The govt must create a dedicated body to deal with natural disasters and rehabilitate the displaced families
Every time a natural disaster strikes the country, we are exposed to a state where we are least prepared to deal with it, be it a flood, landslide, an earthquake or a massive fire. Everybody is well aware of the fact that Nepal is a disaster-prone country, where hundreds of people die or are displaced from their permanent settlements, mostly in summer, during heavy floods in the Tarai and landslides in the hills and mountain regions. However, the government is little prepared to respond to the natural disasters that render hundreds of poor families homeless every year. Following the natural disasters, the displaced people are provided with patches of public land, mostly by encroaching upon forest land, to erect temporary shelters without a rehabilitation plan in place. The children of the displaced families are deprived of a basic education and healthcare, putting them into a vicious circle of poverty. If history is anything to go by, for the families who have lost their kin and kith, houses, stored foodstuffs and standing crops following the fatal windstorm in Bara and Parsa on Sunday, the government response is sure to remain lackluster. As in the past, the government response will be limited to immediate rescue and relief operations, which will not help them bring their life back to normalcy.
As the country is extremely prone to natural disasters, the government should have installed advanced weather forecasting radars across the country as planned earlier. Had the government installed such technology and hired skilled manpower, people could at least have been warned against the impending disaster. The statements by officials at the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology that they “lack skilled manpower and advanced technology” lay bare the inefficiency of the country’s weather forecasting system.
The government, however, quite efficiently launches immediate rescue operation and provides meager relief materials to the affected families, thanks to the quick response of the Nepali Army, which is well experienced in dealing with such emergencies. However, the government’s responsibility should be coming up with a long-term vision and plans to see that the affected families have a roof over their head, livelihood support and other basic amenities, such as education and healthcare, in the affected areas. It is said the government has a fund of Rs 2 billion in the Prime Minister Disaster Relief Fund. This amount can be better utilised for the rehabilitation of the affected families in Bara and Parsa districts hit hard by the windstorm. The Himalayan Times has been consistently urging the government to create a dedicated body – either a ministry or an all-powerful authority – at the centre to rehabilitate the people displaced by natural disasters after a massive landslide at Jure in Sindhupalchowk rendered hundreds of families homeless in August 2014. A dedicated government body will get annual budget, which can be used to rehabilitate the affected families in a planned way. In the new federal set up, disaster preparedness should be the top agenda of the three tiers of government. The nation cannot afford to see people rendered homeless forever.
For too long, complaints by migrant workers have fallen on deaf ears. Although they remit about six billion dollars annually to Nepal and help the economy stay afloat, yet their grievances are seldom taken up seriously. So the government initiative to set up a call centre in Kathmandu to instantly address the issues of migrant workers is a welcome step. The centre will deal with complaints and provide suggestions to the workers both in Nepal and in the destination countries. What is interesting is that the workers can file their complaints by telephone or internet-based communications.
The call centre can expect a flood of complaints from the migrant workers working mostly in different Gulf countries and Malaysia. Migrant workers are often duped by manpower agencies and middlemen in Nepal, who promise handsome salaries and good working conditions in the destination countries. Still others face harassment from their employers, at times even sexual abuse. So those operating the call centre will need to be competent people who can offer good advice and get the authorities to swing into action when the need arises. Let it not be another government office set up to provide work for the cadres of the political parties.
A version of this article appears in print on April 03, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.