Circle of deathAs we cross over towards the second half of January, Nepalis can be assured that the biting cold will slowly start to wane.
As we cross over towards the second half of January, Nepalis can be assured that the biting cold will slowly start to wane. However, cold waves are still affecting the Tarai belt, where more than 50 people have died of severe cold this winter. Some 250 people have been admitted for cold related illnesses at Janakpur Zonal Hospital alone. Cold waves are a yearly occurrence, and the Tarai is known to be woefully ill-equipped for such hazardous weather. However, this year has seen the worst mortality numbers in years.
Authorities who are keeping close tabs on the recent developments in the Tarai say that the surge in deaths this year is due to the 2017 floods. According to the World Food Programme, around 461,000 people were displaced by the floods in the Tarai. It is no surprise to see that Saptari and Rautahat, two of the six worst-hit districts during the summer disaster, are also the ones with the most reported deaths due to cold—with 27 and 21 deaths reported to date respectively.
Locals in Rautahat say that blankets, quilts and warm clothes belonging to many families were destroyed in the floods, and many say that they don’t have enough money to buy new ones. What’s more, most of the flood affected victims have been living in poorly built temporary shelters, which add to their susceptibility to extreme weather.
Though local governments have been attempting short-term fixes, like providing blankets to affected settlements, these initiatives are far from adequate. Chief District Officer (CDO) of Saptari, Bhagirath Pandey, said that around 2,000 blankets had been distributed last Wednesday. However, Saptari itself had already been hit with 17 deaths by then. The CDO has asked local units and other concerned authorities to organise public awareness campaigns to inform people about the cold wave and how to survive the weather, yet this comes after more than a month of bone-|chilling cold. Much more effort is still required in the short term, with many affected still in peril and the fog and cold weather likely to continue for at least another week. Also, additional planning and measures are required so that we do not face a similar catastrophe next winter.
First, public awareness programmes to prepare against cold waves should occur much before winter begins. Next, the government needs to identify distressed groups, such as the ones that lost their clothes, shelter and livelihoods during the floods, and work to provide them with adequate support so that they can be resilient enough to withstand cyclical, extreme weather events. As the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine. We are in for a sorry future indeed if relief and awareness comes only after tragic events escalate, and many lives are lost.