not be done because of the bickering between the major two political parties – the Nepali Congress and the UML for the post of the CEO. Money provided by donors to the tune of $4.01 could not reach the earthquake victims because of this. The concerned authorities should own up for this delay and they owe an explanation for the tragedy which could have been averted had the necessary works been completed timely.

The NAR which will begin work from January 16 with trained engineers, masons and other technicians numbering at least 50,000 people. Each house destroyed would receive Rs. 200,000 from the fund pledged by the foreign donors. Also soft loans would be provided amounting to as much as Rs. 1,500,000 to the households affected. Given the high construction cost for the rebuilding and also construction materials the money being provided would hardly meet the requirements to build sturdy houses for the future. Meanwhile, all that is done during the repairs and reconstruction works should be transparent. Those who fail to do so should be held accountable.

Food crisis

Five districts in Karnali Zone always face acute shortage of food throughout the year as the entire region does not have enough arable and cultivable land for cereal crops. People of this region entirely depend on the foodstuffs imported from outside. Sometimes, the foodstuffs need to be airlifted as  most parts of the districts lack an access to roads. Whatever crops the farmers grow is also hampered either by drought or by crop diseases. A report from Humla’s five VDCs suggests that the people are reeling under acute food shortage due to drought for the last one year. Locals have said they have to pay Rs. 100 for a kilogram of salt whereas the same can be purchased for Rs. 20 in urban areas. Nepal Food Corporation in the district had allocated budget for 2,000 quintals of rice for a local depot but the contractor failed to deliver the foodstuff citing blockade in the Tarai. The government needs

to listen to the locals’ plights, and it must make a special arrangement to supply the foodstuffs there at the earliest.