Collateral damageThe Sindhupalchok landslides have exposed the government's failure in disaster risk reduction.
The news about landslide killings at Lidi village in Sindhupalchok district's Jugal Rural Municipality came as a déjà vu. It was a long time coming—a man-made disaster rather than a natural one. Of course, the slush pile of mud and rocks that swept 13 homes came down the hills due to topographical changes. But the 18 persons killed, 21 missing and five injured are not just victims of a natural disaster; they are collateral damages of a disaster that is Nepal's disaster risk reduction and management programme.
Geologists had warned that Lidi had become uninhabitable after the 2015 earthquake and had recommended relocation to a safe landscape. But that never became the priority of the government's post-earthquake rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. Just last month, when the landslide became imminent, the villagers had left the village and knocked on several provincial and central government doors. But the knocks fell on deaf ears. Jugal Rural Municipality-2 chairperson Pratap Lama claims to have submitted a plea to the provincial and central governments, asking for the relocation of the villagers who were in danger. Having failed to receive a response from authorities, the villagers returned to their home and hearth. They had nowhere else to go.
Once the village had been swept away and lives lost or gone missing, Bagmati Province Chief Minister Dormani Poudel made an appearance in the village with a few packets of beaten rice, noodles, biscuits and blankets and Rs2 million in compensation. The Ministry of Home Affairs also sent some cooking utensils, blankets, mattresses, clothes and monetary compensation to over three dozen families from the District Crisis Management Committee fund. If only they listened to the please of the villagers before the disaster struck.
The landslides that ravaged the Sindhupalchok hills over the weekend have exposed an age-old problem that ails Nepal's disaster risk reduction and management mechanism: The government springs into action only when the worst has happened. Ideally, the government, with its disaster risk reduction mechanism spread across the country, should have worked proactively to warn the people about possible landslides and relocated them in advance. If that was too much to ask, it should at least have responded when the villagers themselves came knocking its doors asking for relocation. But the government remained as negligent as ever and let people die.
The home ministry has said that as of August 16, a total of 208 people have lost their lives, 66 missing and 162 injured in landslides across the country. The landscape of the hills where the 2015 earthquake hit the hardest have been destabilised and are especially prone to landslides. Moreover, the rampant extraction of natural resources has made the landscape across the country more vulnerable than ever. The risk of such man-made disasters is, thus, not yet over. And more such killings are imminent. The government cannot go on waiting for disasters to happen for it to spring into action year after year. It must act proactively now.
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