Incidents of sexual assault unchecked in Surkhet’s flood-displaced campsA few cases get reported but a majority of them are settled within the camps, say families displaced by the 2014 floods.
A three-year-old girl who was staying with her family at a camp for flood-displaced families in Birendranagar was raped in February last year. The perpetrator was an 11-year-old boy from the same camp set up at the Women’s Training Centre. The crime was not reported to the police but the gruesome incident has left girls living under flimsy tents in abject terror.
“We have to stay under tattered tents at the camp. The structures are very weak. We live in constant fear of violence and sexual harassment,” said a 13-year-old girl at the temporary camp. The flood victims taking shelter at the camp are very worried regarding the security of young girls. They complained that women and girls at the camp have to endure gender-based violence from both within and outside the camp.
Around 900 families in Surkhet were displaced by the floods in August 2014. Twenty-four people were killed in the disaster while 91 others are still unaccounted for or declared dead. The flood-affected families have been taking shelter in several camps at Masina, Girighat, Tikhakuna and the Women’s Training Centre in Birendranagar, among other areas in the district. They are all awaiting resettlement.
As many as 84 people from 15 flood-displaced families have been staying at the camp set up on the premises of the Women’s Training Centre. There are 36 children below the age of 15 and seven are below five years of age. The families say they are worried about the safety and security of the children at the camp.
“We have to go out for work, leaving our children behind at the camp. We are worried about their safety,” said Pabitra Nepali, one of the displaced people taking shelter at the camp. She complained that the authorities concerned have failed to resettle them in safer locations and are indifferent towards their plight.
A 14-year-old girl had been raped and impregnated at the flood-displaced camp in Girighat three years ago. She has a two-year-old son now. The perpetrator is serving his term in Surkhet prison.
Incidents of gender-based violence are rampant in several of the camps. A few cases get reported but a majority of them are settled within the camps, said Gita BK, a resident of the camp at Girighat.
“Only a few cases of sexual assault and gender violence are reported. The camp is near a forest so perpetrators easily target girls and women. We do not feel safe here,” she said.
The displaced families also complain that they have to bear extreme cold and scorching heat under the flimsy tents every year. And the pandemic has added to the woes of the flood victims, most of whom are daily wage workers.
“Before the pandemic, we used to earn Rs 600 a day as a daily wage worker. But these days, we get Rs 300 a day for the same work,” said Saraswati Yogi, one of the displaced flood victims. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to manage two meals a day for the family.”
Meanwhile, Birendranagar Municipal Office claims that it has been organising various programmes for the victims of floods, landslides, earthquakes, fires, lightning and road accidents and the families affected by the coronavirus pandemic. According to municipal officials, a Municipal Disaster Management Committee has been formed to conduct relief and rescue works during times of disaster and health emergency. Awareness campaigns have also been launched to end ill practices such as gender violence, human trafficking and domestic violence, among others, the officials say.
“We have collaborated with the UNDP to employ more than 300 individuals affected by disasters and the pandemic at a budget of around Rs 30 million,” said Dev Kumar Subedi, mayor of Birendranagar Municipality.
The municipality has also prepared the Disaster Risk Prevention and Management Rule to address the ongoing problems faced by women, children, senior citizens and disabled people. According to Subedi, many women benefited from the Women Self Employment Programme during the pandemic.
A project, in collaboration with various national and international organisations, is on the pipeline for disaster risk management. Narayan BK, the project officer, said the organisations are helping in the resettlement programmes keeping in view the social and environmental safety of the affected families.