8-14 September 2017 #875

Between the cracks

Bhola Paswan
Saptari District is still reeling from the destructive flooding of last month. Twenty thousand families have been affected, and 5,000 here have lost their homes. Many people have yet to receive relief and aid, a situation that political parties have capitalised on for political gain.

Although Saptari experiences flooding most monsoon seasons, this year was particularly bad. Floods spanned much of the Eastern and Central Tarai simultaneously, fed by small rivers that originate in the Chure hills.

Soil erosion caused by haphazard sand and gravel mining in those hills over the past couple of decades exacerbated the flooding. The state has been complicit in this environmental destruction, profiting from taxes on products removed from the area in certain months, which is allowed despite the President’s Chure-Tarai Madhes Conservation Development Board program. In addition, corrupt officials have colluded with contractors to mine illegally.

In the aftermath of the recent flooding, the behaviour of all political parties has been disappointing. Many people had high expectations for the Madhesi parties, but their response has been lacking. Here in Saptari, the widow of Rajib Raut, who was killed by police during the 2015 Madhes movement and whose martyrdom became a rallying point, says that no Madhesi party leaders have visited her since the disaster. Her house in Bhardaha was submerged, destroying all the family’s possessions and food, and she is having difficulty feeding her children.

Likewise, mainstream parties have failed to adequately address flood victims’ needs. Local leaders from the major parties have been in Kathmandu for the past two weeks to advocate for themselves in the centralised process of choosing candidates.

At the same time, distribution of government relief has been politicised. Province 2 still lacks elected representatives of local bodies, and the process for families to register as “flood affected” is mediated by local party leaders. Leaders from all parties – Madhesi and mainstream – seek to allot the relief to their own supporters.

Mainstream parties may not be particularly concerned about Chure degradation but the Madhesi parties should be, because it threatens their main constituents. In addition to focusing on rights, Madhesi parties need to address the day-to-day needs of Madhesi people. Voters should question all politicians about their plans to halt Chure degradation, and cast their votes accordingly.

Bhola Paswan is a journalist in Saptari.

Read also:

'Flotsam', Editorial

In deep water, Editorial

Border wall, Kanak Mani Dixit

Flood and food, Sunir Pandey

Leading from beneath, Sahina Shrestha

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