In the long run, cost of providing basic amenities in geologically vulnerable areas will be much higher than relocation cost
Immediately after the devastating April 25 earthquake in 2015 the government appointed teams of experts led by geologists to make initial surveys in 22 quake-affected hilly districts to assess whether settlements were suitable for living in the same areas or they need to be relocated to safer places. As per the geologists’ recommendation, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) had also identified as many as 314 settlements which needed immediate relocation to safer places. Geologists had recommended immediate relocation of 56 villages in five worst-hit districts (at least 16 villages in Gorkha, 14 in Sindhupalchowk, 13 in Dolakha, 10 in Rasuwa and three in Dhading). They had also recommended livelihood support programmes to the families to be relocated. As far as relocation is concerned, the government has so far relocated one village in Gorkha’s Laprak, the epicentre of the tremor measuring 7.8 in magnitude, above from the previous village after it was found to be landslide prone. The NRA, which is responsible for reconstruction, relocation and rehabilitation of the quake victims, has done little to relocate these vulnerable settlements.
A report from Dolakha’s Singati, the epicentre of May 12 aftershock, where 12 people were killed and most of the houses were destroyed, states that as many as 1,000 houses have already been rebuilt on the “landslide prone area”. The geologists had recommended the resettlement of the Singati bazaar due to fragile geology. The government engineers deployed at the area had also warned against rebuilding houses at Singati. As the government did not have any concrete plan of relocation, the engineers could not convince the locals, and even the local leaders also sided with the locals. The engineers relented to the locals and let them rebuild their houses in the landslide prone area. The engineers who are overseeing the reconstruction process admit that they are scared of staying at Singati at night. Their statement shows how much vulnerable the area is from settlement point of view. However, the NRA has not categorised Singati as a “risky zone”.
Singati bazaar, a commercial hub of 22 villages of three rural municipalities, is but a representative case. There are many other settlements which need immediate relocation to safer places with livelihood provisions. However, the government and the NRA paid no heed on the urgency of their relocation. One of the goals of the reconstruction body also includes identifying safer areas within the district and relocating the highly vulnerable settlements it has already identified. Initially the affected families had showed interest for relocation. As the NRA’s relocation plan faltered, the affected families had no other option than to stay even in the unsafe areas where they had been living in for generations. It all happened because of NRA’s inaction and lopsided plan. In the long run, the government cost of providing basic amenities in the geologically vulnerable areas will be much higher than the cost of relocation of the 314 settlements. Even if the government comes up with a relocation plan in future, it will be too little, too late. By that time people will already have rebuilt their houses in the areas where they should not have.
When we seek to find the beauty in diversity, we tend to talk about race and gender and caste and culture. One important group we often tend to ignore is persons with disabilities. They make up one of the most under-represented groups. According to the 2011 census, about two per cent (513,321) of the total population of the country is living with one or the other kind of disability in Nepal. The International Day of Persons with Disabilities was observed across the globe — and in Nepal — on Monday calling for empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.
There is a need to make concerted efforts from government and non-government agencies as well as all other concerned to recognise the value the differently-abled people can add to humanity. Persons with disabilities still continue to face lots of barriers when it comes to their participation in society or accessing health, education and employment. Breaking these barriers is everyone’s moral imperative so as to empower persons with disabilities and ensure inclusiveness and equality. Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring equality to them is strengthening human solidarity.
A version of this article appears in print on December 05, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.