Assessment report after a field visit by Sunil Babu Pant, Member of
Constituent Assembly, Nepal
On the 18th August 2008, the Koshi River broke through an eastern
retaining wall between Madhuban and Sripura and continuously cut the
retaining wall widening the breach further and further. Locals
estimate that the river has cut more than two and a half kilometres of
retaining wall. This devastating flood in Nepal, including some
districts in India, worst affects Haripuir, ShiripurJavdi, Laukihi and
Paschim Kushaha. But little is known of Bhokraha, Madhuban, Narshigha,
Despite long-term knowledge of the dangers, but with no preventive
measures taken by both Nepal and India, both are quick to blame each
other quite vocally for the flood disaster. Nepal said India did too
little too late and India says the corruption and insecurity in Nepal
prevented any effective action in prevention.
The East-West highway remains closed and may take months to be
reopened. The flood flow is cuts across the highway and the flow of
water can be diverted only after a significant reduction of water
level in Koshi River and the broken parts of the retaining wall
reinstated again. This is likely only after October.
Today is the seventh day since the flood disaster happened. The
government is unsure how many relief camps there are. New camps are
added to the list everyday. Some agencies have suggested there are 24
camps known to be operating until now and while others say they have
counted up to 29 camps.
Also flood victim figures vary from authority to authority. Some say
its +14,000, some say +19,000 people and some say more than 40,000
people are in different camps. The Nepal Army reports evacuating more
than 19,000 people over the last 6 days and has helped them to be
accommodated in the various camps.
Though it’s encouraging to see the local government and I/NGOs and
local communities working hard to manage the relief according to their
capacity, the central government’s presence, support and guidance is
sadly lacking. The Bhagabati Secondary School relief camp in Inaruwa
seems more organized and sits next to the LDO office and major
regional headquarters in Sunsari. Even there, Tika Rai from CPN Maoist
says up to 3,000 people are receiving support from this camp alone but
only 4 toilets poorly made and covered by rice sacks, are available.
Many people including children don’t use these toilets and the rooms’
windows can’t be opened as many people have used the backyard of the
school as a toilet producing a bad smell. Many cattle are kept in the
same compound. It’s very hot and congested for more than 60-70 people
sharing a classroom under the tin roof. No bathing facilities are
there – only two tube-wells exist.
32 year old Manewa Ansari from Paschim Kushaha called me in his room
and showed how congested it is to sleep 52 children, men and women in
such a small place without having anything on the floor. Each room
received one blanket. Mannewa has had an eye infection for the past 4
days, the doctor’s medication is not helping, and his wife has had
fever for many days. No one has received any trauma-related
counselling or any proper orientation on hygiene and sanitation
Volunteers and NGOs, rescuers and soldiers are working very hard day
and night to save lives but need replacement so that no one is
overburdened and support is continuous. Slowly the victims themselves
also should be encouraged to support their children, elderly and
people with health conditions. Many pregnant women and infants need
special care and special arrangements must be urgently addressed. Many
camps are located in schools so regular classes are not being
conducted and many students expressed their concern over their
education, as their exams are close. Many even say they will take
rather unpleasant steps to move the camps if the relief camps continue
to remain in their schools for a long time.
Hanuman Agrawal – coordinator for the kitchen and feeding program at
one of the camps said while serving yellow ghee rice and curry that
their team was working hard and they had food storage for up to 7
days, many people and organization had been very generous. He does not
worry much about the supply if the current flow of donations continues
but he worries about the misuse of donations. As he said, it’s hard to
verify who is from the camp and who is not without proper ID papers
and many times more people than the ones living in the camp seem to
queue up while lunch is being distributed.
Kali Prasad Subedi from UML says the management of the relief work has
become much better than before. Mahfuj Ansari, a member of the relief
storage committee, says the trend of receiving supplies is encouraging
but it’s been difficult to distribute in a coordinated manner.
Particularly the northern part from the Koshi camp area has proven to
be difficult. He also said that a few unpleasant incidents had
occurred including looting, and local goons have manhandled relief
workers. He also estimates that more than 15,000 flood victims still
remain under the open sky without any shelter and support. Very
limited supplies have reached Haripura village so far.
The immediate need is to get more relief to all the affected areas and
camps. More blankets, mattresses, pillows and bed covers, washing
power and soap, food, milk for infants, medication, mosquito nets,
portable toilets at least for the children, clean and sufficient
drinking water supplies are needed. The next immediate need is how and
where to relocate these camps so that the management becomes easier
and manageable – and to allow the schools to be reopen for the
Proper health camps also must be established especially for maternity
delivery and to ensure other basic medical support is accessible for
every one. Then start planning for long term support.
When I asked some of the flood victims what the government should do
now, many said find their missing loved ones, food, proper shelter,
clothes, medication and long term solutions as they believed their
houses and land have been destroyed by the flood.
When asked is the government doing enough, many said no and the Prime
Minister should have given priority to the epic struggle for lives by
many flood victims instead of visiting China for the closing ceremony
of the Olympics. One elderly man even blamed Prime Minister Prachanda
for the flood and said: ‘Because Prachanda did not take his oath in
the name of god, instead he did it in the name of people while being
sworn in as Prime Minister. Now god is angry and on the same day the
god punished Nepali people – so it’s all Prachanda’s fault’.
This is very tragic disaster but it’s not unmanageable but the
response so far indicates how little we in Nepal are prepared for
bigger scale disasters that we are bound to face. There is no way
Nepal alone is can cope but government has been shy in asking support
from the international community. The response from our mighty
neighbour – India – is also been dismal. Only a few years ago when the
tsunami hit, India not only refused to receive assistance from other
countries but extended support to other affected neighbours saying
India can handle such disasters on its own. Today, many Indians are
rushing to Nepal’s relief camps for support saying there is nothing
going on across the boarder, in India. This is really disappointing
and shameful of the economic super power in the region.
Report of field visit in the flood affected area in Sunsari, August 24, 2008.
PS: In two occasions member of Blue Diamond Society and Human Welfare
Society (local LGBT organization from the flood affected area,
Sunsari) collected money and donated amount 21400 RS to the flood
Appeal: We call for your generous contribution to the flood victims
for longer term sustainable relief program.
Thank you very much.
Assessment report after a field visit by Sunil Babu Pant, Member of