Friday, September 5, 2014

The Night that Changed their Lives

Three days of incessant rainfall starting  14 August 2014 caused considerable damage in 10 districts of Mid & Far West Regions of Nepal. In the four most affected districts -- Banke, Bardiya, Surkhet and Dang-- 94 people lost their lives, and another 114 are missing.  While nearly 29,000  families (around 130,000 people)  have been declared affected, more than 5,200 families have been displaced, with more than 27,000 homes fully or partially damaged. Thousands of acres of agricultural land have been inundated, hundreds of acres washed away
Robin Giri was in Bardiya district recently along with Kiran Panday, the photographer.  Below is an account of what Robin saw and heard.

Bardiya District, Western Nepal –The narrow strip of asphalt that is the path to Gulariya, the district headquarters, is dotted with bright coloured tarpaulin tents, hugging the elevated road.
Bright coloured tents line the road into Gulariya
One cannot help but peer under the makeshift tents and see the of the inhabitant’s lives, which include pots and pans, old clothing, and other knickknacks – a reminder of the things they used to have at home.
Some tents of the lucky few are packed with more possessions they were able to haul away before the waters began to rise, and even house domestic animals.
Livestock compete for space under the tents on the road
Home is now a few metres away or hundreds; clogged in mud, or rendered uninhabitable, or washed away by the ferocity of the Babai river that overflowed its banks on the night of the 15th of August.
“The water was already seeping through the doorway on the afternoon that we did the Nwaaran for my son,” says Indariya Tharu, clutching her baby boy and alluding to his 11th day ceremony, the night the flood struck their lives.

Indariya Tharu and her son who is now 22 days old, in Mohammadpur village
That night the water rose to their ankles and she and her husband clutched their three children and ran to the road for safety. That’s where they’ve all been living since – all 108 homes in the village of Mohammadpur.
As we drive further along the road into Gulariya, the situation is the same: hundreds of makeshift tents along the highway, and of a people displaced by the mighty Babai River in this district in the Western Terai, which is battered by the monsoons every year.
Along the road, people carry on about their lives. Some women are cooking in the open, while their children lounge and play amongst their belongings under their tarpaulin homes.
A woman cooks in the open in Bardiya
Bardiya district and its low lying areas, approximately 500 kilometres southwest of Kathmandu, is affected by the monsoon floods every year, but this year was the worst in decades, according to Nepal Red Cross Society officials in Gulariya.
A testimony to this fact is the office building of the NRCS itself, where floodwaters from the Babai flowed into town and damaged a lot of relief items stored in their compound.
Mr. Shiva Raj Subedi from the Bardiya chapter of the NRCS offers to drive along with us to visit some other communities that were hit hardest by the flooding in this district.
He shows me his camera and we look at images of the town of Gulariya, submerged in knee-deep water.
Floodwaters block the path to the Bardiya NRCS offices the day after the flooding (Photo: Sagar Gyawali)
“We were beginning to get worried that if the waters kept on rising, the whole town would have to be evacuated,” said Mr. Subedi as we drove west from Gulariya.
The destruction is widespread, and even ten days after the flood waters have receded, the soil on both sides of the road is like putty. Soft and buttery, but of no use for crops or farming. Large sections of the road are washed away, and is dangerously close to being severed by the continuing rains.
Large sections of the road have been washed away
A few hundred metres later and onto a dirt road, and our big vehicle is suddenly on unsure footing. Our driver changes gears and into 4-wheel mode, but even with all four feet on the ground our vehicle is perilously close to getting side-swept off the road, the knee-deep slush and mud that has now become the road.
We walk the last few hundred metres on foot to the town of Bagahi, which today is a distribution centre for food items for those most affected by the flood.
“To the right in the distance is the former town of Rampur Tappa,” says Mr. Subedi, pointing to two tin roofs visible across the Babai River.
Tents for the displaced from Rampur Tappa village, near the village of Bagahi
Rampur Tappa was until the 15th of August a settlement of 43 homes, surrounded on three sides by the Babai river. Today only two roofs are standing; the other 41 were washed away.
When we get to Bagahi, there is a large crowd. Residents from the surrounding wards are here today to receive their share of relief items, and the crowd also includes about 164 members from Rampur Tappa.
Men and women sit on their haunches, in the small patches of shadows under the mango trees. The younger children are with their mothers, while the older ones and the adolescents play. 
People wait for distribution of food items to begin
It is not hard to miss the residents of Rampur, Tappa. They sit in a cluster, the elderly sitting on string charpoys, in what might have been a cowshed. They all have a resigned expression on their faces.
I meet Dhan Bahadur Khatri and his two sons. On the night they fled their homes, wading across chest deep water, he and his wife, his elder son and his eldest daughter were holding hands making a human chain to ford across together.
“My wife and my daughter got swept away. One moment we were all together and suddenly they were both gone,” says Mr. Khatri. His two boys and he have shaved heads to honour their dead. His daughter’s body was found a few kilometres downstream, but his wife’s was never found.
Dhan Bahadur Khatri with his younger son Santosh, from Rampur Tappa
 “I don’t know what to do now,” he says slowly, looking into my eyes as if I might have some answer. I can only grit my teeth and grip my pen hard, and place a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
Relief and Rehabilitation
The Government of Nepal, and its partners such as NRCS and other development partners like UNICEF and WFP and others, have mounted a response effort to support those affected by the floods in Bardiya district.
Of the total 80,000 families affected by the floods in Bardiya, food items are being provided to 52,000 families by WFP and the remaining 28,000 families are being provided food items by the District Disaster Relief Committee.
A woman receiving food items at the Bagahi distribution centre
UNICEF is providing non-food relief items to the 3023 households that were completely destroyed by the floods in Bardiya. Non-food relief items include buckets and mugs, hygiene kits, water purification tablets, soap and towels.
UNICEF has also taken precautions to prevent the outbreak of diarrhoeal water borne diseases and has helped train volunteers who are being dispatched to all affected VDCs for one month, and who will provide Water Sanitation & Hygiene education to all residents.
UNICEF is currently working on a plan with the District Education Office in Bardiya to help the 30,000 estimated children who have been affected by the school closures.