Paradise lost

  • Resettling people in the districts most severely affected requires more work
Paradise lost

Jun 10, 2015-

By now, Ramechhap, among the 14 districts most affected by the quake, has received enough tarps/tents and food. Arguing that the affected population in the district has received provisions at least once, the District Disaster Relief Committee has even stopped the distribution of relief materials. Yet, people living in several villages across the district are not happy. Over 100 different places have reported deep fissures in the ground, post the Great Quake and its aftershocks. Ramechhap residents are, understandably, concerned about whether it is safe to continue living in their villages. Janardan Ghimire, a local of Duragaon, wonders, “Who will show us places that are safe to fix our tent?”

Never before have geologists been so much in demand in Nepal than now. Rightly so, as the April 25 quake, among other things, was a reminder of our vulnerable geology. The fact that the country lies on a seismically-active zone has further highlighted the risks faced by settlements perched atop hills, at the foothills, and along river banks.

With the monsoon just around the corner, many settlements in the mid-hills affected by the quake face the risk of landslides. A study conducted by the Department of Geology and Mines, along with the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod) and the Survey Department, has listed 43 settlements in Gorkha, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchok, and Dolakha that are highly at risk and need to be immediately relocated before the monsoon arrives. Thirty-eight other settlements need to remain alert. This number could increase as the research team has yet to assess the risk faced by10 other affected districts. Meanwhile, there are reports that the government is mulling over the relocation of vulnerable settlements to the Bhutanese refugee camps in Jhapa and some cantonments for erstwhile Maoist combatants.

Resettling communities, however, is always an uphill task. Development-wise, the idea of cluster housing with roads, electricity, hospitals, schools—all within walking distance for households that were earlier scattered across the mid-hills—is both economical and wise. This might sound easy but moving people across climatic zones and uprooting them from their cultural and social milieu is always a difficult task. Unsurprisingly, highland villagers from the Langtang Valley are already complaining about the heat in Kathmandu. So moving them to the humid temperatures of the plains—as with the Bhutanese refugee camps in Jhapa—might not be such a good idea. In addition, settling people in new places exposes them to pathogens that their bodies might not be immune to. Resettlements plans must also account for and ensure livelihoods.

Much thought needs to be put into resettlement. In the immediate, the government should expedite the process of identifying risky settlements, and residents in affected districts like Ramechhap need to be informed about the safety of their location. In case they are at risk, they too should be relocated to elsewhere in the same district, to the extent possible. In the long run, implementing a land use policy is a crucial. Planned urban and rural settlements should follow.

Published: 11-06-2015 08:30

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