Disaster mitigation

While there is no substitute for averting preventable calamities, the need for an efficient disaster relief and management measures nonetheless cannot be discounted at any cost. Such a system will greatly diminish the degree of loss of life and property in the aftermath of any catastrophe, manmade or natural. A reliable disaster relief and mitigation mechanism, therefore, warrants specific regulations. Nepal has, recognising the need for it, put in place the Natural Disaster Relief Act 1982. Its location on the Hindukush-Himalayan region with periodically shifting continental plates means that Nepal is prone to earthquakes. Similarly, the Himalayas bring in more rains to Nepal and landslides have been playing a spoilsport for a long time. Because there is no technology to predict when these calamities will strike and with what intensity, a disaster relief system is always necessary. Although Nepal has a Central Natural Disaster Cell formed to tackle post-disaster scenario, it is far from evolving into a reliable and efficient system.

Although the said Act recognises calamities like storm, fire, earthquake, landslide, etc as disasters, experts, however, argue that it has certain shortcomings. Not all wings of the Cell are adequately empowered to spring to meaningful action during times of distress. For example, the antiquated fire-brigade in Kathmandu, the first body to leap into action in all kinds of disasters, is in dire need of a facelift. For Kathmandu, the number of fire engines is not at all adequate and the body will simply be overwhelmed in a multiple-fire eruption scenario. Nepal frequently experiences devastating earthquakes. Thanks to random fashion of construction, the effects of a calamity would be doubly amplified. This, therefore, calls for a better implementation of Nepal National Building Code in order to construct resilient structures which would minimise damage to physical structures — and to life and property — should there be an earthquake or any other disaster. The necessity is there for adopting a multi-pronged effort to minimise effects of a disaster. The legislation also has to be clear on this count. The existing Act, for example, fails to define roles, function and responsibilities of various disaster agencies under its aegis except the Home Ministry. Organised data collection and interpretation, above all, facilitates the process of predicting disasters including the relief work. As a result, ambiguities and shortcomings in the legislation should be addressed. Those at the helm, however, ought to realise that the laws will not prompt authorities to action. It is the trained and disciplined people in the sector who can make a difference.