Quake-hit families of migrant workers struggle for survivalMigrant workers from quake-affected areas in Jajarkot have not been able to return to India to earn money pushing them into dire financial straits.
Bhakta Bahadur BK, a migrant worker, leaves for India for work around this time of the year after celebrating Dashain with his family. This year he returned from India before Dashain and had planned to go back to work after the festivities. But the November 3 earthquake prevented him from making good on his plans. Since the earthquake destroyed his house in Chyuridar inward 4 of Nalgad Municipality in Jajarkot, he has been living with his eight-member family in a tent pitched in his field.
The 45-year-old owns around six ropani (0.7 acre) of farmland where the family grows food for household consumption. In previous years, the family would be busy sowing wheat before Bhakta left for India. But this year, the BK family is not planning to work in the fields that have suffered cracks and fissures during the earthquake.
“The food we had in stock was buried in the debris. We could not salvage anything,” said Bhakta. “The municipality gave us a sack of rice as relief. We will soon run out of food. It’s the season to sow wheat, but we are unable to work in the fields. I have no other choice, but to go to India to earn money, but since we don’t have a house I can’t leave my family to suffer in a tent during the winter months.”
Bhakta’s neighbour Bal Bahadur BK, who is facing a similar ordeal, is also worried about the depleting supply of food grains. Bal Bahadur, who came home to celebrate Dashain with family after working for four months in India, is in a dilemma. He also needs to go to India to earn money but does not want to leave behind his family of five in the time of need. “I can’t leave my family. We are all still in tents. If I leave, who will look after them and provide for them?”
There are around 80 households, mostly Dalits, in Chyuridar. The impoverished families own very little cultivable land. The land they own is steeply terraced and does not have irrigation. Badri Panta, the ward chairman of Nalgad-4, said that the local food production is hardly sufficient to last for about three months. “Chyuridar is the settlement of the impoverished people. The earthquake took everything from them. There is not a single intact house in the village,” said Panta.
“They do not have the resources to rebuild their houses without financial aid from the government.”
According to the ward chairman, two to three members of almost every household in Chyuridar go to Indian towns and cities for seasonal employment. “They generally go to India in April-May, come home to celebrate Dashain-Tihar in September-October and again return to India in November. But this year after being displaced by the earthquake, they have not been able to leave the village,” said Panta.
The earthquake-displaced people in Chyuridar have been camping in the fields under tarpaulin tents provided by the authorities. They are not tilling the field for wheat cultivation this time since they are living in the fields. “We have been living in the field. We are struggling to manage food and keep ourselves warm in the winter cold. The villagers have not been able to even consider tilling the land to grow crops in these desperate times,” said Bhoj Bahadur BK, another earthquake survivor in Chyuridar.
Around 150 families in Rawatgaun, another quake-affected settlement in ward 4 of Bheri Municipality, have been living in tents pitched in their cultivable fields. “Although this settlement is closer to the district headquarters, it is yet to see development. The displaced people will certainly face food shortage if additional relief materials are not supplied to them soon before the winter gets worse,” said Dote Nepali, the executive committee member of Bheri Municipality.
According to Dote, as many as 16 people died in the earthquake in Rawatgaun. “More than half of the families in Rawatgaun are Dalits. They either go to India or work in the area as daily wage earners. They have lost everything in the earthquake,” he said.
Before the devastating earthquake with its epicentre at Ramidanda, 60-year-old Kamara BK used to fish in the Bheri river for about eight to ten days a month and work in Rimna, Khalanga and Purtimkanda as a daily wage worker for the livelihood of his family. “But I have not been able to find work since the earthquake. A family that can produce enough crops for two months is considered well-off here in the village. I don’t have any land to till and no work so I am extremely worried about survival,” said Kamara. “Though Rawatgaun lies near Rimna bazaar the village does not have drinking water, irrigation, education and health amenities.”
As per the 2021 national census, the total population of Jajarkot, a hill district of Karnali Province, is 189,360. Among them, around 67,000 people go to India for employment each year.
“More than 100 youths from Chiuritol in ward 1 of Nalgad Municipality are still in India. Many people who came home to celebrate Dashain and Tihar did not return to India for work in the aftermath of the earthquake. We may get relief materials for one or two months. There is no certainty for us after that,” said Kedar Mahar of Chiuritol, another worst-hit village in ward 1 of Nalgad. According to him, all 186 households in Chiuritol have been camping out in the wheat fields. “We cannot leave our parents and other family members in such a situation. We cannot get any work here in the district as well. Our future looks grim,” said Kedar.
The people’s representatives say they are concerned about the well-being of the migrant workers and are planning to address their problems. “The quake-displaced families of migrant workers are in dire need. We have to create employment opportunities so that they find work after rebuilding their houses,” said Chandra Prakash Gharti, mayor of Bheri Municipality.