EDITORIAL: Preparedness is key

Preparedness is not only about information; it is also about proper ways to respond in the time of disaster

After entering the county on June 8, monsoon now has become active. While monsoon is very important for a country like Nepal whose agriculture is still dependent on rain, it also brings a fair share of mayhem with it. The right amount of rain can help country’s agriculture productivity soar, but excessive rainfall can trigger floods and landslides, causing huge loss of life and property. Incessant rain since Sunday night claimed at least nine lives in different parts of the country. As monsoon rains continue – monsoon usually lasts until mid-September in Nepal – more reports of landslides and floods are likely to pour in from across the country. Monsoon downpour while results in displacement of people, it also destroys property. Crops are lost. These together have a huge socioeconomic impact. It requires additional investment to rebuild the infrastructure damaged by rains and floods. Floods triggered by monsoon rains last year claimed around 160 lives. More than 190,000 houses were destroyed or partially damaged. Tens of thousands of people were rendered homeless.

Floods and landslides are major natural disasters the country faces. The Post Flood Recovery Assessment prepared by the National Planning Commission last year said the flood that year was aggravated by rapid urbanisation, especially in the Tarai region, as physical construction along the embankments interfered with the existing patterns of surface water flow and caused drainage congestion. With local hydrology changed, there was flooding even in regions with no past experience of such calamities, it said. The assessment hence underscored the need for better preparedness. It is a fact that it is almost impossible to prevent floods in the country. Nor can they be predicted. But focus on recovery and preparedness and mitigation measures can certainly help reduce the impact they make on people’s lives and property. More construction works in coming days could mean more mining of sand and boulder, which could increase flood and landslide events. Hence, these areas also need equal attention.

Timely preparedness no doubt is the key to saving lives and property. Early warning systems and disaster risk information play a crucial role. The National Emergency Operations Centre under the Ministry of Home Affairs only recently called on all federal and provincial ministries, local levels and districts to coordinate with one another for effective disaster preparedness and response. The flood forecasting division of the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology is monitoring floods through real-time hydrometeorological stations to provide timely advisories. These are some good moves. But there are some concerns. Is information reaching the concerned people? If they are getting the information, do they understand what the warnings mean? If they understand the warnings, do they know or are they trained to take proper action? So preparedness is not only about information and warnings, it is also about ways to respond and take timely action in the time of disaster. While we have to continue improving the flood forecasting skills and capabilities at the Centre, disaster management systems must be strengthened at provincial and local levels simultaneously.

Legal teeth to TRC

Both houses of Parliament have passed the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (first amendment) Bill. With the passage of the bill, the tenure of the two transitional justice mechanisms – Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) – has been extended for one more year. The two commissions are required to complete their tasks relating to the conflict-era crimes and rights violations committed by the State and the then rebel Maoists within one year. An Act to this effect was enacted in 2014.

However, the tenure of the two commissions was further extended through an ordinance in October last year. The first amendment to the ordinance has been made in line with the Supreme Court verdict in March 2015. The apex court had struck down the provision of giving amnesty on cases of serious human rights violations. It said consent of victims is necessary for any amnesty to right violators. TRC is mainly investigating 7,000 cases of rights violations while the CIEDP is conducting a detailed investigation into more than 250 serious complaints.