Winter has come
- Long-term programmes are needed to protect those vulnerable from the cold
Dec 25, 2014-
In the Kathmandu Valley, the cold is no mean thing. It almost never snows and the coldest it gets is in the single digits. It rarely snows and there is adequate warm sunlight during the mornings for a siesta. For those who can afford it, warm jackets, woolen hats, scarves, and gloves can easily ward off the evening chill. It is among the poor, especially in the Tarai, that the cold becomes a killer. Every year, along with every drop in the mercury, cold waves kill a number of people in the Tarai. January is the deadliest month, taking dozens of lives. This year, more than two dozen people died in January; last year, more than a hundred people died during the winter in the Tarai. On December 14, a 40-year-old man in Mahottari perished due to the cold, the first reported casualty this winter season.
This upcoming January looks to be deadlier still, given the great number of people displaced by floods in the western Tarai. In early December, a week-long cold wave had flood-displaced victims reeling. Lacking warm clothes and adequate shelters, children and the elderly especially were reportedly suffering from cold and pneumonia. In Banke, where over 7,000 people were displaced by floods, authorities had failed to provide warm clothing and build sturdy shelters. As a result, most displaced families were still living in temporary housing in public school and forest areas when the winter began. The Home Ministry subsequently issued a circular directing all local bodies and NGOs to work in tandem to provide blankets and fuel to vulnerable families along with putting health institutions on alert. However, the impact of this circular has yet to be ascertained.
Deaths and illness from the cold are largely preventable, especially in the hills and the Tarai where the temperature doesn’t dip too low. It is cold waves—rapid falls in temperature within a 24-hour period—that do the most damage. These cold waves can cause great damage to crops, livestock, and people caught unawares. Without solid shelters, those exposed to the elements can easily die from hypothermia. This includes the extreme poor and the homeless, who are often forced to sleep by the wayside even during the winters. The government has a responsibility to protect and provide for these people, which now includes flood victims. Those who can afford it will keep themselves warm through fires and warm clothing. But no amount of awareness programmes will help those who do not have the wherewithal to purchase bulky clothing, blankets, and fuel. There needs to be a concerted effort from the government, in partnership with NGOs and UN bodies, to provide shelter and clothing to the vulnerable, especially children, the elderly, and the sick. And given that this is a perennial problem, it would be best if the government comes up with targeted programmes and a long-term policy, instead of simply issuing circulars as stop-gap measures whenever the winter comes.
Published: 26-12-2014 09:15