Government’s disaster preparedness, or lack thereof, has again led to loss of lives and livelihood in the wake of the recent floods
The floods and landslides triggered by incessant rain in eastern, central and western Terai region of the country on August 11 and August 12 has resulted in death of more than 123 people while more than 35 have gone missing. The continually rising death toll, displacement of more than 100,000 families and destruction of thousands of homes has raised questions over the government’s inability to cope with disaster through preparedness and preventive measures. As the government engages in relief distribution and rehabilitation schemes, it is significant to review the country’s disaster preparedness mechanism because over the years, whether it is the Mahakali flood in 2013 or the earthquake of 2015, the state has failed to learn lessons from the past and has not upgraded its disaster preparedness system.
Inefficient disaster preparedness
Nepal has always adopted a centralised structure for disaster preparedness and lacks functional set up and institutional frame work to address catastrophic situations stimulated by natural disasters. During the 2015 earthquake, the regular bureaucratic administration without any specialised training and knowledge in disaster management was employed to oversee the rescue and relief mission.
In the light of the recent natural disaster that hit the country, the government has set up ‘The Central Natural Disaster Relief Committee’ under the leadership of the Prime Minister and ‘District Disaster Relief Committee’ in flood affected districts under the leadership of Chief District Officer. However, it is the only functional government mechanism to provide relief to the people affected by floods and landslides.
It is evident that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) has failed to act on the weather forecast provided by the Department of Hydrology and Metrology (DoHM) and didn’t take precautions to prepare any measures to tackle the possible impact likely to be caused by torrential rain. Speaking with the THT Perspectives, Rajendra Sharma, Senior Divisional Hydrologist at DoHM said, “DoHM had forecasted the possibility of incessant rain and the rise of water level in various rivers. An emergency notice was issued to ministries and concerned authorities two days before the rainfall. Information regarding evacuation was conveyed to general people but they didn’t have any secure place to take refuge from the flood. If only villages and towns had evacuation centres, many lives could have been saved.”
Surprisingly, the MoHA has refuted the argument and has claimed that it was fully prepared for the disaster. Spokesperson for MoHA, Ram Krishna Subedi said, “MoHA was fully prepared for the disaster but the incessant rain led to flooding very quickly and we could not act on time.” However, Subedi refused to speak on the weather forecast provided by the DoMH and the government’s failure to conduct rescue and evacuation operations in advance.
Even though natural disasters such as floods, landslides, earthquakes occur frequently, there has been very less investment in disaster prevention infrastructure. The country’s second largest airport in Biratnagar has been adversely
affected by the recent flood and will take a while to be fully operational which explains inadequate disaster preparedness. According to infrastructure expert, Surya Raj Acharya, unplanned settlements, unsustainable development and destruction of natural resources multiply the effect of natural disasters. He shares, “Nepal should formulate a national policy to make arrangements for scientific use of lands. In the absence of such policies, towns and villages are poorly planned and cannot resist natural disasters and provide safe space for people. SustSainable development, separate drainage for monsoon floods and integrated settlements should be prioritised to mitigate the impact of natural disasters.”
Impact on tourism sector
Over the years, the tourism industry of Nepal has suffered many calamities. The recent flood unsettled the tourism industry in Chitwan as many hotels suffered in the wake of the disaster. On August 12, many hotels in Sauaraha were inundated and more than 600 tourists had to be rescued.
The rainfall raised the water level in Rapti River which overflowed and trapped many tourists. The flood also entered the ground floors of several hotels and caused panic among guests. A large number of officials from Armed Police Force, Nepal Police and Nepal Army engaged in the rescue of the visitors. Elephants were also used to rescue tourists in heavily flooded areas where vehicles could not reach.
More than 125 hotels have been affected in the area by the overflow of river water. According to Dilip Mainali, President of Chitwan Tourism Development Committee (CTDC), around 75 per cent of the hotels in Chitwan have been affected by the heavy rainfall. He said, “The tourism sector in Chitwan has incurred a loss of around
Rs 200 million because of the floods. The industry was already affected by landslides and incomplete Mughling-Narayangadh Highway and the recent flood has made it more difficult.” He informed that it will take about 10 days to recover the damages and restart operations.
Inadequate disaster preparedness has made it difficult for investors to safeguard their investments in the tourism sector. Ideal infrastructures, sense of security and assurance is necessary for the proper growth of tourism sector but over the years, the rate of growth has been very slow because of the safety concern and lack of assurance. Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) said, “NTB has been pressurising the government to prioritise infrastructure required for tourism industry. Besides that NTB is currently working on a crisis manual which will address the issue of disaster management and make sure that the tourism sector has enough knowledge and expertise to deal with crisis.”
“An emergency notice was issued to ministries and concerned authorities two days before the rainfall. Information regarding evacuation was conveyed to general people but they didn’t have any secure place to take refuge from the flood”
Rajendra Sharma, Senior Divisional Hydrologist at DoHM
“Sustainable development, separate drainage for monsoon flood and integrated settlements should be prioritised to mitigate the impact of natural disasters”
Surya Raj Acharya, Infrastructure Expert
Affect on agricultural production
The floods and landslides will have a greater impact on the agricultural sector as cereal crops and vegetables planted on thousands of hectares of land in the Terai region have been destroyed. Nepal Rastra Bank has set a target of 7.2 per cent of economic growth in the ongoing fiscal year and has also instructed banks and financial institutions to allocate 10 per cent of their credit lending for the agricultural sector. However, the destruction of crops due to floods will hamper the government’s plan and make it difficult for private sector to invest in the agricultural field.
Crops, such as paddy, maize, and vegetables are mainly grown in the districts of Terai such as Jhapa, Sunsari, Saptari, Siraha, Morang, Sarlahi, Dhanusha, Mahottari, Chitwan, Ramechhap, Bara, Parsa, Rupandehi but the farmlands in these districts have been inundated in the wake of the recent floods.
According to the preliminary report unveiled by the Ministry of Agricultural Development (MoAD), planted crops worth Rs 8 billion has been destroyed by the heavy rainfall in Terai districts. The MoAD report prepared after evaluating the 31 flood- affected districts of Terai shows that the floods have affected 47,226 hectares of farm land which will impact the production of paddy in the current fiscal year because the report also shows that paddy worth more than 3.18 billion has been destroyed.
The floods have also affected local mills and factories, disconnected road links and damaged stored grains. This is likely to increase the possibility of inflation in the market. A Senior Economist and the Secretary General of National Economic Association, Gopal Prasad Tiwari says, “Natural disasters always hamper the course of agricultural sector because it displaces the work force which leads to low production. The economic sector also suffers because low production leads to inflation and black marketing of goods. The recent flood in Terai will result in shortage of food and lack of investment in the long run because many people have lost their investments and will hesitate to invest again.”
The government should not delay in setting up a separate body to deal with natural disasters and also formulate national framework to strengthen disaster preparedness. The absence of decentralised framework has resulted in the lack of coordination among government authorities. Thus, a proper mechanism with the task of mitigating disasters’ impact and arranging resources for immediate response will ease relief and rescue process and also upgrade Nepal’s resistance against natural disaster. It’s time Nepal adopts sustainable and long-term planning for natural disaster management and allocates sufficient resources to tackle natural calamities that affect peoples’ lives and hamper Nepal’s development.
A version of this article appears in print on August 20, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.
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