Living on the margins amidst a harsh winter

Govind Mahato

Govind Mahato

Living on the margins amidst a harsh winter

Over 100 families from disadvantaged communities in dire straits. Women, senior citizens, children hit the hardest

Rajendra Sada of Mujeliya in Janakpur-14 is struggling to keep his family of 12 warm this winter. He only has three beddings and two blankets to share among them.

“We can’t afford jackets and blankets like others. How will we be able to brave the winter chill? We simply don’t know,” Sada said. “Our children are shivering, but there is nothing we can do. We are poor. The state is not taking care of us.”

“We don’t even have firewood. We are burning hay borrowed from our landlords to keep ourselves warm,” Sada, the senior-most member in the Mujeliya neighborhood, said.

Sada and his family are not alone in their struggles to keep warm this winter. Approximately 50 other families from the disadvantaged Chamar Dom and Musahar communities live in the same densely-populated settlement. Many of these families lack proper beddings and have been forced to sleep on hay mats and use hay as blankets. “We use hay to prepare meals as well, because we don’t have money to buy firewood,” Sada said.

The harsh realities of poverty have made it difficult for these families to meet their basic needs and stay warm during the cold winter months. The dense fog and chilly winds of the Tarai plains have made life difficult for many families this winter. In the Musahari settlement of Balwa-1 in Mahottari district, approximately 60 families are struggling to keep warm. Only a handful of households in the settlement have quilts, and even fewer have blankets. Those who lack proper bedding have been forced to use hay to cover themselves at night. The cold and wet conditions, combined with a lack of proper winter gear, have made it difficult for these families to withstand the winter weather.

Marani Devi Sada and Pulakit Sada, both residents of the Musahari settlement in Balwa-1, Mahottari district, are feeling the effects of poverty and neglect this winter. “We have nothing in our hut,” Marani Devi said. “We cover ourselves with hay mats at night.” Pulakit echoed her sentiments: “This small hut cannot protect us from the biting chill.”

Nothing coming from local governments

Despite the formation of local governments, these families have not seen any benefits and have not received any assistance, such as blankets, to help them weather the cold. “We hear news of governments distributing blankets, but are yet to receive any,” Marani Devi said. “Nobody cares for us.”

The Musahar community, a marginalized and economically disadvantaged group, has been living in the Musahari settlement in Balwa-1, Mahottari district for a long time. However, their living conditions are far from ideal. Many lack proper shelters and warm clothing to protect them from the cold. “We get to eat only when we get work. Otherwise, we sleep on empty stomachs,” said Mukhiya Sada.

Shivo Sada, another member of the community, explained that local people often have to rely on hay, which they receive in exchange for harvesting the paddy of landlords. “If the sun shines a little, we go to the mango orchard to collect twigs. We can’t afford to buy firewood as it’s very expensive,” she said.

The combination of poverty, lack of resources, and a lack of support from the government has made it difficult for these families to survive the winter months. The Musahar community in Dharmaban of Janakpur-1 is facing a particularly difficult winter. Savishakti Sada and her family have been living under the open sky, relying on fire to keep themselves warm. “Floods in June washed away our hut,” she said. “We are making do with just a tarpaulin.”

Lila Mestar, another member of the community, reported that many of the poor people in the area are struggling to stay warm with only hay to cover themselves. “We haven’t received any relief from anyone so far,” she said. “A lot of people came to solicit our votes in the election, but now that the election is over, nobody seems concerned about our plight.” Mestar added that if the government provided blankets, it would at least give them some comfort during the cold winter nights.

The chill has significantly disrupted the daily lives of people in the Tarai districts. In towns such as Birgunj, Kalaiya, and Gaur, there has been a decrease in the movement of people due to extreme cold. The cold weather has had a disproportionate impact on certain groups, with children, elderly individuals and daily wage laborers being particularly vulnerable. These groups have been suffering from various cold-related illnesses like colds, pneumonia, diarrhea and headache.

Birgunj experienced a minimum temperature of 10 degrees Celsius on Monday evening. The weather has remained cold for the past week. With temperatures falling, local governments of Bara and Parsa have announced closure of community schools.

Schools shut

A harsh winter has made it difficult to maintain a suitable teaching environment in these schools. Birgunj Metropolitan City as well as Pokhariya, Jagarnathpur, Jirabhavani, and Sakhuwa Prasauni rural municipalities of Parsa, and Kalaiya Municipality have declared a holiday until Friday.

A grim poverty, human capital scenario

Of the seven provinces of Nepal, Madhes is the second poorest province, if government data on multidimensional poverty are any indication.

Records at the Province Policy and Planning Commission of the Madhesh Pradesh Government show that multidimensional poverty in the province is at a staggering 47.9 percent, which is far higher than the national average of 28.6 percent.

In terms of economic poverty also, the province is not faring well. With economic poverty at 27.7 percent, a bit higher than the national average of 25.2 percent, Madhesh stands as the third poorest province of Nepal.

Out of the province’s eight districts, Rautahat is the most multidimensionally poor district with a score of 46.43 percent, per the commission’s data.

Mahottari comes second with a score of 44.75 percent, followed by Sarlahi (43.86 percent), Siraha (42.62 percent),  Dhanusha (41 percent), Bara (40.09 percent), Saptari (38.34 percent) and Parsa (36.37 percent).

In terms of human development also, the province is lagging far behind. While the whole of Nepal has a human development index of 0.49 percent, Madhesh’s HDI stands at a paltry 0.421 percent.

Vice-chair of the Province Policy and Planning Commission of the Madhesh province government, Bhogendra Jha, says: These data show Madhesh lagging far behind.

“With the objective of reducing economic poverty, the provincial government has formulated policies. But progress has fallen short of our target.”

Keeping these indicators in mind, the commission aims to bring down economic poverty to 21 percent. This goal features in the base paper of the provincial commission’s five-year plan.

HDI in Madhes districts

District                      HDI

Parsa                  0.464

Saptari                      0.437

Siraha                    0.408

Sarlahi                      0.402

Dhanusha           0.401

Mahottari           0.388

Rautahat            0.386

Bara                   0.386