Indignity

Self-help

Last week, I reported to the National Assembly that, even four months after the September 18 earthquake, the victims of the earthquake still didn’t know what assistance to expect from the government. The government had, to be sure, provided corrugated iron sheets to some of the victims. And more importantly, the army, at His Majesty the King’s command, had built temporary houses for the victims.

But the victims have not been able to start working on their houses. Most of them have not begun to repair the damages, or to rebuild their houses. They have not been able to do so, because the government’s assessment of the damages has been slow and inconsistent. As a result, most of the victims have not received their insurance claims, and none of them seem to know if they can expect further assistance from the government.

So I questioned the government for not having a proper system in place to respond to natural disasters, a system that provides meaningful relief and offers adequate support for reconstruction.

And I criticized them for distributing “dignity bags” when it was quite clear that the victims didn’t need them. The earthquake had damaged thousands of houses. But thankfully, virtually none of them were razed to the ground. As such, the victims could enter their houses to retrieve their belongings as and when they wished. That’s why they didn’t really need the blankets, clothes, pots and pans, and plates and mugs that the dignity bags provided. What they desperately wanted is proper assessment of the damages, timely insurance payments, and a go-ahead to rebuild their houses.

The Home Minister, naturally, claimed that the government’s response to the disaster had been adequate, and that they were doing enough to help the earthquake victims. He also claimed that the dignity bags were useful.

But if the dignity bags are useful, if that’s what the victims need, why has the government not collected them from the RENEW offices? In fact, why did the government ask for them in the first place?

I can think of one reason: the government does not have a proper understanding of the ground realities. Given the nature of the disaster, the victims of the earthquake don’t need dignity bags. What they desperately need is the government to finalise its assessment – they want to receive their insurance claims; they want to know if the government will provide any additional support; and they want to start rebuilding their houses.