Despite Oli’s assurances, two dozen died of cold in Humla this winterA combination of heavy snowfall and malnourishment spells disaster for the district.
Mekh Phadera of Sarkegadh Rural Municipality, Humla, walked two-and-a-half hours to the nearest health post on Monday to get medicine for his ailing wife.
"We [my wife and I] could not sleep at night because she had a high fever and was coughing," Phadera, principal at Devkota Basic School, Sarkegadh, told the Post over the phone. "I walked for two hours hoping to get medicine, but in vain."
Phadera’s wife is not the only one suffering from a cold in the district, where five out of seven villages remain cut-off from the rest of the country due to heavy snowfall. "You can find a patient with a cold-related ailment in every house," he said.
"People in Humla die of seasonal flu,” said Dr Bibek Shah, a doctor at the Karnali Provincial Hospital, Surkhet. "Due to heavy snowfall and the chill, the entire district has been affected this year."
The Provincial Health Directorate organised several health camps in the disease-hit villages, but it hasn’t helped prevent deaths. According to data from the provincial government, two dozen people have died of cold-related ailments in Humla this winter, despite assurances from Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli that no Nepali would die of cold. Oli’s government allocated one million rupees each for 42 districts (22 Terai districts and 20 mountainous districts, including) worst affected by cold. But local people, health workers and elected representatives of the district are unaware about the allocated budget.
“We do not know about the money allocated by the federal government for warm clothes," said Joshi Dhami, deputy chairman of Sarkegadh Rural Municipality. His office, however, used funds from the health ministry meant to buy medicine and the money from the muncipality’s annual budget to provide relief to the people. But the money is not adequate to save people suffering from chronic ailments related to cold.
"We could only buy two bags of medicine from the Rs 400,000 the Ministry of Health and Population allocated to our municipality," Dhami added. He said that ferrying goods to the district is costly because of heavy snowfall. Choppers charge over Rs 150 per kg of cargo.
Dhami said that his office couldn’t distribute jackets and blankets worth Rs one million the rural municipality bought with money from the chairman's fund due to inclement weather. "Due to heavy snowfall, we could not take those warm clothes to the villages," Dhami said. "We can distribute the clothes only after snow, which started falling November, melts,” he added.
Health workers deployed in the area say that it’s not just the cold that’s killing people—a deadly cold-malnourishment combination is. While, health posts in the district lack essential medicine, and shops are out of essential food grains. The government has not ferried subsidised grains to the area since October last year.
Doctors from the Provincial Health Directorate of Karnali Province running health camps in affected areas, reported to the directorate that those who died in Humla were either patients of chronic cold, or were malnourished.
Baliraj Shahi, health coordinator at Kharpunath Rural Municipality informed that seven, including a malnourished infant, succumbed to cold-related ailments recently. "All those, who died of cold-related ailments were either suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or were malnourished."
Principal Phadera, meanwhile, still doesn’t know how to seek treatment for his wife. “The local health post is out of medicine and the road to the district headquarters is blocked because of snow,” he said. “I don’t know what to do.”