4-10 September 2015 #774

How politics blocks relief

Will the survivors of the earthquake suffer the same fate as the victims of the Jure landslide who are still waiting for compensation and relocation?
Yuvaraj Puri in SINDHUPALCHOK

YUVARAJ PURI

On 2 August 2014 the entire side of a mountain in Sindhupalchok broke off, swept away the village of Jure, a section of the highway to China and blocked the Bhote Kosi River.

Local authorities jumped into action establishing a relief trust for surviving families and raised Rs 22.4 million in three months. CDO Gopal Prasad Parajuli submitted a report to expedite the relief and rehabilitation, but he was transferred and the document gathers dust.

The area is represented by six powerful CA members from all four parties: Mohan Bahadur Basnet, Amrit Kumar Bohara, Sher Bahadur Tamang, Agni Sapkota and Ramesh Lama. They are engaged in an epic struggle to get their hands on the relief money which means the real victims have got little.

The 25 April earthquake pushed back rehabilitation of the Jure survivors even further. Two CDOs have come and gone, but all the survivors have got so far are platitudes. “The guidelines are now in place, we will go ahead with the disbursement process soon,” CDO Bal Bahadur Giri told us.

Understandably, the locals are furious that the authorities are sitting on the funds meant for them while they continue to live in temporary shelters.

Jiwan Shrestha was in Pashupatinath last week to observe the one year death ritual for seven family members who were killed in the landslide. Shrestha has been homeless for a year now, and appeared stoic about the loss. “I am a refugee now, I am here just to perform the rites for the family I lost.” He seemed to have all but given up hope of piecing his life back together.

Panchalal Shrestha was at the temple last week mourning the loss of 12 family members who were swept away by the landslide. He too has given up hope of ever receiving any help from the government.

Despite losing everything, some survivors like Durgalal Shrestha were beginning to get their lives on track. But the April quake once again rendered families homeless. He was forced to leave his rented room in Lamasangu and move to Kathmandu after the earthquake damaged it. He lives with his family under a make-shift tent on someone else’s land in Gothatar.

“After the landslide ministers and local leaders promised to help us with relief and rehabilitation, but now everyone has forgotten us,” laments Durgalal.

Som Sapkota, member of a committee that determined criteria for distribution admits: “In principal the CA members’ approval isn’t required since the District Committee on Disaster Relief is an independent body. But local leaders have interfered with the process to score political brownie points.”

Jure falls under Sindhupalchok’s area number one which is a closely contested constituency of leaders from major political parties including NC, CPN-UML, UCPN-M and RPP-N, who have their political interest tied to the relief money. The officials at the local administration cannot bypass these leaders fearing political backlash.

However the political meddling isn’t just limited to the officials. Families who lost relatives demand that the fund distribution should be based on the number of deceased members, while others say that the criteria should consider the number of survivors. With the victims themselves divided over the guidelines, the administration has an excuse for the delay.

Meanwhile, the bank account which holds the relief fund has now been frozen by the Home Ministry after the dispute escalated. So far, the families of the deceased have received just Rs 40,000 per person for final rites, and additional Rs 100,000 rupees as compensation. But the families who did not lose a family member but lost their homes and property haven’t received any help at all.

Nani Tamang is among many who lost their land and home. She took refuge in her relatives’ house but the earthquake destroyed that house too and she is now living in a tent inside an Armed Police Force base near Jure after her husband died.

According to official figures, 145 people from Mankha, Ramche, Dhuskun and Tekanpur VDCs of Jure lost their lives in the landslide, 97 houses were swept away and 220 houses were damaged displacing hundreds.

Ram Bahadur Lama lost 13 family members in the landslide, and isn’t hopeful about ever receiving any help. His sentiments, sum it all up: “Forget the government in Kathmandu. We didn’t even receive even the money for survivors collected here in the district.”

Centre for Investigative Journalism

READ ALSO

Deconstructing reconstruction, Sahina Shrestha

How politics blocks relief, Yuvaraj Puri

Disaster geopolitics, Sharad Ghimire & Tom Robertson

Made to jump through hoops, Editorial

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