Fear of epidemic in Kathmandu as Maoist strike enters third day

Kathmandu, May 4 (Inditop.com) The fear of a diarrhoea and dysentery epidemic – that last year killed hundreds of people – began to grow in capital city Kathmandu as the indefinite general strike called by the opposition Maoist party reached the third consecutive day Tuesday with neither the former guerrillas nor the ruling parties showing any signs of relenting.

Dozens of Maoist protesters, who fell ill due to contaminated drinking water, food and unsafe sanitation while camping on the streets and open spaces of the capital, had to be admitted to various hospitals while outbreaks were also reported in outer districts like Dang in western Nepal.

Since May 2, after Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal rejected the Maoist demand for his resignation, the former rebels have begun enforcing an indefinite general strike nationwide that has paralysed transport, businesses and industries and closed educational institutions.

Though Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda called the strike a dire necessity in order to “protect the peace process, constitution and constituent assembly”, his young cadre, who had been herded in thousands from villages, were beginning to lose heart.

Dozens began to abandon the protests and head home. Some said they were unable to endure the inadequate food.

“We have been living on dry beaten rice for days,” said a young man, who did not identify himself. “I can’t stomach this any more.”

Another said he was tired of being incessantly ordered around.

“They tell you to stand up and you have to stand up,” he said. “Then they tell you to sit down and you have to obey. There are orders to be followed throughout the day.”

A group of deserters said they were farmers and needed to return home to plant and harvest the crops.

On May Day, Prachanda had boasted 500,000 people would be brought to Kathmandu. He had said they would camp in the capital indefinitely till their demands were met.

However, the party that fought a guerrilla war for 10 years is now finding it far more difficult to sustain a peaceful protest.

Many of the demonstrators are not dedicated workers but were simply rustled up from their homes under threat or blandishment.

They are now the first to leave after camping under a scorching sun with inadequate food, drinking water and shelter at night.

Gauri Pradhan, spokesman of the National Human Rights Commission, warned there was a grave fear of a diarrhoea outbreak in the capital with the thousands of protesters defecating in the open and increasing the risk of water supplies as well as crops and vegetables being contaminated.

Nearly 300 people died of diarrhoea last year while over 5,000 were affected in the districts outside the capital.

There were also growing public protests against the enforced strike.

In Chitwan in southern Nepal, farmers dumped their vegetables on the highway in protest while in Pokhara, a popular tourist destination, over two dozen people were hurt when sand miners resisted Maoist pressure to join their protests.

Skirmishes were also reported in three areas in the capital as public resentment began to smoulder against both the Maoists and the government.

Despite several rounds of talks, the two biggest ruling parties had failed to reach a negotiated settlement with the Maoists.

Though another round of talks was underway Tuesday, people were beginning to lose hope and patience.

Embattled Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal continued to reject the demand for his resignation, asking the Maoists to call off the strike first.