The last few years have seen an exodus of people from rural Tehrathum, a hill district of Province 1, to other parts of the country in search of better facilities and opportunities.
In the past three years, more than 20 families of Okhre Banspani settlement in Chhathar Rural Municipality-5 have left their villages.
According to Kedar Basnet, the headmaster at a local basic school in Okhre Banspani, there are several push factors behind the rampant migration but the shortage of drinking water in the villages is the leading cause.
“More families are preparing to leave the settlement. The villagers are leaving mainly due to the water crisis,” said Basnet. According to him, natural water sources in the area are drying up due to deforestation, unplanned road construction and as a result of climate change. “There were a total of 83 households in Okhre Banspani a decade ago. The number of families has reduced to almost half now,” said Basnet.
Most of the villagers have migrated to eastern Tarai districts, including Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari, leaving their ancestral land fallow since there are no buyers.
As a result, hectares of once cultivable land are now covered in bushes.
Hundreds of traditional mud houses lay deserted in the villages of Tehrathum. The roofs of some houses have already collapsed while others are on the verge of caving in.
“The once lively settlement has now turned into a deserted place. The courtyards of the houses are covered in bushes and the abandoned settlements are now the habitat of rhesus monkeys,” said Bhim Bahadur Thapa, another resident of Chhathar.
With the objective of controlling the alarming out-migration rate, Chhathar Rural Municipality has constructed rural roads in remote settlements. The local unit has also initiated drinking water projects to mitigate the water crisis in the villages.
Most recently, the rural municipality announced a cash bounty of Rs500,000 for those who choose to return to their villages and even to outsiders who want to migrate to Chhathar Rural Municipality. But neither the development projects nor the cash rewards have managed to lure people to the villages, says Santabir Limbu, the chairman of Chhathar Rural Municipality.
“We had announced a cash scheme for those who return to the villages but we haven’t had any takers,” said Limbu. “The local unit provides a Rs500,000 grant to a migrant who wishes to live in its villages.”
Tehrathum is the heartland of the Limbu community. Like in most rural areas of the country, the people in the district have taken to going overseas or to towns and cities in search of better opportunities.
“A majority of youths are abroad for work. They prefer to migrate to the district headquarters or any other towns and cities if they earn a good amount of money. As a result, the population is shrinking in the district,” said Laxman Tiwari, a member of the provincial assembly representing the district. According to him, development and other activities have been greatly affected due to the dwindling population in the district.
As per the national census 2011, Tehrathum had a total population of 101,577. The preliminary report of the latest census held in 2021 put the number to 89,325.
Shiva Prasad Dhungana, chairman of the District Coordination Committee, said that out-migration and low birth rate are the main reasons behind the shrinking population in the district. According to him, a lack of modern agriculture methods and irrigation facilities, shortage of fertilisers and seeds and low productivity are forcing people to find better opportunities elsewhere.