Relief for the resourcefulAt least the most egregious misuse of relief material must be probed and the guilty punished.
As a commander of the People’s Liberation Army during the civil war, Janardan Sharma was a firm believer in the might of the gun. If you could not get power the legitimate way, you tried to snatch it away. Seventeen years since the Maoist guns fell silent, Sharma has not forgotten his old, forceful ways. In the new parliamentary setup the Maoists joined following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006, Sharma quickly perfected the art of wrestling the marshals in the parliament. During his infamous tenure as finance minister, he tried to dictate the contents of the annual budget by smuggling his own set of experts on the economy into the finance ministry. His post-2006 shenanigans are a legion. But perhaps we are getting to see the worst side of him in the aftermath of the November 3 Jajarkot earthquake. The Maoist parliamentarian from Rukum West constituency has shamelessly tried to divert vital aid going to quake-affected regions into his electoral constituency. As a result, hundreds of families in most affected regions of Jajarkot have had to spend nights under the open skies, and at least four have died from bitter cold.
After the news of Sharma’s excesses first came out in Kantipur, our sister publication, a parliamentary committee on an inspection tour of the affected districts of Jajarkot, Rukum West and Salyan also concluded that much of the relief was being distributed not on need basis but based on the whims of influential politicians. This is one reason why even though all three levels of government and related state organs did a decent job in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake—which killed 154 people and injured 364—they have botched subsequent relief efforts. This has again had a devastating impact on the families of the over 26,000 houses that were completely destroyed and over 35,000 that sustained partial damages from the quakes. Although the federal government had declared a one-door policy of relief distribution, the federal, provincial and local governments as well as various non-governmental organisations have been wantonly distributing aid in the three worst affected districts; the areas more accessible through roads are better served than the remoter ones.
What we see on ground zero is a lack of coordination among state agencies. This isn’t surprising when elected lawmakers like Sharma are using such a tragic occasion to consolidate their vote-bank. Driven by their selfish agenda rather than compassion for common folks, politicians and top officials seem interested only in buttressing their public image rather than helping the needy. As the Post reported on Friday, the families that lost their houses in the October 3 earthquake in Bajhang district last month, are still living in leaky tents as the promised government help to build temporary shelters never arrived. There is a risk that as soon as the immediacy of the Jajarkot quake wears off, the victims there will be forgotten too, as politicians and lawmakers pick a new issue to fight over. In order to prevent that, at least the most egregious cases of misuse of relief and rebuilding material must be probed and punished.