It's cold outsideIt is time we asked ourselves whether we are prepared enough to deal with this annual hazard.
Even as the political mercury continues to rise in the wake of the dissolution of the Lower House of Parliament earlier this week, normal life is being affected by the dip in minimum temperature in several parts of the country, from the high Himalayas to the lowlands of the Tarai. In places such as Mustang, Manang and Jumla, temperatures have dipped below zero degree Celsius, and the Tarai is bracing for a cold wave. And this is just the beginning. The most punishing time for those without the means to survive the cold is yet to come, as most of the cold-related challenges and illnesses occur in January, the coldest month for much of Nepal. It is time we asked ourselves whether we are prepared enough to deal with this annual hazard.
As the Post reported on Thursday, over 70 families of Lidi village in Jugal Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchok district have been living in temporary shelters. Many of these families, which include small children, worry that they may not make it through the winter as the makeshift tents they are living under are not sturdy enough to save them from the biting cold on frosty nights. Having suffered in the monsoon rain after being dislocated by a landslide, they are now compelled to endure the dew that drenches their belongings.
In places such as Sindhupalchok, Dolakha and Gorkha, which were severely affected by the 2015 earthquake, people are yet to shift to permanent homes. The fact that the victims of the earthquake have had to shiver in the cold under makeshift tents five years after the earthquake should put the authorities concerned with taking care of the life and livelihood of the people to shame. We cannot make clumsy disaster preparedness and lackadaisical response a part of our national culture.
The Tarai is most susceptible to cold wave conditions in the winter season. It is also the region that sees the most of the cold wave casualties. It is all too well established that financially marginalised people suffer the most, and this year is especially worse because people across the country have lost their means of regular income and are unable to make arrangements for dealing with the cold.
The authorities concerned must begin the identification of vulnerable groups based on data from previous years. Additionally, the people must also be informed about the hazards that come as part of resilience measures against the cold, such as asphyxiation which becomes a cause of many deaths as people burn coal or straw, or use electric heaters inside closed spaces.
The government’s weather warning system must address the people of the hinterlands so that those who are likely to be victims of cold waves are informed in advance. Moreover, vulnerable people should be provided with support to beat the cold. This includes providing the downtrodden people with warm clothes and blankets to keep themselves warm. The government can also support them by providing them with subsidised electric heaters and subsidised electricity so that they find it easier to beat the frigid weather.
The federal government should support the provincial and local governments in coming up with contingency relief measures to help deal with the menace immediately. But what we need is not a short-term knee-jerk approach to the menace that causes havoc each successive year. Unless we implement systemic changes so as to insure the people against the cold wave, we will see a repetition of the same old disaster story each year. We cannot continue to make the post-disaster sob story a national narrative each year as a result of our ineptitude when it comes to disaster preparedness and response.