Approaching Monsoon And Relief To Quake Victims: Govt Must Speed Up Rescue, Relief Distribution

By Nandalal Tiwari,The government on Saturday made public a report that around 250,000 houses were damaged by the 7.9 Richter scale earthquake that rattled Nepal on April 25. The figure does not include houses damaged in the most affected districts of Sindhupalchowk and Gorkha. If the two districts are included in the initial data, the total number of houses pulled down by the devastating quake could reach at least 400,000.


As of Sunday, reports say more than 7,000 people have been killed. A news report in this daily on Sunday said, quoting Minister for Information and Communications Dr Minendra Rijal, that some 400,000 families were rendered homeless by the quake, and only 47,801 tents had been distributed so far. This means only 10 per cent of the total victim-families of the quake have received basic materials for a temporary shelter in a period of eight days.


Monsoon menace

If the pace of rescue and relief distribution remains as it is, it will take some three months before it covers all the victims, and the situation will be simply terrible by then as the monsoon will be in its full swing, and people will have no option but to take shelter under the trees or in the caves if there are nearby.


Moreover, once the monsoon begins, the government and other agencies will be simply unable to send any relief to the poor villagers in the remote parts of the country where the quake has hit the hardest. Since the monsoon is likely to begin within a month, the government has no time and no option but to accelerate relief distribution at the maximum possible speed.


Given that an incomparably higher number of families in the rural areas have been affected by the quake than in the urban areas, the government or the concerned authorities must give more priority to the rural areas for relief distribution. Every family must get relief materials such as tents, mats and blankets for temporary shelter, clothes, utensils and minimum amount of food for the next three or four months.


The victims in the cities can somehow be attended to during the monsoon period, but doing so will be impossible in the rural areas as landslides will most probably block rural roads, hindering transportation of food and goods. The quake has loosened the soil, and it is possible that there will be more landslides this year than in the previous years.


As the monsoon is the sowing period, and almost all farmer families have lost their paddy, corn and millet seeds, the government should take steps so that the victims get improved seeds and chemical fertiliser for planting grains. Such a step will help avoid possible food scarcity in autumn or winter. Similarly, cattle have also been killed in large numbers; therefore, the government should try to ensure that every family gets a minimum number of cattle for milk, meat and fertiliser.


Despite such needs of the hour, it is worrisome that only 10 per cent of the victims have received tents. And the rescue operation has not been over yet. Many critically injured people have yet to be rescued and provided treatment. Many bodies have yet to be recovered from the collapsed houses even in Kathmandu and in the towns in its periphery.


Many people feel  - and there were also reports - that the government lacks the coordination skills to respond to the disaster. While reports in the national media read that the government had rejected the Chinese governments offer to send in more helicopters for rescue, the international media such as the BBC reported that Nepal was in dire need of more choppers for effective rescue and relief distribution.


Given the type of landscape and the condition of the roads and the period of emergency we are in, the offer of helicopters should not have been rejected. However, it is good that more helicopters are arriving from China, the USA and other countries for carrying out rescue operations.

Another sad part is that the government has received only a tiny amount pledged by the international community to the Prime Minister Disaster Relief Fund, although heavy relief amounts have been announced by different personalities, organisations (both nation and international) and countries. Those who have pledged the relief amount or collected it should immediately deposit it in the PMDRF so that the government can work more easily and the victims can get the relief materials in time of need.


It is good that the government has asked the NGOs and others to distribute the relief aid by coordinating with the district or local relief distribution committees. Those involved in relief distribution have the responsibility to see to it that the needy get the relief aid and no one gets double his due. The government should take steps to check corruption that could take place in the name of relief distribution both at the NGO and government levels.


Relocate villages

Although this is the time to focus on rescue and relief distribution, it will be appropriate to talk about rehabilitation as well. The government should consider avoiding areas prone to landslides while making any plans for rehabilitation. Along with the destruction, the quake has left an opportunity for us to relocate villages where there is state facility.


Given the fact that scatter houses have always been obstacles to ensuring access to schools, health posts, safe drinking water, electricity, roads and other facilities, it is the time for the government to make plans to relocate villages. The government can provide addition assistance to such a project.


Similarly, since building new houses means cutting down trees for timber, the government should come up with some housing model to minimise deforestation or environmental damage. The government can encourage the people to follow its plans by announcing incentives for those who follow the model.


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