08/30/2006, 00.00
NEPAL
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Prompt government aid to landslide victims a "farce"

by Prakash Dubey

This is what a Protestant pastor at work in areas recently struck by heavy landslides claimed. The government says 17 people died but aid workers and eyewitnesses put the death toll at 100 apart from 500 missing people and 50,000 displaced. Christians are praying and gathering aid for rescue teams.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – The swift aid delivery supposedly undertaken by the Nepal government to victims of landslides in the west of the country is a "farce", said Pastor Joseph Thulung, of the Protestant Church of El Sadiai, Nepalganj city, in the region recently struck by strong torrential rains and landslides that displaced more than 50,000 people.

There is no official death toll of victims of the tragedy as yet: Kathmandu said 17 people were killed but Thulung and other aid workers from Christian agencies claim that more than 100 people have died and at least 500 are missing. Meanwhile, the Christian community is praying for residents of mountain villages that were submerged in mud, who risk dying of hunger and injuries suffered.

Yesterday, Nepalese home minister, Krishna Prasad Sitaula, rushed to Achham district that was inundated by a mudslide on 26 August. He said the army and Red Cross were committed to rescue operations and announced the provision of one million rupees to each family stricken by the floods and landslides of the past six days.

But Thulung said the government's statements of its "timely dispatch" of aid were a "farce". He said: "Over 50,000 people have been without shelter and food for the past three days in inaccessible jungle areas. Only local villagers have been able to provide some help."

In fact the troops have been unable to reach survivors because of the friability of the land, soaked with water. The pastor made an appeal to agencies like Christian Aid, the International Red Cross, Catholic Relief and Caritas Internationalis, to mobilise in support of the survivors, "or else hundreds of people could die after the government's false statements about its prompt intervention."

Thulung said he knew of 100 people who had died and at least 500 who were missing. "It's very likely those who are missing will not make it, given the magnitude of the landslides which are incessantly taking place. Nevertheless, I have full faith in God."

The Nepalese government says the death toll is of 17 people but conceded that over 50,000 have been displaced and "many were still missing". Sr Sunita, of the Sisters of Charity of Nazereth (SCN), said there was no "definite information about how many people have perished in the landslides but everyone is assuring us that soldiers have mounted a massive relief operation." The sister, who is involved in social and educational works in the western Surkhet and Kaski districts, said "our nuns and the volunteers have begun special prayers for the affected people."

The girls' schools run by the SCN have also collected donations to send to the stricken areas through Caritas and the Nepal Red Cross.

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