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Frozen in limbo: Bureaucratic delays leave quake victims shelterless

Frozen in limbo: Bureaucratic delays leave quake victims shelterless

The family of Birkha Bahadur Karki from Bheri Municipality-2, Jajarkot, is trying to piece their lives back together after their world crumbled in the earthquake on the night of Nov 3. It has been over a month since the disaster, and yet the Karki family is living under a makeshift shelter made from tarpaulin sheets. The government promised assistance hasn’t found its way to them.

Karki says he has done everything the local government has asked him to get the funds so that he can build a shelter for his family, but to no avail. “I have already filled up the beneficiary form and opened a bank account. I don’t know what is causing the delay,” he says. “It’s cold, and the nights are long. I don’t know how long we are going to live in this state.”

Kiran Bhandari’s family faces a similar struggle. Their house now lies in ruins. The tarpaulin tent they call home hardly shields them from the biting cold. “We filled out the forms, hoping for some relief, but it seems like the funds we are supposed to get have been caught in the bureaucratic maze,” he says. His family, like many others, hasn't seen a rupee of the promised assistance. 

“We just want a place where our children can feel safe. We will be alright if only the government provided us with a proper shelter to live in. We don’t need monetary assistance.”

The fate of Karki and Bhadari are shared by tens of thousands of quake displaced people in Jajarkot and the neighboring district of Rukum West. As winter tightens its grip, the tarpaulin shacks that were supposed to be temporary are becoming more unbearable. 

The government claims to have simplified the process of providing assistance, but the earthquake victims argue that the bureaucratic hurdles, such as the requirement to open a bank account and fill up several forms, have caused delays. 

Even though the government has announced to distribute cash handouts to those families who do not have bank accounts, the local governments have been insisting that every earthquake-affected families open bank accounts.

The process of opening bank accounts has been cumbersome, especially for those who do not have citizenship documents or have migrated from other districts.

Hari Bahadur Basnet of Bheri Municipality-3 highlights the difficulties faced by those who have moved from outside the district.

“Banks are demanding police issued documents stating that our houses and properties were destroyed by the earthquake, but we haven’t got any such documents. Many of us don’t even have citizenship,” says Basnet.

The procedural framework has been criticized as unjust by earthquake victims, hindering many from receiving the promised assistance. A month after the earthquake, details about damage and temporary shelters are still unavailable, attributing negligence and lack of coordination to the government.

The requirement for the quake displaced families to fill out a self-declaration form stating that they do not own homes elsewhere, and tasks such as opening a bank account have kept  many beneficiaries from receiving the government promised assistance. Many local governments have withdrawn the funds, but the distribution process has been held up in the name of completing the paperworks and bank account requirements.

The delay has left quake victims vulnerable to the harsh conditions, with health issues affecting vulnerable groups. Dr. Pratiksha Bharati, chief of District Health Service Office, Jajarkot, reveals the pressing health concerns.

"Nearly a thousand people are in need of medical attention. Health issues such as respiratory infections, pneumonia, fever, cold, and diarrhea are common among the earthquake victims," says Bharati.

She says senior citizens, children, people with chronic health conditions and pregnant women have been affected the most. 

The government has pledged to provide Rs 50,000 each to the quake displaced families in two installments. That was nearly three weeks ago, and yet many families in Jajarkot have not even received the first installment of the promised sum. 

The local government of Shivapuri Rural Municipality has received more than Rs 82m from the central government, but the local earthquake victims are yet to receive the money. Chhedagad and Barekot municipalities have also not been able to provide assistance to the beneficiaries. 

Another municipality, Nalgad, has not even requested for funds so far, as the authorities have not yet identified the total number of earthquake victims. Like Nalgad, there are several other municipalities in Jajarkot that are still assessing the damage and recording the number of earthquake victims.

Bir Bahadur Giri, chairman of Barekot Rural Municipality, says the delay in collecting beneficiary details has hindered the distribution of funds. 

“The delay has been caused due to incomplete submission of self-declaration forms,” he says.

Despite the government's plan to provide temporary housing to all earthquake-affected families by the Nepali month of Mangsir, the successful implementation of the program is yet to be seen. 

Chief District Officer Suresh Sunar says his office has been repeatedly urging the local municipal offices to expedite the fund distribution process, but to no avail.

“They say delay in form submission, lack of documentation and dispute among locals have hindered the fund distribution process,” says Sunar.