By building houses on the banks of rivers that flood during heavy rains, the residents were waiting for disaster to happen
The monsoon has only just begun, but it has already unleashed its fury, devastating both life and property in different parts of the country. Incessant rains since the monsoon began on June 11 have caused floods and landslides, with victims having to be rescued from rooftops in Nepali Army helicopters and sections of highways being washed away. All transport on the Prithivi Highway, linking Kathmandu with Pokhara, came to a standstill for two days after landslides swept away a section of the road on Monday. Sindhupalchowk has faced the brunt of the rains' wrath this past one week, with 10 feared dead so far in the district and damage to property, both public and private, running into billions of rupees. At least 1,000 families were displaced after the Indrawati River swept through settlements, carrying away concrete bridges and inundating houses, following 24 hours of heavy rains. The sudden floods in the river left families literally no time to collect even their valuables as they raced to find safer places above their settlements.
Floods and landslides are natural phenomena during the monsoon season, causing extensive damage both in the hills and the Tarai plains year after year.
But they are happening at a time when the country is battling the second wave of the highly infectious coronavirus, and prohibitory orders of varying degrees are being clamped in nearly all of the districts.
This time around, the virus has been raging in the rural areas also, making it all the more difficult for the people to follow the prescribed health protocol, especially maintaining physical distancing, when a natural disaster strikes. It's hard to understand the vagaries of the weather, and we can never tell when and where the rains will come. Who could have imagined that the rains would wreak such havoc in Manang, a rain shadow area, where tourists go on a trek even during the monsoon season? The monsoon this year is expected to last till the third week of September, and weathermen have forecast more than the usual amount of rainfall, which could affect as many as 1.8 million people.
While we may not be able to prevent natural disasters altogether, we can, however, mitigate their impact on the people. While watching footages of this week's calamity on television, it was evident that the scale of the disaster could have been greatly reduced.
By building houses on the banks of rivers that are known to spill over during heavy rains, the residents were waiting for the disasters to happen. Unless good planning precedes the establishment of settlements, loss of lives and property will be the order of the day every time heavy rains set in. As for now, the government has the onus to relocate the victims of floods and landslides to a safer place and provide them with the basic means of survival until life returns to normalcy.
During such times, the chances of people falling sick due to water-borne diseases are high while the health workers have the delicate task of containing the coronavirus. There is no time to lose, and the government must carry out its operations in the disaster-affected areas swiftly and effectively by mobilising all the ministries, security agencies, I/NGOs and donors.
All the seven provinces presented their fiscal budgets in a span of two days, giving priority to containing the coronavirus and infrastructure development though they are heavily dependent on the federal government for the required resources. Although the federal government has scrapped the constituency infrastructure development fund, six provinces, except for Lumbini, have given continuity to the pork-barrel fund to appease the assembly members.
This is the fourth fiscal budget presented by the provinces since the election in 2017. Experience from the last three years suggests that most of the development programmes announced by the sub-national governments have not been implemented due to lack of adequate human resource and planning, with some found to be overlapping with the programmes spearheaded by the central government. They have also failed to identify resources on their own based on which they could launch their own programmes without having to rely on the federal government.
The budget allocated for capital expenditure in the provinces is less likely to be utilised at a time when the country is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.
A version of this article appears in the print on June 18, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.