A woman sits on the doorway of her family’s hut in the Danuwar settlement for earthquake victims in Indrawati Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchowk on Monday. Photo: Dhruba Dangal/Republica

SINDHUPALCHOWK:  Even after two years of the devastating earthquake, its victims feel that the government agencies have not been able to bring substantial impact in returning their life to normal. Most of the public infrastructures and victim’s houses are yet to be rebuilt. Candidates have been quick on realizing this public anticipation. Most candidates vying for various posts across the district’s municipalities and rural municipalities have been focusing on this issue and making pledges that center around putting efforts on intensifying reconstruction process, if they are chosen.

“What the voters want the most is a proper house to live in. As of now, many are still living in tents. The monsoon is on the doorstep and people are very much worried with the possibility of spending another monsoon in tent,” said Som Sapkota, Sagachowkgadhi Municipality’s mayoral candidate from CPN-UML. “Only after such basics are addressed, they would be in position to think beyond that. So nothing else but the agenda of reconstruction is what people love to hear,” he added.

Sindhupalchowk was one of the most affected districts by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake of April 25, 2015. Houses, schools, health and police posts, among other public infrastructures were mostly destroyed. Aftershocks had done further damage followed by landslides that swept away agrarian land. “The earthquake destroyed our houses, land and public infrastructures. Everything turned upside down in our lives post earthquake and much remains to be fixed,” noted Sapkota.

As soon as the possibility of local elections had emerged, earthquake victims living in temporary settlements across the district had become hopeful. They started feeling that upcoming local representatives would do tasks that the central government has not been able to do so far. According to Sapkota, elections have become talk of every household and voters are focusing on how much priority a candidate’s manifesto is putting on reconstruction.

“And that is why all candidates have advertised reconstruction as their main election agenda. Of course other long term plans follow, but reconstruction agenda tops everyone’s manifesto,” he stated.

There are three municipalities and nine rural municipalities in Sindhupalchowk. Chief, deputy chief and members of all these bodies have been focusing on the reconstruction agenda to attract voters. Every candidate claims that the reconstruction works would take speed only if they are voted to power.

“Every candidate says that he or she will expedite the release of the pending house construction grant installments and the overall reconstruction process. Each of them says that only he or she is a trustworthy candidate that can deliver the promises,” said Bijaya Sherpa, a Sagachowkgadhi Municipality resident. “It feels good to hear the promises and people are indeed much hopeful. Local elections are definitely different than earlier ones. We have a totally new local body organization that has more power and authority to address people’s need,” he added.

According to Sherpa, leaders of several parties who have filed their candidacy in the elections also talk about other development agenda. They have listed agricultural and economic growth as important programs as well. “However, nothing else than resettlement of the quake victims could be much relieving for the people now. So the reconstruction agenda has become a trending agenda among voters and candidates across the district,” he said.

Elections campaigns, rallies, door-to-door visits are being organized massively in towns and villages of the district. Most of the candidates themselves are earthquake victims and only a few candidates have better houses than the quake victims. Flags of several parties can be seen waiving in quake victims temporary settlements. Election posters and pamphlets are posted on every nook and corner of settlements and villages.

“The elections” feel is intense due to the flags, pamphlets, procession, door to door visit and all. It’s like festival times. People are buoyed,” said Sherpa. “While people do their daily chores during the day, most have been devoting their morning and evenings to election campaigns,” he added.

The agenda of reconstruction and resettlement have been forwarded by CPN (Maoists – center), CPN – UML, Nepali Congress and RPP. Smaller parties and independent candidates are also getting closer to voters by announcing similar projects.

“My first priority is reconstruction. Within one year, I will do everything that needs to be done in this regard,” said Sapkota. He added that there is no meaning in promising other things to voters when most of them are still living in tents and temporary settlements.

Mayoral candidate from Nepali Congress of the same municipality, Keshab Raj Giri claimed that “Nepali Congress worked towards increasing the house grant to Rs 300,000”. “That is why speedy reconstruction is possible only under the leadership of Nepali Congress,” he claimed.

Nimfunjo Sherpa, mayoral candidate from CPN – UML for the Barhabise Municipality was of the opinion that he can do better than other candidates in providing relief to quake victims and developing the municipality because he has traveled to developed countries and has knowledge of about development models.

Dr Yuvaraj Poudel, chief of the District Implementation Unit of Town Development and Planning stated that reconstruction of 8000 houses that were damaged during the earthquake is presently underway. “It is only 10 percent of the total damaged houses. So it is really essential that the reconstruction process is pushed hard,” he said.

–  By Dhruba Dangol for REPUBLICA

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