Nowhere safe to go, people in disaster-hit areas live in terror as monsoon nearsHundreds of people still living in places identified as unfit to reside seven years ago.
When it started raining on Monday afternoon, Tara Khadka of Khamare in Sindhupalchok’s Balephi Rural Municipality was working in her neighbour’s field. As the rain picked up, coupled with hailstorm, Khadka got worried.
Khadka has been residing in an area that has been designated unfit for human settlement by experts.
“I ran home to see if my daughter, who is small, and in-laws, who are too old, were safe,” she told the Post over the phone from Sindhupalchok. “I was so worried that I phoned my husband to ask if we should shift to a temporary settlement in the nearby village.”
The sudden dash for her home whenever it rains heavily has become a routine for her for the past seven years.
Monday’s rains were part of the pre-monsoon precipitation, and meteorologists have forecast above-normal monsoon this year. Even though rains raise hopes of a good harvest, for around 200 people like Khadka in the Khamare village, they are a source of distress.
Khamare village in the Balephi Rural Municipality is one among several villages devastated by the 2015 earthquake and they were designated disaster-prone and unfit for human settlement by geologists.
Along with Khamare, Lidi village of Jugal Rural Municipality of Sindhupalchok, settlements in Shahidbhumi Rural Municipality and Mahalaxmi Municipality in Dhankuta, in Silichong Rural Municipality in Sankhuwasabha and in Marshyangdi Rural Municipality of Lamjung have been designated as landslide-prone and uninhabitable, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The villagers, however, are left with no option but to continue living in such risky areas as authorities have failed to relocate them.
“More villages and settlements might have been at risk of disasters including landslides,” Dijan Bhattarai, spokesperson for the authority, told the post. “But we do not know which ones.”
As the authority was set up some two years ago, it lacks technical, human as well as financial resources to identify disaster-prone villages, officials say.
“We have allocated a budget for the relocation of some villages and recommended funds for relocation of some other settlements,” said Bhattarai. “We too have to take the latest update from respective districts.”
Nepal is highly vulnerable to natural disasters—earthquakes, landslides and flooding, among others. The country, however, is not capable of handling large-scale disasters, experts say.
Locals of Khamare should have been resettled in a safer area long ago after geologists identified the area as disaster-prone seven years ago.
Next month, the monsoon will enter the country and it will last until September. For those living in areas unfit for human settlement, the four months of rains give them sleepless nights.
The country is now in the grip of elections, with local polls slated for May 13 and two other polls due next year, and the plight of Khamare village locals has failed to become an agenda for any of the parties or candidates.
“Leaders from local units and the district have been coming to our village to seek vote,” said Khadka. “When we ask about our problems, they say they will sort it out after the election.”
Khadka, however, is not hopeful, as parties and candidates had made a similar promise when they visited the village during the last elections in 2017.
Sindhupalchok was one of the districts worst hit by the 2015 twin earthquakes on April 25 and May 12.
While the April 25 earthquake’s epicentre was Gorkha, the May 12 earthquake had its epicentre in the border area of Dolakha and Sindhupalchok. Of the 56 settlements identified by government authorities for immediate relocation in the worst affected districts, 14 were from Sindhupalchok.
According to villagers, there are 38 households in the Khamare village and all of them move to nearby Koiraldanda, which is a 20 minutes’ walk, when monsoon starts. They have set up temporary shelters in the land taken on lease by the rural municipality.
“We cannot live in our village during monsoon. But sadly, the makeshift shelters set up in the nearby village are also not fit for living in,” said Ram Bahadur Khadka, another resident of Khamare. “Due to rains, bamboo poles used to set up the makeshift shelters have got rotten.”
Expert panels deployed by the National Reconstruction Authority and a team of geologists have warned that big landslides can occur at any time, as the land has loosened and become weak in the area by the earthquakes.
Five people were buried after a small landslide struck a house of the same village in 2015, after expert panels designated the village unfit to reside, according to Tara Khadka.
“In the monsoon, we go to makeshift shelter to sleep and return to the village to feed cattle and for farming,” she said. “We cannot leave this village completely, as we have nothing else and no place to go. Political parties do not even have time to listen to our problems as they are concerned only about votes.”
Experts on disaster management say Nepali government agencies have a tendency to take a reactive approach, paying little attention to long-term plans and policies. According to them, it’s negligence on the part of authorities to leave the villagers in disaster-prone areas to fend for themselves for the last seven years.
“Whenever disasters strike, authorities scramble to distribute relief materials,” said Shakti Gurung, executive director the Centre for Disaster Management Studies. “Relief is an immediate measure, which is fine. But after some time, authorities forget the disaster-hit people.”
As experts’ panels and geologists identified settlements as unlivable long ago, according to her, authorities should have relocated the residents to safer places.
“Reactive measures and failure to find long-term solutions have forced hundreds of the poor and the marginalised to perpetually live in terror,” Gurung told the Post. “How can the state put hundreds of lives in danger?”