Cold waves in the TaraiThe region is especially prone to extreme weather- and climate-related events; the authorities concerned need to prevent further disaster.
Mid-winter has just passed, which means that there is much of the cold season left for Nepalis to endure. Indeed, even as Kathmandu heats up, with Parliament’s Winter Session looking quite busy—over 50 bills in the queue to be endorsed—the rest of the country will be feeling the chill for a few more months. In fact, year by year, January has proved to be the coldest month for much of Nepal. And, year over year, people in the country have died due to cold-related challenges and illnesses in January.
That most of these deaths occur in the Tarai shows how underprepared the region remains to deal with the effects of the season. And, while there have not been any reported deaths yet this season, that is not to say that the people are not suffering. The authorities concerned need to be on alert. Not only do they have to prepare contingency relief measures, but systemic changes need to occur so that the people are prepared for the worst of winter. No one deserves to suffer, let alone lose their life, due to weather-related issues.
Nepal has a unique climate profile, especially for such a small country. Different parts of the country face a diverse range of temperatures throughout the year. This unique profile is due to the altitudinal variations, the presence of the Himalaya as a barrier in the north, as well as the presence of water bodies all over the country—not to mention the latitudinal position of Nepal. The Tarai is especially prone to extreme weather- and climate-related events.
For instance, temperatures in the Tarai can usually go up to 40 degrees Celsius during the summer months and go as low as 7 degrees Celsius during the winter. Yet, as climate change manifests itself, the ranges have been expanding both ways. The southern belt is prone to floods and storms during the summer. Moreover, many suffer or lose their lives to heat waves every year. And, as if the suffering during the summer was not enough, during the winter months, the Tarai is known to face cold waves that make life extremely difficult. Sometimes, the effects of weather events through multiple seasons combine to exact more misery from the people.
While cold waves are part and parcel of the usual vagaries of winter, it is particularly problematic because some regions in the country are woefully ill-equipped to deal with the cold. In January 2018, the displacement of people due to floods in the year before and a significantly cold winter contributed to a record number of deaths. That winter, at least 48 people died due to cold-related problems in Rautahat and Saptari districts alone. In these districts, many had lost their belongings (including quilts, clothes and shelters) to the floods, thereby making their winter worse.
This year, too, has seen parts of Province 2 witness a major disaster. The storms in Bara and Parsa in March and April left hundreds homeless. Even as many have found relief, and new shelters, it is unrealistic to expect the families affected to have recouped all that they lost and be ready to face deep winter. As it is, Nepalis are affected by cold waves in the best of years.
The authorities concerned must identify distressed groups, such as the ones that lost their clothes, shelter and livelihoods during the storms, and work to provide them with adequate support so that they are resilient against the cold. Moreover, as the cold waves are cyclical events that occur almost every year, the most vulnerable regions must have proper contingency support on hand. People also need to be educated about the potential harm not protecting against extreme climate can bring, so that the ones who can afford to can be self-reliant.
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