Last week, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA) warned that this year’s monsoon might cause even more destruction in Nepal than last year. And sure enough, when the monsoon arrived on 11 June it brought heavy rains across Nepal, triggering deadly landslides and floods.
Already, the death count is in the dozen, with many more missing. And this is just the start of the rainy season.
Unfortunately, many people misunderstand the suffering caused by monsoon disasters. They believe that monsoon-triggered landslides and floods hit all sections of Nepal equally. In reality, some people suffer more than others. In disasters in Nepal poorer populations living in vulnerable areas, particularly Dalits, face greater burdens.
‘Dalits are frequently the worst affected in disasters,’ says a 2013 International Dalit Solidarity Network report. ‘They are often systematically excluded from relief and recovery efforts.’
Dalits living on steep slopes and riverbanks and other marginal land face increased exposure to the landslide and flooding. In the mountains, Dalit settlements often sit on dangerously sloping land. The scattered Dalit settlements often lack electricity, drinking water and other basic amenities.
And because of remoteness and neglect, development work and government services reach these communities last or not at all.
In the Tarai, exploitation and discrimination have pushed Dalits to live in more dangerous low-lying land where flooding is most severe, and they cannot afford to build pakka houses with raised foundations to better withstand flooding. The so-called upper castes live in elevated areas in pakka houses that remain intact during disaster.
In an article ‘Floods Devastate Nepal’s Southern Plains’, Peter Gill and Bhola Paswan describe the deprivation of Saptari’s landless Dalits. ‘Poor Dalits are living in a floodplain not because of their own choice. The historical, social and other factors forced them to live in flood prone areas,’ they note.
In local development work, disaster risk and Dalit concerns often get neglected A few years ago, a Gulmi gaupalika constructed a rural road above several Dalit houses. Local elites reportedly forced construction of the road without any environmental impact assessment and without adequate participation of local Dalits.
During the 2019 monsoon, landslides washed away two of these Dalit homes, killing eight people. Many people believe that the poorly planned road killed the Dalits.
Non-inclusive development often escalates Dalit vulnerability. In public meetings, elites often drown out Dalit voices. For example, in 2013, in Khara, a remote Rukum village, the upper caste village secretary used the budget meant for Dalits for local road construction. He claimed Dalits along with non-dalits used the road. In reality, the road mostly benefited the upper castes.
They bought motorbikes and tractors to carry goods. But Dalit lives didn’t change. Worse, due to haphazard use of the bulldozers, Dalit houses close to the newly constructed road faced increased risk of landslide.