Life has not been kind to Mohammad Salim, 37, and his family. If the daily struggle for survival in this hard scrabble part of eastern Tarai was not enough, Salim's family was among 477 households who lost everything in a devastating fire that ravaged the village of Aurhi on 15 May.
Salim had gone to Qatar two years ago, but got arrested for overstaying and had to be rescued from jail. He was still repaying Rs 200,000 to a recruiter in Kathmandu for a job that did not exist, when the fire hit.
It took 36 hours for fire fighters from Siraha and nearby districts to put out the wind-fanned blaze that reduced six wards of the VDC to cinders. "Tube wells exploded like bombs, cattle were burnt alive, I still hear them screaming and cannot sleep," recalls Mehrun Khatun who lost everything, but managed to gather her five children and run for safety.
The Red Cross has been working with the government to distribute food grain, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, utensils and donated clothes. Habitat for Humanity is providing temporary shelter and basic construction material. Habitat's Rashmi Manandhar said she was working to set up to 50 temporary shelters a day in a race against the monsoon.
CDO Dhruba Prasad Dhakal has been trying to get the government in Kathmandu to release the Rs 25,000 compensation for each family that the prime minister promised after his inspection. A relief truck that was sent to the scene of another fire in Shivanagar had to withdraw because a fight broke out among desperate locals. "We don't have enough for everybody because Shivanagar only gets surplus relief from Aurhi," said Dhakal who has been asking the prime minister's office that both villages get compensation.
Besides people, there are cattle that survived but with severe burns. Many livestock have died because of the lack of treatment. Dhakal said a veterinary team had been deployed, but there was no sign of it.
After the fire in Aurhi, the police and the army were here, and Maoist cadres cooked and fed families for a week. The media was here in force, and even Miss Nepal came with boxes of instant noodles. Now that the rains have come, everybody is gone. There are no cameras anymore, just a handful of relief workers with limited supplies and long lines of people desperate for food.
Anurag Acharya in Siraha
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