Shame on you!

  • 12 days since the Sunkoshi disaster, govt is content dishing out promises
Shame on you!

Aug 13, 2014-

Twelve days have passed since the catastrophic landslide in Sindhupalchok district. This event caused shockwaves, and senior government officials, including Cabinet members, promised to do all that they could to provide relief and to clear the debris which has dammed up the river since. Yet, very little seems to have been accomplished. The disaster relief fund under the Prime Minister’s Office has collected around Rs 10 million for the victims of the landslide, but this money has not yet been mobilised. The district disaster relief fund, consisting of Rs 3.2 million in donations, remains unspent as well. According to reports, authorities are waiting to devise programmes before they spend the money.

Most worryingly, the debris from the landslide has dammed the Sunkoshi river, creating an artificial lake. The lake has been expanding and, if it bursts, will cause major devastation to surrounding areas and downstream. For over a week, the Nepal Army has been trying to release water from the lake through controlled explosions. However, the process remains incomplete. According to allegations by some political leaders who visited the area, the Army and police have failed to make any headway in draining the lake. The situation now appears to be getting dire. There is forecast for heavy rains the next few days, including in the river’s catchment area. If rains do lash the area, the lake will further expand. This will on the one hand threaten upstream neighbourhoods as the water level in the lake rises. Residents of Barhabise, the largest settlement and business hub in the area, are literally living on the edge. But there is a huge risk for settlements downstream should the lake burst.  

The suffering of the inhabitants of the area, and the prospect of a major catastrophe, does not seem to have caused major concern to the government. Ministers seem content to delegate responsibility to clear the lake to the Army and police. They are more concerned with power games in Kathmandu. Some lawmakers have criticised the government for failing to seek help from international sources, even when it has become clear that current efforts to clear the lake have not been successful. The government’s claims that it is capable of sorting out the Sunkoshi mess now appear as plain jingoist bluster. Our politicians seem to adopt a nationalistic stance when it is least needed. Further, it is unfathomable that the funds collected for relief still haven’t been spent. It is clear that the authorities--at all levels--are guilty of unconscionable delay in ensuring that the survivors of the landslide receive adequate food and shelter.

The Home Ministry and Army meanwhile claim that their work is now bearing fruit. We hope that this is indeed true and the lake will soon be drained. If, however, they are facing difficulties in clearing the lake, they should immediately make this public knowledge. The government should then decide on an emergency strategy that will involve seeking support from neighbouring countries which have been offering help in clearing the artificial lake. Meanwhile, the funds for relief should be immediately mobilised. The help of NGOs and INGOs should also be taken in the provision of humanitarian relief. 

Published: 14-08-2014 09:47

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