Making Highways Disaster Resilient

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Nepal is located in a region that is prone to natural hazards such as landslides and floods. These disasters can hit the country's transportation infrastructure, particularly highways, which serve as an essential lifeline for people. The highway network plays a pivotal role in economic development, connecting remote areas with major urban centres. Given the magnitude of risks in the highway sector, disaster-resilient planning is crucial.

However, the impact of landslides and floods on highways can be severe. Landslides and floods can block highways, causing substantial disruption to the movement of people and goods. In both cases, the impact of these disasters can be significant, particularly in areas that are already prone to economic and social marginalisation.

Measures

Nepal government has implemented several measures to mitigate the impact of landslides and floods on highways. These measures seem to have focussed on both prevention and response to these disasters and include strengthening the road embankment, installing slope stabilisation techniques as well as implementing landslide and erosion control measures and river training works. Additionally, the government has established an emergency response system that enables rapid responses to disasters affecting highways.

Identifying vulnerable areas is one of the crucial components of disaster-resilient planning in highways. The government has identified numerous areas susceptible to landslides and floods, which are categorised into high, medium, and low risks based on various factors such as geological conditions, slope gradient, and proximity to rivers and streams. Areas with high risks are the most vulnerable to landslides and floods, while areas with low risk are the least vulnerable.

Once the vulnerable areas are identified, the government can implement measures to reduce the impact of landslides and floods. The slope stabilisation techniques include soil nailing, rock bolting, earth anchoring together with retaining walls, landslide and erosion control measures including check dams, surface erosion control structures, and river training works. Furthermore, improving the drainage system in highways is another measure that the government can take to reduce the risk of floods. The government has established an emergency response system that includes a communication network linking various agencies involved in disaster risk management, and an emergency fund that can be utilised to repair damage caused by landslides and floods. 

Despite these efforts, there are several challenges to disaster-resilient planning in the highway sector, including a shortage of resources and technical expertise. With limited resources, the country struggles to allocate sufficient resources for disaster-resilient planning in the highway sector, and there is a dearth of skilled technical professionals. Additionally, the lack of adequate maintenance and monitoring poses another challenge to achieving disaster resilience in highways. Regular maintenance and monitoring of highways is critical for identifying potential hazards and prevent accidents, particularly due to the rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions in the country.

A lack of resources, funding, and manpower has made it difficult for highway sector to be maintained regularly. It is also challenging to carry out monitoring activities, resulting in a significant loss of time, money, and risk to commuters' safety. To overcome this challenge, the government must prioritise investing in highways and allocate sufficient resources for regular maintenance and monitoring. Such activities are critical for identifying potential hazards and preventing accidents on highways. This endeavour will require collaboration among different stakeholders, including the government, private sector, and local communities.

The adoption of new technologies, such as remote sensing and drones, is a promising solution to monitor and maintain highways. These technologies can identify potential hazards and monitor highways from a distance, reducing the need for physical inspections. The use of drones can effectively identify hazards, provide real-time information to decision-makers, and assist in surveys, inspections, and monitoring of highways. This technology can help save time and resources, improve accuracy of hazard detection, and plan effective mitigation measures.

Community participation and engagement is essential for maintaining highways and preventing disasters. Local communities can be trained to identify potential hazards, report damage to highways, and take part in regular maintenance activities, building a sense of ownership and responsibility while enhancing highway resilience. Furthermore, community involvement can help identify local needs and vulnerabilities, ensuring that disaster-resilient planning and mitigation measures are tailored to the specific needs of local communities. 

Moreover, the private sector can contribute to promoting disaster resilience in the highway sector by investing in the development of disaster-resilient infrastructure, such as slope stabilization structures and erosion control measures. Additionally, private companies can collaborate with the government and local communities to promote disaster-resilient planning and maintenance activities, and provide technical assistance, training, and capacity-building to local communities and government agencies.

Effective planning

To ensure effective disaster-resilient planning in the highway sector, it is also essential to strengthen the regulatory framework and institutional capacity. The government must develop and enforce regulations that promote disaster resilience in the highway sector. This can include regulations for the design and construction of highways, the use of disaster-resilient materials, and the implementation of hazard mitigation measures. Additionally, the government should focus on developing institutional capacity to oversee disaster-resilient planning, including the development of disaster-resilient infrastructure, maintenance and monitoring activities, and emergency response. 

Disaster-resilient planning for highways is vital for mitigating the impact of these disasters and ensure the safety and well-being of commuters. To promote disaster resilience, the government must prioritise investing in the highway sector, collaborate with different stakeholders, including the private sector and local communities, adopt new technologies, and strengthen the regulatory framework and institutional capacity. By working together, the country can develop disaster-resilient highways that can withstand the impact of landslides and floods, save lives, and safeguard livelihoods.

(Dr. Devkota, a disaster risk management expert, is associated with Global Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, Kathmandu.  kesandevkota@gmail.com) 

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