It is high time a separate ministry or a powerful authority to look into natural disasters was formed in the country
Ministers and leaders of the political parties are making a beeline to the flood-affected areas in helicopters, on a tour that is more ritualistic than one prompted by concern for the victims. The other day they were in Saptari and Rautahat in southern Nepal, districts that have been ravaged by the incessant rains lasting days. Such established ceremonial tours are nothing new not only to Nepal but to the region as a whole, where it is customary for the leaders to feign solicitude for those affected. The victims, on their part, wait in anticipation to meet the government and political leaders, hoping relief will come their way promptly to help them cope with their difficulties. But past experience has shown that such visits in the midst of a rescue or relief operation only cause distraction and divert the attention of the authorities to tending to the needs of the visiting dignitaries, such as security. The trips are a colossal wastage of both scarce resources and time. The money that is spent on booking helicopters and managing the security, among others, could have been better used in speeding up the relief operations.
Now that the country has gone for a federal system, there is no need for the central government ministers and leaders to be paying calls on the areas devastated by a natural disaster. What it should be doing is coordinating with the provincial and local level governments in providing relief to the people. There is a need to strengthen the local mechanism so that relief materials can reach the victims at the earliest. Such a mechanism is grossly lacking as evidenced by the fact that the people of Gaur, the headquarters of Rautahat district, themselves had managed and provided relief materials to the flood victims after the authorities failed to respond. Hence, the flood victims feel badly betrayed by all three tiers of the government at their hour of need. Also, at a time when the parties in power and in the opposition should have been discussing in the Parliament ways to expedite the rescue and relief operations, the House remains adjourned till July 23. This shows the apathy of the government and the parties towards the plight of the people.
Nepal is a country prone to natural disasters. Floods and landslides occur ritually year after year, causing heavy loss of life and property. The government’s rescue and relief operations are only stop-gap measures and do not fully address the concerns of the victims. Those affected by the natural disasters must be rehabilitated, with a place to live and work, so that they can get on with their lives. They need to be rehabilitated just as much as those displaced by the Gorkha Earthquake of 2015. It is high time a separate ministry or a powerful authority to look into natural disasters was formed in the country. Such a ministry or authority would coordinate with the other tiers of the government to not only carry out search, rescue and relief operations but also rehabilitate the victims. This will also take a big burden off the Home Ministry. If the National Reconstruction Authority, formed in the aftermath of the big earthquake, can do a good job, there is no reason why a similar ministry or authority to look after all types of natural disasters cannot.
Waste disposal has always been a challenging task for any municipality in the Kathmandu Valley. The Valley produces around 1,000 tonnes of garbage everyday, and it is dumped at the Sisdole Landfill site in Nuwakot, where the locals often create obstruction to the trucks carrying the waste due to the Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s (KMC) failure to address their grievances. Besides the KMC, there are around 35 private organisations that also go from door to door to collect garbage. These organisations collect around 100 trucks of waste every day. However, the public often complain that they do not collect the waste on time.
To address this problem, the KMC is roping in the private companies to transport the Valley’s waste to the landfill site only after collecting it at the Teku-based collection centre. Lack of coordination between the KMC and these organisations is the major problem seen in waste management. KMC and the private bodies must educate the public to dispose of the biodegradable waste in their homes so that it can be used as fertiliser. Trash can be converted into cash if the KMC and the related agencies come together to set up a plant to produce compost fertiliser.
A version of this article appears in print on July 19, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.