Now in the grip of winter, Nepal has been experiencing a constant drop in temperatures country-wide. Meteorologists expect that the cold wave will continue in the days to come, as such drops in temperature are normal this time of the year. Neither the Tarai nor the hill and mountainous regions have been exempt from the bone-chilling cold that has further intensified with the onset of December. The Tarai, hill and mountainous regions have all recorded a decline in minimum temperature. While Biratnagar recorded a minimum temperature of 10 degrees Celsius, Kathmandu and Jumla recorded minimum temperatures of 1.5 and -6.5 degrees Celsius respectively.
While this drop in mercury is part and parcel of the usual vagaries of winter, it is particularly problematic in the current context because some regions in the country are woefully ill-equipped to deal with the cold. According to the World Food Programme, the floods that ripped across the southern plains in August 2017 directly affected 1.7 million people and displaced 461,000 people. A good portion of those who were hit by the disaster are still living in temporary shelters, with no access to warm clothes or essential medicines, and no reprieve from the bitter cold.
It is no surprise then that reports have been coming in of an upsurge in cold related diseases in several flood-hit Tarai districts. Health officials have stated that health facilities in districts like Dhanusha and Sarlahi have been inundated with patients suffering from common cold, asthma, and pneumonia. According to Medical Superintendent Dr Ram Parikshyan Yadav of Janakpur Zonal Hospital, 250 patients are being treated daily for respiratory tract diseases. Local government health facilities such as those in the district of Morang are running short of essential medicines. These trends are worrying, particularly since winter is far from over. Further drops in mercury have been projected by the Meteorological Forecasting Division. People will continue to fall sick through prolonged exposure to cold unless concrete action is taken.
In November, five months after floods, the National Planning Commission (NPC) prepared a report stating that Nepal will need at least Rs73.2 billion to rebuild infrastructure and restore livelihoods affected by the floods. A special unit was tasked with implementing the recommendations. The government also approved a special relief package targeting the survivors of the natural disasters that hit different parts of the country, particularly in the Tarai region. But government approval has not resulted in the implementation of any concrete initiatives. Now, rather than relying on such large-scale relief efforts that will undoubtedly be difficult to mobilise, perhaps other avenues of assistance should be explored for the short term.
The altruistic zeal of NGOs, INGOs and private volunteers was evident in the aftermath of the earthquake in 2015, as well as the flood. Perhaps now, the government should take advantage of this and coordinate all willing parties in staging safe and effective relief efforts to provide flood victims with respite from the cold.
The Kathmandu Post, January 5, 2018