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Flame from hut to hut

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The Bhutan Media Society has launched an online donation drive with an aim of assisting the fire victims of Goldhap and Sanischare camps. Donate to fire victims online.


By Fr Amalraj, Damak

The day was March 22. It is hard to believe that two fire accidents could take place on the same day in two refugee camps. From all information collected in both the camps, it was accidental and not purposely done.

It was 7:22 am when fire broke out in one of the houses in Goldhap. The blowing wind carried the flame from hut to hut. The fire became uncontrollable. In ninety minutes, 512 huts out of 605 were reduced to ashes. Fire brigade was called. They moved into action and yet they could not arrest the fast spreading fire. Along with the huts our Child Play Centre and Youth Friendly Centre were totally consumed by fire and nothing could be salvaged. All the materials in our Palliative Care Centre were burnt out. The fire also engulfed the Health Centre run by Association of Medical Doctors of Asia (AMDA) Nepal.

The Caritas/JRS Nepal team was the first to reach Goldhap and be with the victims of fire. As our school has brick wall

Elderly fire victim checks her belongings in Goldhap/Jeetan Subba

and tin sheet roofing, it was not affected. Hence it has become now the shelter for about 3,800 people displaced by fire. The Armed Police Force (APF) at Goldhap and additional deployed force helped the fire brigade in fire fighting. And, they also provided the needed security for the fire victims.

A task force consisting of the camp Refugee Coordinating Unit Supervisor, Camp Secretary, Field Assistant of UNHCR and one member from each of the Implementing Partners (Caritas Nepal, AMDA, TPO and LWF) of UNHCR, IOM and WFP was formed to coordinate the relief operation. Each Agency was asked what would be its contribution.

As Caritas Nepal’s main mandate is education and as the class ten Common Board Exam was commencing on 24th March, we said that we would look after our 78 students who would be appearing for this exam from 24th March to 1st of April by giving them all the books and stationeries, by providing board and lodge and other facilities at Deonia Jesuit School so that the students could concentrate and write their exam peacefully even though their huts are being burnt down and that they have lost everything.

The Nepal Red Cross Society came forward to give a package of one blanket, one Sari, three cooking pots, two plates, two bowls, two glasses and a tarpaulin sheet. The World Food Programme promised to give special ration. The AMDA Nepal said it will run the health centre in the make shift tent.

Likewise, the Lutheran World Federation committed to supply protected drinking water and sanitation. TPO said that they would provide trauma counselling. The APF and the Camp Watch Team would provide the security. As people had not taken any food and had lost everything as it would take longer time to start community kitchens, this task force requested Caritas/JRS Nepal as it has done previously when fire accidents had occurred in the camp to provide a minimum quantity of ready made food to all the victims. We bought 130 cartons of instant noodles for 3,800 fire victims and six cartons of biscuits for children of under two years costing Rs. 45,000.

Caritas Field Director Fr Amalraj (third from left in the first row) inspecting Goldhap camp on April 24, 2008. Like this time, a huge fire had turned the camp into ashes in May 2008 too/Vidhyapati Mishra

The local radio stations have published the news of this fire break out and the camp was burning uncontrollably. Hearing this news about 4,000 refugees from the other six camps came to Goldhap by hiring buses, trucks, tractors, mini vans and by cycles to express solidarity and to offer solace. There were another one thousand locals who had come to see the devastation. About fifty core team members of the Youth Friendly Centres from the six camps volunteered to render any service to the fire victims. They were formed into three teams to identify and help the old, sick and the disabled people, to assist the camp management committee in the distribution of food and other relief supplies, and to be at the service of AMDA in rendering first aid.

As per the camp consolidation and merger plan, Goldhap Camp was supposed to be merged with Beldangi Camps and it would be closed by 30th June. What an irony it was to see the camp burnt down in this manner! Since all the people of Goldhap Camp were supposed to be relocated from April 4th to 30th June one wonders what type of temporary shelters that UNHCR provides for these people. Goldhap fire disaster is a massive one and its impact is heavy on the victims. Relief has to be provided to this people whether they have opted or not opted for resettlement.

As we were planning and mobilizing the immediate relief at Goldhap around 2:30 pm we heard that there is another fire accident at Sanischare Camp. We didn’t believe it initially. The phone calls one after another conformed that it was true. The fire broke out around 2:25 pm in one of the huts in Sector B/2 and in forty-five minutes hundred and eighty huts were reduced to ashes. As all the fire brigades were busy in Goldhap by the time they could reach Sanischare the fire was brought under control.

As the space between the rows of huts was very narrow, people could not salvage anything. They left everything to be consumed by the fire and protected only themselves. Some of our office staff who remained in the office immediately rushed to Sanischare camp. We from Goldhap camp reached Sanischare at 4:30 pm. By the time the fire was extinguished.

Yet, it was a heart breaking sight to see the cooking vessels, the water pots, the tin boxes, cycles, tailoring machines etc all in melted form. The fire had consumed whatever it could. In the midst of burnt smell the hut holders were digging the ashes to find out their lost valuables. We have opened out our schools as shelter to these people.

The scene after fire in Sanischare/Prakash Angdembe

The refugee community unaffected by fire decided together to cook the food by pulling their own rations and feed them at night. The fire victims of Sanischare may have shelter in the schools and food for the night but they would not be able to sleep as they have totally lost everything. During their twenty years of stay what little they acquired they have lost. They remain inconsolable. As the refugees had gone to Goldhap camp, they could not return to Sanischare to express the same solidarity and solace. The locals from their nearby Pathri town and surrounding villages came in big crowds and expressed their solidarity and sympathy.

The real relief operation at Sanischare would commence tomorrow morning. Sanischare is supposed to be one of the two permanent camps where the people of Khudunabari camps will be relocated from 2012 January. We don not know when these burnt down huts are going to be reconstructed and when the people will resume their normal life. Fortunately on Monday 21st we had shifted our 151 students of class ten to Beldangi camps for their board exam. We will provide them every facility over there so that they could write their exam without any tension or worry.

As we go to attend the meeting tomorrow request will be made to Caritas/JRS Nepal for relief. We have to accompany, assist and advocate the cause of these people at this hour of their need. We need financial support from donors and benefactors for the relief operation that Caritas/JRS Nepal wishes to carry out. Relief delayed is relief denied. Caritas/JRS Nepal wishes to begin the operation immediately. As we gather more details and data of the fire victims we will prepare a proposal and place before you for your support. We will also send you constant updates on the relief carried out for these fire victims.

(Amalraj is the Field Director of Caritas Nepal, Damak Field Office)

11 COMMENTS

  1. Fr Amalraj,

    Thank you so much for writing the details of fire accidents in our refugee camps in so simple language.The NGOs , INGOs ,donor agencies, other social organizations,local people,refugee community and all other well wishers and helpers deserve our sincere appreciation and gratitude for the noble jobs they did,are doing
    and will do.We are also trying to make a little contribution to those victims in whatever ways we can.l do believe that no one will deny their help for the cause of sufferers .

    Raghu Osti,
    Canada.

  2. i m very sorry to hear about the fire incident in two different camps , more or less same time. i dont think it is an incident but situation screen out it was purposely done. might either refugees who are mad of dreaming about third countries and delay of their process or the government of bhutan deployed to create depressions and empty the camps. this must be investigate as soon as possible ………….

  3. Vikalpa! If you have written above words under the mandatory of communist radical verses . It clearly shows that your not a communist. No one have intension to burn their own home or own hut . Do you burn your home to search solution ? Refering your above comments i can say this is done by the people like you, in order to oppose third country resettlement. Do you have any progressive list with you what changes have you make till now inside Bhutan?

  4. It is a heartbreaking news in the camps. Bhutanese in the United Kingdom extend their deep solidarity and prayers for the recovery of our fire victims. Thank you so much Rev.Father Amalraj and other organisations, Nepal Govt. and the local inhabitants for rushing in to the camps for emergency relief assistance.

    Bhutanese here would like to request Fr. AmalRaj to kindly provide us with his personal e-mail ID and his mobile number urgently to pass the ”money transfer control number”. We have decided WMU would be the fastest way to reach our little support to the victims through Fr.Amalraj(Caritas)Nepal.
    We extend our gratitude to Rev. Father for the update and making a call for relief operation.

    Durga Giri, Manchester.

  5. Thank You Fr. P.S. Amalraj for giving the detailed informations on the disaster that took place in two different camps on the same day.
    I express my deep sympathy for the victims and prayers (to those injured during the incident)for their early recovery. Appreciating the emergency relief efforts made by various Governmental and Non Governmental organizations at this dire hour of need.

    May the life in such situation get normalized at the earliest despit the great loss.

  6. Oh my dear God, I am so shocked by the news about the two fires in Goldhap and Sanishare. Just back from a month visit to Nepal to prepare filming a documentary I visited the Beldangi camps and passed Sanishare along the way. Given the conditions in the camps and the layouts of the camps I can understand the dangers of fire within the camps.
    My heart goes out to the people suffering the effects of this disaster. I hope that in whatever way I can help as much as possible.

    Alice Verheij, The Hague Netherlands.

  7. Thank you Father Amal for the latest updates about the fire incident that havocked the two refugee camps in Jhapa and Morang district coincidently on the same day in east Nepal. We are terrible saddened at heart to hear this tragic incident. My heart goes to the victims. We are trying to collect whatever amount we can muster for the fire victims from Tucson Arizona, USA. Thank god I am not any more in the camp which is susceptible to all kind of weather 7/24.
    Thank you
    DB Adhikari
    Tucson, Arizona, US

  8. hey tarma i m not using the communist radical verses . even i m not affiliated with communism or by ideology i m not Communist. never underlined someone on the basis of words and letters and sentences. and i dont think it is wise too. so better c the reality and write . i suppose people like u; might have done and pointing to someone…………..

  9. I hope BNS will soon publish my report of Visit of Washington D.C on August,2011 regarding ORR and UNHCR Consultation Program.

    Sincerely,

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