Hari Adhikari, Nepal Red Cross Society
Life appears to have returned to normal in the cities of Banke and Bardiya, and their citizens hurry about carrying on with the business of day-to-day living. However, the district branches of the Nepal Red Cross Society are still inundated with survivors and representatives from government organizations and NGOs.
Sakir Khan is a resident of Khalemasah whose wife Amna Begam delivered their child only six hours before the floods. “When the flood level began to rise, one of our neighbours took the baby to the high bridge on the way to Fattepur. Amna was shouting for help when I was about to release the cattle,” says Sakir.
“Suddenly the roof collapsed and Amna’s leg was trapped. I forced her leg free and dragged her towards the bridge. By the time we reached it, Amna was almost unconscious and the whole village was under water.” Sakir and his wife are now sheltering in a neighbour’s partly damaged house.
Life in many villages outside the cities is still miserable. Debris and damage resulting from the floods and heavy rainfall is still very much in evidence.
Farmland and settlements have been ruined; roads have enormous potholes or have been washed away making access to some flood-affected areas almost impossible. Severe damage to the Nepalgunj–Fattepur road has made it impossible for the Nepal Red Cross Society and other organizations to deliver relief to residents of the villages of Betahani.
The floods engulfed thousands of hectares of farmland. Most of the farms in the area had corn plantations ready for harvest or recently planted paddy fields. The paddies have survived, but the corn plantations were wiped out.
The local communities, who rely on these crops for a living, find themselves with no little or no subsistence.
One mother laments that she has nothing with which to feed her family of six. “All our food, clothes and savings have gone. The corn on the farm was ready for harvest and now it is ruined. How can I support my family?” The family was dependent on the corn harvest and has no alternative source of income.
The damaged shacks on the banks of the river reflect the economic status of the owners. Most of the people affected by the floods in Banke and Bardiya do not have landowners’ certificates and have been occupying the land for years without formal registration.
Poverty is the main reason for the flimsiness of the houses, but the uncertainty of their ownership is another reason for their condition. Even if the owners were aware of impending disasters, they would not be able to afford to take preventative measures.
Thus far, floods and landslides have already claimed the lives of 45 people across 16 districts. Dozens of people are missing and thousands have been displaced. The number of casualties is still likely to rise, primarily because of malnutrition and the spread of disease. Cases of influenza, eye infections and cholera are being reported. Children, the elderly,expectant and new mothers are in particular need of immediate assistance.
Of the 16 affected districts, Banke, Bardiya, Achham and Nawalparasi are the worst affected and this is where the Nepal Red Cross Society has focused its activities. The Red Cross has carried out needs assessment, and the first and second phases of aid have been distributed.
A group of aid agencies – including the UN and Save the Children, USA – is stepping up the relief effort by visiting the affected areas, along with two medical doctors and the eye technician from the Nepal Red Cross Society.
Special support to 700 pregnant women and postnatal mothers will also be provided, together with medicines, mosquito nets and water purifiers.
Many homeless families are staying under tents distributed by Nepal Red Cross Society on the side of the Banke–Bardiya highway.
Manisa Basnet, age 17, and her family are sheltering in the premises of Bangalamukhi High School. Her house was destroyed when the Babai river burst its banks. Her father is away from home for work and her mother is heading the household of 4 children. She makes her living by washing clothes and utensils.
With their houses swept away by the river, they don’t know where they are to go next. “We are here today,” says Manisha, “but we don’t know where we will be tomorrow.”