Saturday, 8 August, 2020
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OPINION

Coordinated Efforts Needed To Manage Disasters



Ganesh Paudel / Hari P. Pandey

 

In these days, the news media are filled with the news and stories of disasters throughout the country. The Terai region has been affected by floods while the hilly and mountainous regions have suffered from multitudes of landslides. In Myagdi, landslide has taken lives of more than 30 people.
Jajarkot, Parbat, Gulmi and other districts also witnessed the disastrous landslides. Recently, more than 74 landslides and 15 flood incidents were reported by the disaster risk reduction portal of Nepal government. The National Emergency Operation Centre reported that in a period of one month (from Jestha 30 to Ashad 28), 108 people lost their lives due to floods and landslides triggered by heavy rainfalls. Lightning was also among the disasters to claim lives. Nepal Disaster Report, 2019 reported the 161 deaths from landslides and 183 deaths from floods in year 2017 and 2018. The total monetary value of damages and losses due to the flooding alone is estimated to be Rs. 10,671.4 million for that period.

Fragile topography
Nepal has a fragile geology and steep topography making it the most disaster-prone country in the world. Water-induced disasters (namely flash floods, riverine floods and landslides), despite being the most predictable events, cause increasing human sufferings, claiming the lives, loss of infrastructures, and damaging public and private properties every year. Considering the international practices and understandings on water-related disasters, the situation is further alarming and worsened. According to the database maintained in Ministry of Home Affairs, approximately 500 incidences of disasters on average occurred each year from 1971 to 2016. During that period, floods were recorded 3,950 times, and landslides took place 3,246 times. They claimed many lives of people and caused damage to properties and infrastructure.
As Nepal has been facing disasters every year, disaster risk reduction and management efforts have been undertaken. The Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act was formulated and implemented in 2017 being the umbrella Act for disaster management. It has provision to formulate the national council for disaster risk reduction and management under the chairmanship of the prime minister. Likewise, disaster management committees at the provincial, district and municipal levels were also envisioned by this Act. In 2018, National Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Policy was introduced and Nepal’s commitment to Sendai Framework Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) was localised with the endorsement of DRR Strategic Plan of Action 2018-2030. Regular update and documentation of disasters through the Disaster Risk Reduction Portal (http://drrportal.gov.np/). The National Emergency Operation Centre publishes the daily disaster bulletin. Early warning system has been in place to provide information about floods.
Despite having several policies and regulatory frameworks, the existing mechanisms are hardly covering the water-related disaster management cycle and largely diverted to rescue and reliefs. These rescue and relief programmes are instantly but the ad hoc approach may not be a sustainable resolution to the water-induced disasters. Nepal’s haphazardly built infrastructures are responsible for accelerating the disasters. Rural road construction has been common phenomena as we can see several roads connecting to one village. Roads are constructed without considering the sensitivity of topography of hilly regions which is highly prone to landslides. All three tiers of government are in the competition to construct roads without complete analysis. Landslides and mass wasting in the hilly regions has impact on both hills and Terai. Such disasters cause loss of lives and properties in the hilly region and resulting in flooding in the lowland.
Compliance with the conservation measures for any sort of development projects is the foremost action to reduce disaster risks associated with development. Environmental safeguards standards should not be a simple document but to guide the whole development project. One door policy and political consent for the development and conservation agenda are deem necessary for public ownership. Nature friendly development would provide multiple benefits for people and nature through sustainable development in economic, environmental and socio-cultural sectors. For all of these, the behavioural and governance system must be re-consolidated.
Nepal’s disaster risk reduction and management paradigm has been shifted from a response focused approach to a more comprehensive risk management framework covering all aspects, viz. prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Localisation of disaster management activities in state and local governments through forming committees, formulating policies and coordinating with disaster risk reduction and management activities at the respective level. Comprehensive disaster risk assessment and disaster management information system encompassing actions of all the tiers of government and non-governmental organisations in one information system.
The mainstreaming of disaster risk management in development initiatives of federal, provincial and local government, strengthening institutional capacities, preparedness for reducing existing risk and preventing new risk can reduce the impact and pave the way for creating resilient communities through coordinated efforts of all the three tiers of government. Mobilisation of public and private investments in disaster risk reduction and management through appropriate policy and legislative measures helps to avail resources for disaster management. Before deciding the investment in infrastructure development projects, the sensitivity analysis of the site from the perspective of likelihood of possible disaster could be triggered by such development infrastructure at that area.

Eco-friendly development
In case of rural roads, construction of retaining walls and breast walls along with the roads helps to stabilise the roads minimising the risk of soil erosion and landslide. Instead of construction of too many road networks in sloppy area emphasis should be given to construct the sustainable roads. Without exposing the soil after constructing road bioengineering methods should be applied. One important programme from the disaster risk reduction aspect is resettlement and development of integrated settlement. In hilly regions, there is scattered settlement pattern which in itself is unsafe from landslides.
Roads have been constructed to link these scattered settlements which have huge economic and environmental cost. Roads are passed from the areas with high risk of landslides. Formation of integrated settlements with all basic facilities has dual benefits: one is less exposure to hazards and another is availability of services with less cost. Environment friendly development is needed to reduce the disaster risks. Despite having higher cost during construction, the benefits of sustainable infrastructure outweigh their cost of construction in the long-run.

(Paudel is an assistant forest officer at the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment, Gandaki Province and Pandey under-secretary at the Ministry of Forests and Environment) 

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