Yearly distress

The incessant rains of the past few days have submerged a number of areas in the Tarai. The districts affected include Banke, Bardiya, Bara, Parsa, Sunsari, Udaypur, Sarlahi, Mahottari, Rautahat, Rupandehi, Siraha, Saptari, Dang, Kailali and Kanchanpur. An estimate as of Saturday puts the number of families displaced by the floods at 12,000 and death toll at three dozen. A viral fever and diarrhoea and dysentery are reported to be occurring in flood-hit areas, and water-borne epidemics like cholera are feared. In many affected areas, people are facing acute shortages of food, clothing, clean drinking water and safe shelter. In a number of areas in spate, boats are being used as a means of transport, as fields and bazaars have turned into lakes. The flash flood or landslide in places such as Gulmi appears to be the harbinger of devastation of a bigger scale to visit the hills, as almost every year in the past.

The first thing needed in such an emergency is rescue and relief. But as news reports indicate, most of the flood victims have yet to receive relief materials, and many of them who have, only in inadequate quantity. According to a home ministry estimate released on Saturday, 86,000 people from 16,000 families have been directly affected by the floods in the Tarai. While natural calamities such as these call for collective efforts of the government, NGOs, other organisations and citizens, the government seems to have woken up to the fury of the floods rather belatedly, making rescue and relief operations more difficult to carry out. In natural disaster management, speed and efficiency are at a premium. The pattern of death and destruction that floods and landslides cause to the country every monsoon has long been familiar, therefore, the natural expectation that the government would be prepared to move in with rescue teams and relief materials at first hint of distress.

But the annual monsoon tragedy of the Tarai is not just because of an act of God, but it is also considerably due to an act of Man. Particularly important in this respect is the submersion of large areas of the Tarai because, as the members of Parliament have said, of the unilateral waterworks completed by India at the border contrary to international conventions and norms. There are bilateral mechanisms to take care of the problems induced by unilateral constructions, but no dent has been made into the problem. The tendency seems to have been to create faits accomplis, while the government in Nepal, of whatever hue, sadly, cannot raise a voice strong enough to halt the waterworks in their tracks. Nor has any water structure thus built been ever dismantled. In this, the governments in Nepal at various times are to blame too, because they could not take a stand in time for fear or other factors. The government should officially assess the exact scale of impact thus caused and take up the matter seriously with the other side, so that the problems could be resolved fairly and in a good-neighbourly spirit.