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Political grandstanding takes center stage in quake-ravaged Jajarkot and Rukum West

Political grandstanding takes center stage in quake-ravaged Jajarkot and Rukum West

When a powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Jajarkot and Rukum West on November 3, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal rushed to the impacted zones, armed with food and medicines. Dahal's rapid response earned him a chorus of applause for his leadership in orchestrating swift search and rescue operations.

The commendable efforts didn't stop there; ministers, politicians and party cadres visited the quake-ravaged regions, signaling a collective commitment to stand by those affected. President Ram Chandra Poudel canceled his Europe trip to pay attention to the plight of the earthquake victims. At first it appeared that these ministers and political leaders were flocking to the scene, not merely for a photo op but to offer genuine sympathy and the promise of timely relief.

But the road to recovery has proven agonizingly slow. Despite weeks since the earthquake, the quest for proper shelter remains a distant dream for many. The government's relief measures, once hailed for their immediacy, now seem to fall short—leaving earthquake victims shivering, desperately awaiting warm clothes to shield them from the unforgiving cold. While major political parties, including Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, CPN (Maoist Center), and Rastriya Swatantra Party, are competing to assist locals in erecting temporary shelters, their efforts smack of political grandstanding in trying to make them look like they are there to help. 

Government agencies boast of providing adequate relief materials, including blankets, to combat the chill. However, the reality on the ground tells a different story. The distributed low-quality tents prove ineffective against the biting cold, leading to tragic consequences. Disturbing reports trickle in from Jajarkot and Rukum West, painting a grim picture of lives lost due to cold-related illnesses in the lack of sufficient clothes to protect them. The Accountability Watch Committee has recorded 11 deaths due to the cold-related illness, including that of a 25-year-old new mother. 

Rajendra Karki, ApEx correspondent in Jajarkot, reports that new mothers, senior citizens, and children, exposed to the elements in flimsy tarpaulin shelters, grapple with multiple health issues as the bitter cold intensifies. They need immediate help, but the help is not forthcoming—neither from the government, nor from political parties. 

The number of people visiting local health institutions has increased after the earthquake. According to the data provided by the Jajarkot District Health Service Office, a total of 674 pregnant women, 282 new mothers, and 4,115 children under the age five are vulnerable. Similarly, 2,836 senior citizens, 1,065 chronic patients and 408 physically challenged people are at risk. But the government has not yet come to their aid. 

In Jajarkot’s Kushe Rural Municipality alone, 515 pregnant women and 230 new mothers are living under makeshift shelters. Officials say a similar situation exists in Nalgad Municipality, where 331 pregnant women and 374 new mothers are in dire straits.  

As lives hang in the balance, political parties have mobilized volunteers to construct temporary shelters, each vying for credit in a race against time. Our Jajarkot correspondent Karki says a volunteer team of CPN-UML has cleared the debris of around 500 houses but managed to build only a handful of temporary shelters for the victims. The UML has deployed more than 1,000 cadres to the affected regions under the leadership of its youth leader Kiran Poudel.

Not to be outdone, the Nepali Congress has also mobilized its own set of volunteers. The party’s general secretary duo, Gagan Kumar Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma, and central working committee member, Pradeep Poudel, also recently visited the quake-hit areas to lend their hands in the rehabilitation efforts. 

Till now volunteers of political parties and other organizations have built approximately 700 temporary shelters. Various governmental and non-government organizations are also providing support to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. But as the spotlight remains fixed on political posturing, the grim reality of the earthquake victims persist. 

With 34,501 houses in Jajarkot and 16,909 in Rukum West completely ravaged, the urgency cannot be overstated. The issue of shelter and sustenance persists for the earthquake victims. Although the federal government dispatched funds to district offices, the trickle-down effect remains slow. Many rural municipalities falter in compiling a final list of victims and its verification—a prerequisite for the crucial Rs 25,000 cash meant for building temporary shelters.

Nearly a month after the disaster, the government has realized its lapses in the rehabilitation process. A Cabinet meeting on Wednesday decided to deploy Nepal Army, Armed Police Force and Nepal Police personnel for the construction of temporary shelters for the earthquake victims.

Experts say the government should already have efficient rehabilitation strategies in place, while noting that the decision to deploy security agencies to construct temporary shelters did not come soon enough. This belated response shows that the government and its relevant agencies have failed to take lessons from the 2015 earthquake.