With their thatched roofs, houses in remote settlements of Karnali at risk of fire hazardThere is a campaign underway to replace the thatched roofs with galvanised zinc sheets but with lack of sufficient budget the effort is moving at a snail’s pace, local representatives say.
On Saturday, a fire that started from the house of Biura BK, 34, at Ranchuli in Tilgufa Municipality Ward No. 4 destroyed 13 houses in the settlement. Villagers and the police managed to douse the fire only in two houses.
“Most houses in the settlement have thatched roofs so chances of a fire hazard are high during winter months,” said Dhir Bahadur Bhandari, a local resident. “Also, fire incidents are difficult to contain in these settlements since the houses are attached to one another,”
Saturday’s fire started after BK’s thatched roof caught fire from the kitchen, according to the villagers.
“We took shelter at a local school building for two days but because of the cold, we are now staying in a relative’s cowshed,” Biura said who lives with her three children and mother-in-law. Her husband died in India while working there seven years ago.
The victims of the fire say they have lost their foodgrains.
“We have no food to eat or a place to live in after the fire incident. All of the food grains harvested in November have been completely burnt,” said Buira’s neighbour, Rangha BK, another victim of Saturday’s fire incident.
Fifty-seven individuals, including 28 children under the age of 18, have been rendered homeless in the fire.
In December 2019, another fire incident in Patala of ward 1 had rendered 24 families homeless.
To lower the threat of fire hazards, Tilgufa Municipality in Kalikot had allocated Rs3.5 million to replace thatched and wooden roofs with galvanized zinc sheets in the last fiscal year. But the budget was only sufficient to distribute zinc sheets to 99 houses.
“Zinc sheets worth Rs 35,000 were distributed to 99 houses. We could not distribute zinc sheets to all houses, as the majority of the roofs in the municipality are made up of wooden planks,” said Laxman Prasad Chaulagain, chief administrative officer of the municipality.
“In the current fiscal year, we invested a huge chunk of the budget for coronavirus control measures. That is why the campaign to replace thatched and wooden roofs has been put on hold,” he said.
Pacha Jharana Rural Municipality in the last fiscal year had also started a campaign to replace thatched roofs with zinc sheets.
“In the last fiscal year, we had distributed galvanized zinc sheets to 40 households in ward 3,” Khadkaraj Sejuwal, chairman of the rural municipality, said . “This year, we are going to distribute zinc sheets to 120 households.”
There are 1,600 thatched-roofed houses in Pachal Jharana.
Other local units in Kalikot, with the help of provincial and federal governments, have also taken initiatives to replace thatched roofs with zinc sheet roofs. But the campaigns are going at snail’s pace due to a lack of necessary budget, officials say.
“We have selected 106 houses for the campaign this fiscal year. But there are more than 450 thatched-roofed houses in the municipality,” said Kashichandra Baral, mayor of Raskot Municipality.
Humla also witnesses a large number of fire incidents every winter. Last year, 11 houses were destroyed in a fire at Rodikot of Sarkegard Rural Municipality. On Thursday, a residential building of Simkot Airport was also destroyed in a fire incident.
Meanwhile, most of the fire victims in Karnali complain that they are deprived of government relief after fires.
In November 2019, Sunkaura Singh’s house in Khatyad Rural Municipality ward 3, Mugu, was completely destroyed in a fire.
“We haven't received any relief yet. We still have no place to live and no food to eat. The government did not look after us,” she said. The fire had destroyed four other houses in her neighbourhood as well.
The situation of the other households is also similar to Singh.
“Most people in the remote areas do not have the money to change the roofs of their houses themselves. They have to live with the risk of fire every year,” said Kamal Shahi, a local resident of Khatyad. “The government is also not taking the issue seriously.”
The local government is also unable to bring a concrete relief programme for the fire victims.
“The local unit should immediately take initiatives to minimise the risk of fire incidents in the settlements. Otherwise, they should help us get rid of thatched roofs,” said Gokarna Shahi, a local resident of ward 3 in Khatyad Rural Municipality.
Last year, in Kimrigaun of Mugamkarmarong Rural Municipality, 19 houses were destroyed in a fire.
The majority of fire incidents in Mugu are reported from March to mid-June, according to Jaya Bahadur Malla, chairman of the District Red Cross.
“A large number of fire incidents are reported in Mugu every year. It is difficult to take the issue under control in remote areas where most houses have thatched roofs and are attached to one another,” Malla said. “If one house catches fire, it quickly engulfs the entire settlement.”
According to Bishnu Kumar Bham, chairman of Chhayanath ward 4, although villagers are willing to replace their thatched roofs as they realise the threat of fire there is not sufficient budget to continue the campaign to replace them.
The federal government representative in Mugu, Krishna Kumar Ghimire, the chief district officer said all he can do is request local governments to manage the budget for fire control and relief programmes.
It is the same story in Humla.
“We have been mobilising security personnel to take fire incidents under control,” said chief district officer of Humla Chiranjibi Giri . “But we are unable to manage other alternatives due to a lack of budget.”