Coping with the aftermath of the flood

Recovery: It’s 31 degree Celsius in Gelephu. The weather is unpredictable; one moment it rains heavily and in an instant, the sun is scorching.

In Perlithang, 70-year-old Radhika Karki blows hard to ignite a fire with a few pieces of wet firewood on damp ground. Her kitchen is attached to a semi-permanent structure and is fenced with rusted CGI sheets from which rain seeps in.

It’s been almost two weeks since she and her husband were evacuated to the semi-permanent structure, after the July 22 Setikharey flash flood that swept away the house they were living in.

The couple were living in their landlord’s house near the Setikharey stream, about three kilometres away from Gelephu. With no registered land in their names, the couple have always lived and sharecropped on other’s land. However it has been almost two years since they stopped farming because of old age.

In the flood, a few of their belongings such as kitchen items were washed away. All they have left are two sets of bedding, a sack full of kitchen items and rations to last about two months. With tears in her eyes, Radhika Karki says life has never been more harsh.

“Neither have we land nor shelter, we’ve nothing to call our own and no where to go,” she said. “We’re too old to farm.”

She said that of their two children, their daughter passed away 18 years ago and their son has abandoned them. Without anyone to look after, the couple are left to fend for themselves.

They were making their ends meet from the little they could save while sharecropping for 15 years in Gelephu. But in the last two years, their savings have almost been exhausted. “What we eat after this is far beyond our imagination, I see our life coming to a dead end,” the 83-year-old husband said.

In the Bhutan Olympic Committee hall in Gelephu thromde, Batuli Maya Dhaurali and family are going through a similar situation. However, they are at least backed by a strong family. The five-member family has been living in the spacious hall for 15 days now after the flood partially washed away and caused irreparable damage to the unwashed portion of their house.

Batuli Maya owned at least nine-acres of land, which was divided among her nine children, eight daughter-in-laws and 21 grandchildren. Of that more than three acres has been washed away by the flash flood.

Unless a new house is constructed, it is impossible for Batuli Maya and family to go back and live in the village. “This is where we’ve lived for 52 years. Now that the whole area has turned into a riverbank, we can’t live here,” she said. “I expect that we’ll be given land substitution after which we can begin our lives again.”

While living in the temporary evacuated house, the family’s three lactating cows have been reached to a relative’s place. About 10 goats have been left loose in the village itself. “It’s depressing to go back to the village,” Batuli Maya added.

At least 11 houses were evacuated along with them when the Setikharey stream changed its course and entered the village in Perlithang threatening lives and property. The village has now turned into a riverbank, full of boulders, gravel and sand.

Although water has subsided, life is yet to normalise. Of the 20 evacuees from Perlithang, a few families have come back to the village while many continue to live with their relatives.

Fear among residents of Perlithang has not dissipated. With heavy rainfall at certain intervals everyday, it is still feared that the Setikharey stream would swell again at anytime and threaten their lives and property once again.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Gelephu

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