Disaster victims suffer as fund of billions of rupees remains unused

Published On: June 8, 2019 03:05 AM NPT By: Upendra Lamichhane

KATHMANDU, June 8: A massive flood in the Bheri River displaced the family of Man Bahadur Kathayat, a local of Surkhet, in August 2014. The flood even swept away his properties — clothes and cooking pots. Since then, his nine-member family has been taking shelter at a temporary shelter built by the government. 

The family has already spent nine years at the temporary shelter and yet has no clue how long they will have to stay there.

“I can neither leave this shelter nor can I build a house on my own,” said Kathayat, adding, “Our wounds have been further aggravated as the government doesn't implement its own promises.”

Ram Bahadur Puri shares a similar story. Puri, who is also the head of the Flood Victims Struggle Committee, informed that more than 1,000 households displaced by the floods are living a miserable life.

The government provided a grant of Rs 50,000 each to buy land to build houses for the displaced families. But the grant was too little to purchase land.

Having no other option than to buy land to construct his house, Puri took a loan of Rs 350,000 from his relatives to purchase land for building his house. The government gave an additional Rs 50,000 for the purpose of constructing the house.

The flood victim borrowed an additional Rs 100,000 to construct the building. “The interest keeps on increasing. I am thinking if I could sell the same land to settle the loan,” said Puri adding, “I was expecting a better life but I'm now in a great fix about what to do.”

While the flood victims including the head of the flood victims' struggle association share their sufferings, about Rs 3 billion remains unspent in the Prime Minister Relief Fund. Additionally, the Central Disaster Relief Fund established under the Ministry of Home Affairs has a fund of Rs 1.41 billion.

The fund collected for the disaster victims, however, doesn't reach the victims.

Hari Prasad Sapkota of the Disaster Management Division under the Internal Affairs and Law Ministry of Karnali Province, informed Republica that the ministry has requested the government to release Rs 320 million to the federal government to build 514 houses of flood victims. But the federal government has not released the money so far.

Sapkota believes the construction of houses for the flood victims is not possible if the federal government doesn't release the requested fund.

When asked why the fund meant for the disaster victims doesn't reach them, Bashi Kumar Acharya, under-secretary at MoHA, said the ministry sends the money to the District Administration Office concerned shortly after the disaster and those offices are responsible for channelizing the fund.

“It's the responsibility of the authorities concerned to handle the remaining tasks,” said Acharya.

Additionally, the government has allocated Rs 5.50 billion to National Security Natural Disaster Management for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget is supposed to establish an emergency disaster center and arrange logistics in all seven provinces.

The stakeholders concerned say the government has enough funds for rehabilitating the disaster victims. “It's a big pain when the disaster victims don't get support,” said Ganesh Kumar Jimee, chairman of the Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal.

Gimee believes not getting help when required despite enough money for the victims is a violation of the people's rights to get help in the time of need. “It's because of the lack of the right mechanism to handle disasters,” said Gimee.

A year has already elapsed since the government was formed in Karnali Province but it has not been successful in rehabilitating the flood victims desperately waiting for help.

“We want timely solution, not promises and slogans,” said Man Bahadur.

The case of Surkhet flood victims is just the tip of the iceberg. Disaster victims from various parts of the country are facing a similar fate.

Purna Bahadur Ghale of Uttargaiya, Rasuwa is one among such victims. His house and land surrounding the house were swept away by floods in August 2017. He is knocking the doors of government offices after he was informed that the government provides Rs 200,000 to build houses for flood victims but in vain.

Despite knowing that the money is not adequate to purchase land for building a house in safer place Ghale is struggling for years. “It's not sure when I will get that money,” said Ghale.

All disaster victims be they are flood victims from Surkhet and Rasua or fire victims of Taplejung or those troubled by elephants in Chitwan are still struggling for their rehabilitation.

Land right activist Jagat Deuja believes that the landless, squatters, the poor and people living in unmanaged areas suffer the most when a disaster hits. “The main responsibility of rehabilitating such poor and landless people falls under the responsibility of the government. Sadly, the government has been miserably failing to do so,” said Deuja.

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