After the deluge
After the deluge
ARUNA UPRETY in MAHOTTARI
The dalit families have been living on road embankments ever since the flood waters inundated their homes in this eastern tarai district two weeks ago. They had just started going back to their homes when the floods returned on Wednesday.
The CDO was here to distribute blue plastic sheets, and tried to get them to move back so the children would not get hit by passing trucks. But the families were reluctant to go back because their houses have been washed off, or they are near collapse.
“We have got only one kilo of chiura and four packets of noodles to eat,” says Sita Debi, a mother of four, sitting on a wooden bed with four goats underneath.
“We treat the goats like family,” she adds, “they are our only source of income. We have some rice in the storeroom at home but that is all rotted by now we’ll just have to turn it into fertiliser.”
A three-month old baby of another destitute family nearby is being bottlefed because her mother is sick. Flies are swarming all over the nipple of the bottle which is lying on the ground. The child’s 13-year-old sister is baby-sitting and puts the bottle in the baby’s mouth so she’ll stop crying.
The real crisis begins after the flood waters recede
Now that the flood waters are receding, it is disease and hunger that are of immediate concern. But the villagers also need to rebuild their houses and their landlords are willing to loan them money at 36 percent interest.
The villagers didn’t know about the government’s announced grants scheme under which they are entitled to Rs 15,000 if the houses are completely destroyed and Rs 5,000 if partially destroyed.
The women from the Musher, Mandal, and Dom communities were skeptical. They’d heard about such schemes before. “What has the government done for us till now? They have always cheated us, at least we get immediate cash from the businessmen to rebuild, and our men can go to India to work and pay back the loan,” said one woman with a firmness in her voice that was surprising for a dalit woman.
There are banners along the road announcing the forthcoming Constituent Assembly election. Pushpa Kamal Dahal stares out of a Maoist poster at a nearby teashop, and there is another one of Prime Minister Koirala addressing some big crowd. None of them have ever visited, and neither have their party workers or madhesi activists. But closer to the elections they’ll probably all be here promising the villagers the sky, because they know that the dalits are a powerful vote bank.
Wading knee-deep from house to house in the village of Simadhai it is difficult to see how all the money collected for flood relief in Kathmandu will ever get here to make a difference. Relief is also not coordinated. People in Kathmandu are collecting clothes which the people here will never wear.
“The priority here is shelter, food, medicines, credit and long-term flood mitigation,” says the head of an NGO here, “please don’t send us what we don’t need. And don’t forget that the real misery begins when the waters recede, when the floods are not in the headlines anymore.”
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