DOTI-From Nepalganj, the road to Doti is varied and beautiful. The extension of the ceasefire has brought people out, allowing them to be visible in the fields and along the highway. They prepare the fields for winter wheat in these idyllic mountains of terraces and forests dotted with little farm houses. The only visible sign of the past 10 years of is the Maoist graffiti on bridge pylons from Kohalpur to Karnali.
The Situation in Doti seems alot different from a previous visit two years ago, the people look visibly more haggard and malnourished. Silent hunger stalks the scenic valley of the Seti and the streets of Silgadi's main bajar is piled with dirt and garbage. Wide-eyed children peer longingly into the tea shop as we eat.
Peace is now no longer a distant dream here, the people know ceasefire and peace is indispensable. The women can now articulate and organise, thanks to a program of Care Nepal but their increased workload and the cost of the war on everyday life makes it hard for them to cope. Displaced youth are engaged in a Community for Peace program supported by Cedpa/Nepal and they are enthused and inspired by all they are learning and are beginning to hope for a better future. The program is coordinated by an internally displaced youngster who is now an activist and tells us with a sparkle in his eyes: "My life is now committed for peace."
But despite the ceasefire, western Nepal is in the cusp of a humanitarian crisis. Even if peace returns, who is going to take care of the food shortage? The health and education crisis? The destroyed infrastructure? The displaced and broken families?
Recently local Maoists exhorted over 12,000 villagers to take a petition to the district capital to pressure the government to respond to their unilateral ceasefire. The administration stopped them on the outskirts of the town and told them to go back. Most were women with little children. Fearing reprisal from the rebels if they returned, some fled to India. Others camped out in the cold for days.
"What can we do," asked activist Hari Bahadur Buda, "how can we see this situation and not put pressure on the government? We feel so helpless." The pain he was experiencing was writ large on his face. This was part of a nationwide campaign by the Maoists to put pressure on the government to reciprocate the ceasefire.
A young man assisted by a relative came into the office of a local NGO. He had festering sores all over his skinny frame. He had worked in Bombay for nine years and had lost his job due to illness. He said his wife also suffered from sores and that they had a nine-month-old baby. The symptoms said it all but he didn't know it was AIDS and couldn't afford a checkup.
Returning to Kathmandu, it's the same old too and fro concerning the pros and cons of the Maoist-seven party pact. The time for such debate is long gone. The king, the seven party alliance, the Maoists and all those who hold power and influence have as their primary responsibility the health and welfare of the people of Nepal.
They must come to their senses and secure peace for the people. But for Doti and the surrounding districts in western Nepal, even peace is not enough. They must address the looming humanitarian crisis, and then work on a rehabilitation plan to undo all the damage that has been done.
At such a time whoever yields and demonstrates compassion and care for all Nepalis will be judged a true leader. Compromise will not be seen as a weakness but as an act of heroism. And those who fail to act will be held responsible for the crisis that will soon engulf this region.