One day before the torrential rain lashed the far-west and eastern part of Nepal, the Agriculture Information and Training Centre at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development had issued an early warning that there would be a chance of light to heavy rain in most parts of the country almost every day from next week. It asked the peasants to harvest and store the ripe paddy crops by taking the weather condition into account. The cautionary message was circulated to 23,000 stakeholders via their mobile phone sets. But the very next day, the rain damaged the standing and ready-to-collect paddy crops.
The post-monsoon rain ruined around 10 per cent of paddy crops in the far-west and around 5 per cent in the eastern part of country, according to a preliminary estimate. Over 88 people also died in the landslides and floods triggered by the unseasonal rain. The loss of lives and ripe crops happened when there was the availability of information and communication technology and early warning systems in the country. It shows a failure in forewarning the farmers about the disaster of such scale. Despite the fact that the information communication technology (ICT) has enabled fast delivery of information, the common farmers have been still deprived of this technology that can help them to gain efficiency in their works as well as avoid the possible loss of crops by the unpredictable downpours.
Convergence of technology As a result of the convergence of three technological inventions: computers, satellites and digitization, any form of a message can be readily transmitted, decoded and delivered to the intended individual or audience. Nepal's information and communication system are believed to be capable to provide a significant warning based on rainfall. An MIS report, published by Nepal Telecommunications Authority in July 2021, shows that 40 million mobile sets are in use in a country having 30 million population. Many people in Nepal use more than one mobile sets. The report also reveals that mobile sets occupies 98 per cent market share of telephone service.
Likewise, the use of broadband internet service exceeds 100 per cent. People are using the broadband through the wire, and wireless mobile in case of data service. A widespread perception is that the country is in an era where people are equipped with mobile in their hands as well broadband internet at their home. Moreover, the Nepali media landscape comprises more than 1,000 radio channels, 100 plus television channels and nearly 3,000 online news portals. The print media may not instantly come into use in the time of emergency but broadcast and digital media are expected to be capable to spread a message promptly.
There are success stories of the community radios in Nepal. However, this time their roles for designing appropriate messages and interpreting the pertinent information were not significant. The local community radios are unlikely to make the right assessment of the situation. They still lack sophisticated technology to inform and benefit the community.
Tirtha Koirala, a senior journalist, observes that Nepali peasants are not aware of weather forecasts. Prabhakar Ghimire, a communication expert, agrees with him by stating that awareness of the weather is very low among Nepalis in general and the peasants in particular. He points out that most of the people in Nepal switch off their radio and television sets when they start to air news on weather. One likely scenario was that the peasants could have started to harvest paddy just after two days to avoid abnormal rain, had they followed the weather forecast. But there could be another viewpoint, which is concerned with the efficiency of the Nepali mass media and the ability of the government's authorities concerning the uses of all forms of communication links available in communities, including mass and social media to make aware and update stakeholders.
The authorities under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development could have crafted and disseminated the message about the possible rainfall in effective manner. The media could have demonstrated a real-life example of the function of surveillance. There might be the first level of limited conversation from the authorities or the experts. But it is the most expected role of media to disseminate the useful message to a large segment of people. Local government, media and authorities concerning agriculture development need to take a lesson from the recent natural mayhem in the days to come. The government authorities, media and the peasants should work in close collaboration for the proper management and use of information and communication.
Media role One of the prominent functions of mass communication is the surveillance of what people popularly call the news and information role of the media. Warning or surveillance occurs when media predict the natural calamities such as last week's record post-monsoon rainfall that happened after 12 years. Now, when the local peasants are asking the authorities to evaluate the loss incurred by the rainfall, it is time for the Nepali broadcast and digital media to make an appraisal of their own in terms of their usefulness, reliability and reach among the general public. For the government authorities, the disaster has provided an opportunity to review its process of early warning in terms of frequency, promptness and effectiveness of message, and coordination among different wings.
(Dr. Aryal is associated with the Central Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of Tribhuvan University.)