A place to call home, away from home

A bittersweet resettlement experience for Dolakha women who survived earthquakes, landslides, and floods.

Nisha Rai

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: For some households in Chhemawati VDC in Dolakha, rain always rings an alarm. Each time it starts raining, the villagers fear for their lives. And they have no option but to stay in the village despite the impending danger. For months, they lived under a constant threat of landslides.

When the devastating 2015 earthquake hit their village, almost all the houses were reduced to rubble. They lived under makeshift tarpaulin tents erected next to their ruined homes. They could not leave their village nor settle in a new place.

However, a group of women decided to relocate themselves for the safety of their families. Some women started to move to Bhimeshwar Municipality nearby. They have not been able to move back to their village but every day they go to cultivate their land in the village and come back to spend their nights in the new settlement.

“We have our farmland here,” lamented Sunita Thami. “We can’t leave this place because we need food to sustain ourselves, but the reality is you never know when there will be a landslide.”

Thami remembers the tragedy that destroyed her house six years ago. “It was an enormous landslide that took my house and the lives of some of my fellow villagers. It was then we decided to move to Bhimeshwar,” she said.

“We knew there was a looming risk in this village, but didn’t have any alternative as everything, from our homes to our land, was there.”

A group of engineers and geologists came to her village and advised them to leave the place. Sunita realized that the threat of flooding and landslides due to climate change would not let her stay in her village. For Sunita and her two children, leaving her home behind was the only option.

“Who would want to stay and take that risk?” she asked. “But we didn’t have anywhere to go until the government arranged somewhere for us to relocate.”

Thami is growing vegetables at her new home. She runs a tailoring business to eke out a living for her family. She is grateful that her decision to move made her family happy and that they no longer have to fear landslides.

“We can’t afford to buy land elsewhere on our own,” said Masini Thami, another woman who relocated in 2044 BS. “All my life, I have been moving from place to place to avoid the danger posed by landslides. Finally, my family is now settled here without fear of landslides.”

Masini recalls her displacement from one village to another, moving so often that it became routine. A decade ago, when landslides engulfed her house, she fled into the forest with her family members where they grew potatoes to feed themselves.

“I grew potatoes in the forest for survival,” she said. “Women can do anything for survival.”

“Women are more likely than men to be affected by climate change, as our roles as primary caregivers and providers of food and fuel make us more vulnerable when flooding and landslides occur. We must take the initiative for our family’s safety as well,” Masini added.

‘Women are more likely than men to be affected by climate change, as our roles as primary caregivers and providers of food and fuel make us more vulnerable when flooding and landslides occur. We must take the initiative for our family’s safety as well’

In total, 56 families in this Thami village reached out to the District Administration Office urging officials to assist them in resettling. After several months of discussions, the government finally listened to them and provided a place to resettle in Bhimeshwar, Masini said.

It was especially the women who wanted to relocate, as they had newborn babies and small children.

“Women bear a double burden during natural disasters, so we decided to move to a new place,” Masini said. “At least here I can sleep without fear. I feel safe.”

So far, this is the only community that has been successfully resettled by the government.

Following the assessment by geologists and engineers, a team of experts assigned by the government in the wake of the tremor examined the condition of the community and made a similar recommendation that the 56 households of Chhemawati be shifted elsewhere. But long after the recommendation was made, not a single villager had been moved to a safe place. Villagers wanted flat land and one from which they could reach their old village easily. After several conversations with the local Chief District Officer, the government finally relocated them to Bhimeshwar Municipality.

It has been six years  since a landslide swept away Sarita Thami’s house. She has since been relocated to Bhimeshwar. Sarita said that the local government has assured her that her six-member family would be moved to a safe location. Leaving their old house was very difficult for her. All the good memories with family members and festivals they had celebrated there made her feel bad that she can no longer live in her village.

However, there are lots of positive aspects of relocation: her children’s school is nearby, as is the health post and the market. Everything is closer now.

“We had been awaiting the promised help to reconstruct a house in a safer location,” Sarita said. “The government did help. They even gave us 3,00,000 rupees for reconstruction of our home. We were in dire need of whatever help we could get.”

A majority of the 56 displaced families are now living in the new settlement. The local government officer in charge of resettlement has promised that they will get the proper land-ownership papers within six months.

Sarita brims with hope. “We will make good memories here,” she said, “because my children will not have to suffer from landslides anymore.”

(This story is supported by the Road to COP26 campaign implemented by the British Council and funded by UKAID.)

Nisha Rai has a decade-long experience in working as a print, online and radio reporter in Nepali and international media. Nisha Rai tweets at @Neeshahere. Shanta Thapa contributed to the report.