30 Jan-5 Feb 2015 #743

Left in the cold

Five months later, the survivors of west Nepal’s monsoon floods wait out the winter for government relief
Mallika Aryal
MALLIKA ARYAL
TEMPORARY SHELTER: The BK family lost their two-storey house in floods last August that devastated western Nepal. They have been living in a tent in Surkhet along with 200 other diplaced families.
SURKHET -- Srijana BK, 23, emerges from inside an orange-coloured tent carrying a three-year-old son to prepare supper for the family.

She is eight months into her second pregnancy which she has spent in a cold tent crammed with a bed and other essentials she has managed to salvage from the flood that devastated western Nepal last August. The pungent blue smoke from the stove fills the inside of the tent, and her son coughs as he wipes off tears from reddened eyes.

At least 96 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced in Surkhet, Dang, Bardiya and Banke districts in the August floods. More than 500 mm of rain fell overnight on 14 August 2014, and rivers burst their banks with little warning.

Nearly 200 families have been sheltering in Girighat camp since floods washed away their homes that night. The camp is set in an open space by the Karnali Highway and close to a community forest.

Floodwaters rose dramatically and the BK family didn’t have time to gather their belongings as the water washed their homes away. “We had a two storey house, now we have nothing,” says Srijana.

Her husband, Jay BK, grabbed his pregnant wife, his 70-year-old mother and their young son and ran to higher ground in the dark. They spent the whole night in the jungle in pouring rain, racing with the rising waters. Although the camp is right next to the highway and close to town, the neglect is visible. The displaced have been living there for the last five months and say that the government has been largely absent.

They were provided some money during Dasain with some rice, salt and oil but the supplies have long run out. “No one has come from the government to see whether we are still alive,” says Jay, “except for some charities, no one has been here.”

When natural disasters strike, children are the most vulnerable because they can’t take care of themselves. “They can’t go to school, they’re susceptible to health problems, infections, violence,” says Manoj Bist, child protection officer with Save the Children, Nepal.

Although there is a sense of helplessness amongst the displaced families, the children of Girighat camp spend their time at the temporary learning center, some ten minutes walk from their camp which is supported by Save the Children.

“The only way to ensure a normal life for children is to see to it that there is minimal disruption from their regular routine, and these centres attempt to provide that,” says Bist.

Children like Srijana’s three-year-old are safe in the learning centre for now, but the BK family’s troubles are far from over. Jay, who used to work in India cannot go back there and leave his displaced family alone with no money or support.

“We can’t depend on handouts forever, how long can they support us, how long can they keep running these temporary schools?” asks Jay.

It’s not that there has been no relief, but the government’s disaster relief mechanism is only activated during the monsoon to deal with the immediate aftermath. The focus now should be on long-term rehabilitation, to organise resettlement so they can get their lives in order again.

The government needs to move away from thinking that response only means rescue and relief. As natural disasters become the norm, disaster management should be a 12-month process.

The BK family, and most of those who were displaced can’t plan for the future because they have lost their farms.

Dilisara Bhandari, Jay BK’s neighbor in the camp, sums up her disappointment: “It hurts us that the government has no plan for us, that they have forgotten that we have lost everything, that our children can’t have the same hopes and dreams and that we shiver every night in these tents.”

@mikaness

Read also:

The poorest hit hardest by floods, Naresh Newar

In an unresponsive state, Trishna Rana

Relief, rehab, recovery, David Seddon

Man made disasters, Editorial

Disaster unpreparedness, Binod Bhattarai

A flood of floods, Kunda Dixit

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