Nepal: Poorest struggling to rebuild after floods

News and Press Release
Originally published
KATHMANDU, 17 October 2008 (IRIN) - The floodwaters in west Nepal have receded but the poorest communities who were the hardest hit are still suffering, according to local NGOs.

The heavy rainfall between 19 and 21 September caused flash floods and landslides in several districts of the far west and mid-west regions, displacing about 180,000 people.

"The situation looks normal now but the poorest are facing a lot of difficulties because their livelihoods have been severely affected," Dhanpati Dhungel, coordinator of the Forum for Awareness and Youth Activities (FAYA), a local NGO helping the flood victims in Kailali district, told IRIN.

Kailali, nearly 600km southwest of the capital, was the worst affected, with 144,000 displaced. Most families have already returned to their semi-destroyed homes but are uncertain how they will sustain themselves as their farms have been ruined and livestock killed, according to NGOs.

The crops were badly damaged by water-logging and rainfall, with most of the land near the river covered with sediment, destroying most of the household food stocks after nearly 100,000 hectares of land were ruined, causing nearly US$8 million worth of crop loss, according to the government.

Officials told IRIN that seeds for the winter crops had also been destroyed and the sediment had damaged soil fertility. A joint mission of the government and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is expected to visit the district this week and chart ways to support the worst-affected families.

"The problem is the farming season has arrived and the families need immediate support, especially for seeds and planting," said Sitaram Joshi from the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) in Kailali.

NRCS is preparing its latest situation report, a key source of information on the ground for all the international and national aid agencies. "We will know very soon how we can respond to the challenges and take crucial steps," said Joshi.

The government-led District Disaster Relief Committee (DDRC), a joint committee of international aid agencies and NGOs, has already requested the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives to provide free seeds, plants and fisheries to the affected families as part of a rehabilitation project costing nearly $700,000.

"There is an urgent need for long-term rehabilitation as most of them have lost their means of livelihood," said FAYA's Dhungel.

Most vulnerable groups

Ethnic communities such as the Raji, Badi and Tharu indigenous groups, who already live below the poverty line, have been pushed into even more dire circumstances, said aid workers.

The Raji - categorised as endangered by the government - are the worst affected as they survive on forests and farms. "It is also the first time this group faced a flood crisis on such a scale and so the hardship is worse for them," said Sher Bahadur Basnet, chairman of the NGO Samudaya Ko Lagi Ban Wataran Manch (SBM).

The Raji are semi-nomadic, moving from the upper hills of the northwest over the past several decades. They continue to lead nomadic lives by moving wherever there are rivers and forests as they depend on bee-farming, fishing, agriculture and hunting for survival.

"There is a lot of neglect of this community and although aid agencies and government promised to help during the initial stage of the floods, the Raji families have really received no support for their livelihoods," said Basnet.

The NGO estimated that 150 Raji households were affected in Kailali, of which 23 houses in Bhuruwa Village Development Committee of the district were washed away by the floods.

"There is a huge challenge to restore their livelihoods because they don't have farms and animals any more," said Basnet.