Although some people in Nepal are still in great need of emergency relief (most notably residents of parts of Dolakha district that were badly hit by the 11 May earthquake), in other more accessible area, the relief effort is already turning towards supporting early recovery. Our staff members Shivakumar Shrestha and Bishnu Kumar Bishwakarma report here from the Melamchi valley, where they conducted an assessment of on-going agricultural activities. They visited the VDCs of Melamchi, Kiul, and Ichhok – three of the eight Sindupalchowk VDCs in which the Helvetas relief effort was focused; as noted in previous postings, 95% of the buildings here were destroyed in the first earthquake. Fortunately for survivors, relief supplies were relatively quick to arrive, both through Helvetas and other agencies. Thus all households have received tarpaulins, blankets and other immediate necessities, and 50% are reported to have already constructed themselves some sort of temporary shelter that they hope will get them through the monsoon rains (the picture shows an example). That, however, does not mean that they no longer need support.
Anyone who has visited the Melamchi area will remember it as a lush valley of irrigated paddy (khet) land in the lower reaches, whilst in the upper, non-irrigated land (bari), maize and millet are the most common crops. The khet is cropped at least twice a year, so at the time of the earthquake, it was full of spring paddy or winter wheat – the latter just being harvested. Indeed, the Melamchi basin is one of the main spring paddy production areas of the whole district. Speaking with many different men and women farmers, as well as VDC secretaries, local opinion leaders and staff of the District Agriculture Development Office, Shivakumar and Bishnu ascertained that everyone is concerned about the upcoming planting season. Yet this is not a community that is used to asking for help; all that most farmers want to do is recover their self-sufficiency, and their dignity with it. Prabha Bhandari is one typical farmer in this respect.
Prabha is 32, and considers herself fortunate, in that she and all her family survived. Her neighbours were not so lucky – nine of them were trapped and killed by falling buildings. Prabha’s own house and cattle shed are a pile of debris, which she has been picking over whenever she can face the task. All the family’s food and seed were stored on the top floor, and it has been very difficult to recovery anything – although with the help of some soldiers, she was able to secure some of her food grains. The seed grain seems to be entirely lost. She appears in the photo still searching in the rubble for straw to feed her cattle, whilst talking to Shivakumar and Bishnu. According to her, “Many organizations distributed relief packages like tarpaulins, blankets, and food (rice and dry food). We don’t need these relief packages any more – we want to continue with our farming in order to be able to sustain ourselves…. Our way of life is completely dependent on agriculture, and we are slowly returning to farming activities. We have harvested our wheat crop but we have no-where to store it, and with the cropping season approaching, we have to get on with paddy cultivation immediately – but we don’t have seed. At this moment, are desperate to have paddy seeds for planting, to repair the irrigation canals, and to harvest and store the wheat crop. If someone could provide [these things] we would be able to get back to running our lives in the coming days – but otherwise there will soon be famine”.
The idea of famine in the normally bountiful Melamchi valley basin seems incongruous, but it is clear that seed and food storage facilities, as well as repairs to damaged irrigation channels, are urgently needed. Working closely with staff of the VDC and the District Agriculture Development Office – with whom there is a good established collaboration with Helvetas through projects such as SSMP and COPILA – priorities are being determined. Top of the list are supplies of seed, of the varieties most requested by farmers, and storage bags that are both waterproof and resistant to pest attack.