Travel blog by Crawley Observer reporter Berny Torre: Floods that displaced thousands, as seen by a child’s eyes

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Seeing children’s drawings of a flood which swept away their homes and destroyed their land felt like a cold bucket of water being thrown over me.

The flood was the worst natural disaster to hit the region in the mid-western part of Nepal in more than 50 years and stretched from the foothills of the Himalayas to the flat plains of the country’s border with India.

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The drawings, which were made by five to eight-year-olds shortly after the days of torrential rains which caused the catastrophe in August, brought home the value of the emergency relief work to house the thousands that were displaced.

The picture (above) of a sad girl watching houses being swept away by a river in front of her was particularly hard-hitting.

Early this month, I rode pillion on an old friend’s motorbike a few kilometres north from Nepalgunj near the Indian border to one of the settlements for the displaced rural communities.

We went past acres of sand-covered paddy fields that were left barren after a nearby river broke its banks and submerged the fields with five feet of water.

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Navraj Sharma, who I met three years ago in Nepal on a volunteering programme with VSO, had offered to take me to the settlement from his home in the border town.

He works as a senior project co-ordinator for Banke UNESCO Club, which is carrying out community projects in the settlements, one of which was looking after young children while their parents and families worked in the fields.

It was in a sheltered classroom come play centre which was built as part of the emergency relief work in the Fattepur district that I was shown the shocking drawings.

They were on display in the Child-safe Friendly Space (CFS) and mostly depicted scenes of the flood.

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Parwej Alisiddiqui, the head of the UNESCO project, said: “The children have seen lots of bad scenarios during the flood.

“The CFS is a place children can enjoy themselves and learn.

“Another objective is to take care of the children of the displaced so they can do their regular work during the day for their livelihood.”

UNESCO had worked with Save the Children, USAID and the Nepalese government to set up the CFSs and had recently started a partnership with the UK’s Department of International Development to support the community in the settlements.

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Save the Children provides funds for the UNESCO organisation to pay facilitators to run the CFSs.

Mr Parwej said: “If there was not any support from government and international community it would be quite different for them, for survival.

“Rather than providing cash to many we have to teach them how to earn money and recover from their loss.

He added: “There’s not enough support - the more support, the more help we can give.”

Following the emergency relief period in August, UNESCO’s project focussed on providing further facilities in the settlements and training and materials for the displaced mostly rural indigenous Tharu communities to recover from the flood.

Navraj said it was unclear how long the government would allow the communities to stay in the public forest because of environmental protection concerns.

UNESCO staff had recently asked officials to visit and assess the human impact of moving them back to their old lands, which were some kilometres from the settlement.