SAPTARI, Dec 24: Dipping temperature and cold wave have affected normal life in the tarai districts. Several schools have declared holiday while flow of patients at hospitals has remarkably increased. According to the district education office, over 102 schools have been shut down due to excessive cold.
Locals lament that the cold wave this time arrived much earlier than usual and they were ill prepared for the calamity.
"The temperature was quite normal till 10 days ago. Suddenly, it turned too cold," said Devnarayan Yadav, a member of the Disaster Management Network, Saptari. "Schools have shut down and people are finding it very hard to cope with the cold weather," he added.
Schools in Saptari, Siraha, Sunsari, Dhanusha and Udayapur, among other districts have announced closure.
Data of the last few days indicate that around two dozen people have die due to cold this winter. Most of the victims reportedly died due to the lack of clothes or warmth. Despite this, the government hardly ever makes plans in advance to combat the situation, alleged Yadav. "People basically from the Dalit communities are hit hard. Since they don't have warm clothes and proper house to live in, winter troubles them a lot," he said.
Yukti Marik from a Dalit community also lamented of 'extreme poverty'. The local of Saptari stated that children and elderly people in his community die also due to lack of enough food. "It is not just the cold that hit us. We starve as well. Children and elderly people cannot face winter in empty stomach," he said.
Members of his community are mostly daily wage laborers who work in construction sites. When there's no work, it is difficult to maintain their livelihood. Lack of proper diet leaves them fragile as they struggle to cope with the harsh winter. "Our people die in lack of food, clothes, health care," said Marik.
Khushilal Mandal, a civil society leader of Saptari, meanwhile expressed remorse over the government's apathy toward this 'recurring problem'. Though cold arrives every year and it hits the poor people hard, the government does not make necessary preparations for their safety and comfort, he said. "There are local governments in place now and they too have taken the matter very lightly," he said.
Kajari Marik of Launiya village in Saptari district had lost her husband six years ago apparently due to cold. She is fearful that her children might also meet the safe fate. "It is hard to protect children from cold when there are no warm clothes," she said.
Her neighbor Rajkumar Marik said his grandmother 'also died due to cold' two years ago and she was just 55 years old.
Hospitals in the district are crowded. Staff at Gajendra Narayan Sagarmatha Zonal Hospital, Rajbiraj reported of a sudden increase in the number of patients. The number has increased since the last three days. People are visiting the hospital following the symptoms of pneumonia, diarrhea, fever.