“This is the first time ever I have seen such a big flood in my life,” a 70-year elderly told me when I went to distribute emergency relief materials to the flood-affected people in Mohmmadpur of Garuda Municipality in Rautahat.
Although his house has been damaged by the floods, he wore smiles of being alive after his family members rescued him from floodwater. When I asked him, “Wasn’t the previous flood in the district 24 years ago bigger?”
“Flood this year is the deadliest and the current flood has affected areas which weren’t affected by the last flood,” he added.
In Rautahat, floods claimed lives of 18 people, and 28 are still missing, as per the official data of the govt. A preliminary estimated data of police shows that floods affected more than half a million people. It has displaced thousands of people, and loss of properties including crops worth billions in the district.
Last Saturday (August 12, 2017), I was on the way to Gaur, district headquarters of Rautahat from Birgunj. Some of my friends advised me not to go there since there is possibility of floods that night. Hence, I stayed at Chandrapur on the East-West Highway.
On the same day (August 12, 2017) Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba directed all concerned district level administrative chiefs to provide every possible support to the flood-affected people through rescue, relief support.
Saturday evening, I talked to my friend Dipendra Thakur who was in Gaur. He informed me that he was with a team of government officials including Chief District Officer (CDO). “Rivers have started to overflow and it is raining incessantly. It is likely to flood,” he said.
And it happened.
Saturday night proved the worst nightmare for thousands of people. Surprisingly, people residing very far from rivers had never imagined that floodwater could enter into their villages and wash away their houses and properties.
The next day, I listened to the news. I came to learn that floodwater had risen to 5-7 ft. in Gaur, the district headquarters of Rautahat. People living in ground floor were forced to move to the upper floors, and roof of their houses. In Rautahat, almost 90 per cent of total area was flooded, and human settlements and agricultural lands submerged.
In response to flood crisis, the government rescue and emergency relief I have seen is so lethargic that made me feel the absence of state. The district disaster relief committee (DDRC) is inefficient to help people with rescue and emergency relief support. The DDRC is the authorised district level government body responsible for undertaking preparedness and contingency plan, rescue, and rehabilitation before, during and after disaster.
On August 13, floodwater was everywhere. Due to water, people were unable to move to any place for rescue and help. The security officials tried to help, but they could not help many people. Some of them died in without rescue support.
In a heartrending incident, a total of six persons died after floods swept away an ambulance carrying a pregnant woman in labor pain.
I was very disappointed with the level of government support in response to the emergency situation caused by the flood. I felt same level of frustrations with the state among many people. At the same time, Supreme Court Advocate Dipendra Jha, who is also the team leader of THRD Alliance, called me to assign the task of coordinating relief support to the flood-affected people.
On August 14, we the team of THRD Alliance and Madhesi Youth took a joint initiative for helping people in crisis. That time, we did not have any resources but we had willpower to do it. As I have known to these organizations closely and volunteered for them for social cause, it was easier for me to coordinate with the efforts.
We started to raise funds and identify needy flood-victims simultaneously. First, we started to raise funds publicly using THRD Alliance. We were happy with generous support we have been receiving.
On the same day later, the government adopted One-door Policy that barred individuals and the non-governmental organisations from distributing relief materials to flood victims. This has discouraged individuals and organizations willing to support the flood-affected people. They doubt on the sincerity of the government on proper and efficient use of their donation. They have made up their mind basing on the government’s failure to timely disburse and rehabilitate the victims of earthquake.
Although Nepal is a fully democratic country, the directive by the state controls over the individuals and organizations to distribute relief materials to the affected community, and makes them illegal . Subsequently, THRD Alliance had to stop collecting funds through their organization.
While we were discussing among the team of Madhesi Youth about alternative ways to continue our efforts. Our founder Puru Shah chipped in with an idea of starting a fundraiser for flood survivors. We were further encouraged by our past success story through the use of fundraiser – Help Photojournalist Bikram Rauniyar Replace his Camera Broken by Nepal Police , also please read our success story – Photojournalist gets new camera – in The Kathmandu Post.
We, the team of Madhesi Youth, agreed to replicate our success by once again connecting with kind hearts willing to support the community in crisis. We launched a fundraiser for flood-affected people in Nepal.
On August 15, we have been able to distribute emergency relief support to 60 families in Mohammadpur, Garuda Municipality of Rautahat district. The emergency relief package per family contained 2 kilos of Chiura (beaten rice), half a kilo of Bhuja (puffed rice), two packets of biscuits, one packet of Wi-Wi noodle, a big packet of Dalmoth (snacks) and one bottle of mineral water.
One door policy of the government put some administrative hurdles. Although I informed DDRC about relief materials distribution in the said village, the village secretary wanted to store it. But I did not accept for keeping the goods for emergency needs in the store. After overcoming these challenges and by the time I went to village with a team of volunteers with emergency relief support, it was already evening.
After we physically verified the flood-affected families, we distributed to the needy flood victims of 60 households in presence of social leaders, youths and former president of the village.
Most of the flood victims benefited with our emergency support were from Dalit and poor communities, who are the most vulnerable due to flood.
After I came back to Chandrapur in late evening, one of my friends asked if I violated the One-Door Policy. I replied that we coordinated with DDRC and VDC secretary, and informed them about the distribution plan. They wanted us to store and distribute later. But we wanted to distribute the relief materials at this emergency hour.
If distributing emergency relief to the flood-affected people in crisis violates one-door policy of government, let me do it.
Finally, on behalf of team, I sincerely thank all the donors, individuals and organizations for trusting our team of Madhesi Youth and THRD Alliance. I am also grateful thankful to Dipendra Jha and Puru Shah for encouraging and helping with every possible support to reach out the affected community. I cannot help myself expressing my heartfelt gratitude to our team members, volunteers, youths and political leaders of the flood-affected community for helping in coordination and facilitation.