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Nepal

Nepal's poor feel winter's bitter chill

Human rights activist claims poverty is more to blame than the cold weather for 50 recent deaths

Pragati Shahi, Kathmandu

Pragati Shahi, Kathmandu

Published: January 23, 2018 06:45 AM GMT

Updated: January 23, 2018 06:50 AM GMT

Nepal's poor feel winter's bitter chill

Koshila Devi Sada with her baby and other children in her mud hut in the Saptari district of Nepal. (Photo by DCA)

Twenty-six-year-old Koshila Devi Sada, who is the mother of a two-week-old boy, warms herself near a fire outside her family's one-room mud hut.

Her husband, daily wage laborer Deepak Sada, collects firewood as well as making "guintha" dung cakes to keep the flames alive.

The family are socially deprived Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, in the Saptari district of Nepal's southern plains.

"During the daytime, we huddle around the fire put outside the house and get some warmth, but it is not safe to light a fire inside the house, so nights are unbearable," Deepak Sada said.

There have been media reports of 50 cold-snap related deaths in less than a month.

Impoverished Saptari recorded 27 deaths followed by neighboring Rautahat district with 21 deaths.

Every year, winter weather in Nepal closes schools for days on end as well as well as bringing cold-related ailments such as fevers, headaches, pneumonia and diarrhea.

"It is not cold that is killing people here but poverty and vulnerability," said human rights activist Randhir Chaudhary.

He said authorities had failed to put adequate "coping mechanisms" in place.

 

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Deepak Sada receives a cash voucher from Saptari's mayor to help cope with the cold. (Photo by DCA)

 

However, the chief officer of Saptari district, Bhagirath Pandey, defended official efforts.

Many people had ignored a warning about the cold wave, he said.

Pandey said local authorities, in co-operation with various organizations, had distributed firewood, blankets, warm clothes and housing materials.

An international Christian aid group has provided cash vouchers to Dalit households.

One aid coordinator said extreme cold following destructive monsoon flooding late last year constituted a "double whammy."

Kamiya Devi Khang, representing a Dalit community in Saptari, complained that authorities had not done enough to help.

"Grain we had stored was washed away during the flooding and without proper clothes the children are suffering from running noses, fevers and headaches," she said.

"I can't even buy medicine for them."

The Catholic Church's Caritas Nepal is conducting an ongoing flood recovery program.

Deepak Sada and his family has survived so far.

"But we may not be lucky next time when flooding comes or another cold wave sweeps through our village," he said.

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