Fires and floods have always haunted the people of the southern plains of Nepal. While floods in the monsoon inundate several villages, rendering thousands of people homeless, in the dry season there are fires sweeping across the villages causing just as much damage. Not a single day passes without a fire incident in this part of the country these days. Some 300 houses in four village development committees in Saptari district were gutted by fire in just 24 hours the other day alone. In the incidents, some 150 families became homeless and lost property worth over Rs. 50 million. The victims who lost everything from food to clothes are compelled to live in the open without food as food relief has not come their way even hours after the fire gutted their houses.
Indeed, fires during the dry season are very common in the Terai region, and every year thousands of people fall prey to them. Awareness programmes introduced to minimise the incidents of fire have not been very effective. Obviously, negligence on the part of the locals is responsible for the repeated incidents of fire. Again, it takes no time for a fire to spread in the congested villages where houses are usually built of thatch. In many cases, a fire cannot be brought under control until the entire village has turned into ashes. Inadequate number of fire brigades and lack of sufficient water prevent prompt response to such incidents. The wells in the Terai dry up during the dry season. Also it takes hours for the fire brigades to reach the site of the incident. For example, a fire brigade from Rajbiraj arrived at Khadgapur three hours after the village caught fire. Providing prompt services to several villages at once with a limited number of fire engines stationed in the municipalities and district headquarters is impossible. In most cases, fires spread in several villages simultaneously, as it happened in the villages of Saptari.
Prevention is the best way to avoid any damage, be it from fire or floods. However, in Nepalís case, preventive measures are rarely applied effectively. Also the rescue works are often delayed. Thus, the government as well as the local administration should prepare a mechanism for both preventive and rescue works so that the damages could be minimised if not completely controlled. Awareness generating campaigns in the fire-prone settlements as well as availability of manpower and fire fighting equipment in such settlements could help avert or minimise the damages. Providing immediate relief material to the victims is equally important. Now that the government at the centre is busy holding parleys among the parties to settle the contentious issues of the new constitution, it is not in a position to look into every fire incident. As such, the local administration should not delay in providing relief to the victims so that no one, especially children and pregnant women, are hungry.