Reconstruction fiasco

  • Quake survivors are living wretched lives as the government can’t get its act together
- umesh pokharel

Aug 16, 2017-The crow of a rooster serves as a wakeup call for Gombu Lama, 62, and his wife Yangchen Tamang, 58, who have been living under a tin roof in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Dhunche, Rasuwa since their home was flattened by the 2015 earthquake. They begin their work of crushing stones early in the morning. They wrap a plastic sheet around their bodies to protect themselves from the rain. Many elderly citizens in Camp 1 where they live also make a living by breaking up stones with a hammer.

Living in uncertainty

The camp’s inmates don’t know if they will ever get a safe place to live. One constant worry on their minds is whether the government will recognise them as IDPs. If they get IDP status, they will have a right to sustainable return to their place of origin; sustainable local integration in the area where they have taken refuge; or sustainable integration in another part of the country. The earthquake and subsequent landslides killed 38 people, injured 51 and wiped out most of the houses in Haku village. The villagers fled to Satbishe and Betrawati Bazaar on the border between Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts. Some took shelter in Santi Bazaar and Dhunche in Rasuwa. The lucky ones have been living in IDP camps set up by the government, while others have been living on rented land from where they can be evicted at any time. 

They live in miserable conditions without proper shelter, hygiene and sanitation facilities. Further, their cultural, economic and social lives have been turned upside down. Gombu Lama used to perform religious services, now he crushes stones. Those who used to earn a living through knitting, animal husbandry and farming remain idle in the camp. The young people who used to go to school have moved to Kyirong, Betrawati, Dhunche and nearby towns to work as wage labourers. Some of them return to their ancestral land to plant paddy and other seasonal crops. 

Correct definition

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement define IDPs as ‘persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or human made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognised State border’. 

Similarly, the government of Nepal’s Internally Displaced Persons Policy 2007 defines an IDP as ‘a person who is living somewhere else in the country after having been forced to flee or leave one’s home or place of habitual residence due to armed conflict or situation of violence or gross violation of human rights or natural disaster or human made disaster and situation or with an intention of avoiding the effects of such situations’.  

Thus, it is clear from both definitions that the people of Haku village who have been uprooted due to natural disasters are IDPs, and are entitled to a durable solution as emphasised by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Displaced persons are entitled to a range of social, cultural, economic, educational and political rights including the right to participate in public affairs and economic activities. Also, the Guiding Principles outline the responsibilities of national authorities and the role of humanitarian and development actors to help provide a durable solution. 

Even though the government’s Internally Displaced Persons Policy 2007 defines disaster induced displacement as internal displacement, the national policies and legal framework that have been formulated to address issues of earthquake survivors have not accepted earthquake induced displacement as internal displacement. The reason behind this attitude may be the higher costs associated with durable solution options, and partly due to examples from other disaster affected countries such as Indonesia and the US, among others. 

In Aceh, Indonesia, for example, the government described those displaced by the tsunami as ‘homeless’ to distinguish them from the more politicised ‘conflict IDPs’. Similarly, the US labelled survivors of Hurricane Katrina as ‘evacuees’ and ‘disaster victims’ because they preferred to use the term IDPs for persons displaced by conflict. However, considering the fact that around 26.4 million people have been displaced by disaster each year since 2008 and the ratio is expanding, hesitation in terming them as IDPs is undermining the seriousness of the issue. 

Keeping in mind the vulnerability of earthquake displaced people living in different parts of Nepal including Rasuwa, it is urgent that the government come up with a specific policy, guideline, and programme and plan to address their plight. The first step to this end is recognising earthquake induced displacement as internal displacement. If the government keeps ignoring the issue, it can become very costly. The European Court of Human Rights, for example, ruled that the Russian government was careless in preventing mudslides in the northern Caucasus and, therefore, ordered it to pay reparation to the surviving kin. 


Pokharel is a development communications professional

Published: 16-08-2017 07:48

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