Editorial: Learn from the past

If government can create unnecessary ministries bifurcating the existing ones why cannot it create a separate ministry to tackle the issues of natural disasters permanently?

Looking at the statistics of the last 15 years, around 500 people are killed and property worth billions of rupees damaged every year as a result of landslides and floods. Landslides and floods are the major natural disasters that render hundreds of vulnerable families homeless, forcing them to encroach upon forest and public lands for survival and settlement. Till date the government does not have any plan to manage the families displaced by the natural disasters. These hapless families largely rely on the largesse – short term relief assistance and a cash amount of a few thousand rupees provided by the generous public – from the government agencies only for a few days. For the rest of the life they live on God’s mercy. They never come back to the life they used to enjoy before being afflicted by the natural disasters. The landslide victims of Jure, Sindhupalchowk, for example, that occurred on August 2, 2014, have not been resettled, though it drew national attention for months as a huge landslide had damaged the Araniko Hihgway and blocked the Bhotekoshi River for months causing panic to the settlements downstream. After the monsoon was over the government forgot its responsibility, leaving the victims to live a life of destitute.

Two years after the Jure landslide, the National Disaster Management Division under the Home Ministry is preparing a bill for developing a permanent body to deal with natural disasters at national level, only after the massive April 25 earthquake that left over 8,500 people dead and damaged property worth Rs 700 billion. A draft bill to this effect was presented to Parliament two years ago but it could not be enacted due to the earthquake. It aims to handle the issues of disaster preparedness, information, rescue and relief operations, rehabilitation and reconstruction works. These are the major areas where an all-powerful body will be working to mitigate the disasters and rehabilitate the victims of natural disasters.

Lessons from past experiences have taught us that Nepal needs a separate ministry to deal with natural disasters. Forming an executive body under any ministry will not serve any purpose of disaster preparedness, rescue, relief and rehabilitation of the affected communities. Had there been a separate ministry it would have certainly coordinated with other ministries such as Home, Defense and Finance to conduct the rescue and relief operation immediately after the earthquake and other seasonal landslides and floods. Such a ministry will also receive adequate budget from the government on annual basis, and the fund will be immediately mobilised in the disaster affected areas through its own district level offices. The disaster management ministry will be able to generate data base about the areas risky for human settlements. Currently the government does not have any credible and coordinated information of this kind. If the government can create unnecessary ministries bifurcating the existing ones why cannot it create a separate ministry to tackle the issues of natural disasters permanently? Parliament must consider creating a separate ministry to deal with natural disasters and not a separate body under any ministry.

Around two per cent of the total population in the country are found to be living with various forms of physical and mental disabilities. Of them 18.5 per cent of them are visually impaired and also suffering from blindness, both men and women. Women who suffer from blindness are doubly marginalized due to their gender. Therefore, they are wrongly seen as burdens to society which is not the case. Given the opportunity such women can also work for their living.

Doubly marginalized

The visually impaired should take a cue from 134 women who hold jobs in various vocations as teachers, NGO workers, telephone operators, civil servants and even as industrial workers thereby making their valuable contribution to their families and society as a whole. The new constitution has also raised the morale of the disabled. It seeks to guarantee the social, political and economic rights of the disabled. A programme organized by Blind Women Association of Nepal and related organizations organized a programme on Sunday acquainting the government with their problems and also the contribution they can make provided they are granted with education, capacity building and employment.