Nepal’s Tarai plains have always suffered—from floods and inundation during the rainy months, from heat wave during summer and from cold wave during winter months. In almost all the cases people from the low income bracket—such as Dalits and marginalized communities—have to bear the brunt. It is no different this winter. Dipping temperature and cold wave have affected normal life in many Tarai districts. Several schools have declared holiday while flow of patients at hospitals has remarkably increased. According to the District Education Office of Saptari, over 102 schools have been shut down due to excessive cold. The situation is no different in Siraha, Sunsari, Dhanusha and Udayapur districts. Every year, around two dozen people die due to cold. And most of them die because of lack of clothes or proper houses.
The victims to succumb to the deadly cold are mostly the children and elderly people. The tragedy is this has been happening for years and yet the governments of the day have not been able to save the poor from the preventable deaths. This time around too, a major complaint of the people in the plains is that the government makes no plan in advance to combat the situation. In Saptari, for example, Dalits have complained that children and elderly people die also due to lack of enough food. The situation is dire in this community for most of them are daily wage laborers who work in construction sites, whose livelihood, including food and clothes, depends on whether they find the work or whether they are able to do the work in this extremely adverse weather condition.
Death by cold wave, and by the same token, heat wave, has been the biggest stigma of state of Nepal. Cold wave hits Tarai plains every year, the poor die of this every year and yet the government does not make enough preparations for their safety and comfort. This situation should have changed a long back, or at least after the provincial and local governments have been in place. Now the local and provincial governments do not have to look up to Kathmandu at least to provide for the needs of the extremely poor and vulnerable population. They can chart their own plan and they can reach out to the vulnerable people on time so as to save them from the preventable deaths. The Ministry of Home Affairs has allocated one million rupees each for 42 districts—22 in Tarai and 20 in the mountains and hills—in a bid to prevent deaths from the cold wave and snowfall. This is a welcome step. Now local and provincial governments have to ensure that this money reaches the targeted people. The state needs to ensure that not a single citizen has to lose life just because s/he is not able to afford to buy warm clothes or they have no proper houses to live in. The situation in the plains might go worse as the mercury is dipping every other day. Governments in all spheres should remain alert to ensure that not a single citizen has to die due to cold wave ever again.