Nepal: "Fake victims" undermine assistance programmes

News and Press Release
Originally published
KATHMANDU , 23 October 2008 (IRIN) - Relief agencies and government officials are battling to help thousands of flood-displaced families in east Nepal two months after the Koshi River, the country's largest, breached its banks following heavy rains.

More than 100,000 people in Sunsari district (nearly 300km southwest of Kathmandu) were affected, according to an initial assessment by the government, and the current number of displaced is estimated at more than 65,000, of whom 42 percent are Indians who fled over the border. All the displaced are living in temporary camps and host communities in the Sunsari and adjoining Saptari districts.

Massive flooding and displacement in the neighbouring Indian state of Bihar affected up to three million and left 250,000 displaced. Many fled to Nepal in the hope of securing immediate humanitarian assistance.

Registration challenge

Aid agencies told IRIN the main challenge now was verifying the number of displaced to help in their full recovery. Government officials said they were registering the survivors and hoped to complete the work within a few weeks.

"The registration process is most challenging for all of us, and this has to be given top priority now," Dharma Raj Pandey, deputy director of the disaster unit of the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), told IRIN in the capital.

Local disaster relief NGOs expressed concern that there were many "fake victims" claiming humanitarian assistance - undermining the genuinely displaced.

"This trend of false identity as victims is growing and has affected aid delivery in some camps," said Amar Nath Mandal, editor of a local daily, Krishna Dainik of Saptari district, which is investigating the issue and exposing the culprits.

"The real displaced people will be deprived of humanitarian assistance if this trend is allowed to continue," said Dipak Kumar Jha, chairperson of Sabal, a local NGO supported by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), promoting sanitation and hygiene in the camps.

This issue is already hampering the process of rehabilitation of the flood-affected population, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA). Among the individuals making fake claims are landless squatters who live near the river-banks.

But for the government, the verification work is becoming difficult as the displaced are moving in and out of the camps, making regular visits to their home areas. In addition, many are staying with host families rather than in the camps.

Shelter plans

Government officials said assisted resettlement would be provided to families willing to return to their homes since much of the flood water has receded. Most of the displaced are living in temporary camps under tarpaulins, which are not appropriate for families, especially children, who will have to face chilly weather conditions very soon.

In Saptari district, the government-led District Disaster Relief Committee (DDRC), comprising key international aid agencies and NGOs, is planning to request agencies assist in rebuilding projects.

In addition, the government, with the help of the NRCS, has started constructing huts for the relocation site in Laukahi Village Development Committee, Sunsari district, providing 15sqm per person.

"We have all the kits ready to build more shelters but we need to know the accurate number of displaced families," said Pandey from NRCS, which has more than 7,000 shelter kits to build more huts on government land for the flood victims.