While it is easy to blame nature’s wrath for causing death and destruction, one cannot dismiss man’s folly for compounding the devastation
The monsoon this year was delayed by a month, but this has not prevented it from leaving behind a trail of destruction across the country, following two days of torrential rains. At least 43 people have died in landslides and floods triggered by the incessant rains since Thursday evening, which have submerged fields and settlements and washed away roads and bridges. Another 24 people have gone missing while leaving dozens injured. The monsoon, which normally starts on June 10 every year, was nearly a month late this year and has delayed the plantation of paddy seedlings on large tracts of land across the country. The monsoon, according to meteorologists, is now active across the country, with heavy rains predicted at different places over the days, which means the people must be on their guard to face any eventuality. The monsoon season lasts till August end.
At times like this, the government has the major responsibility to expedite the search and rescue operations, and provide relief to those affected by the disasters.
The highways, whether in the hills or the plains, are the lifeline of the country, and they must stay clear of any obstructions caused by the rains to keep vehicles moving without a hitch. Doctors, medicines and logistics must be dispatched to the disaster-hit areas so as to prevent the outbreak of water-borne diseases. The police have done a good job, rescuing hundreds of people who were displaced by landslides in the hills and floods in the Tarai in the last two days.
If need be, other security agencies must also be mobilised, especially in moving people from settlements at high risk of landslides and flash floods to a safer place.
Now that Nepal is a federal state, all rescue and relief operations must be carried out in coordination with the provincial governments and the local levels. Instead of blaming one another for lapses and delays, the three tiers of government must work effectively to bring the life of those affected by the natural disasters to normalcy.
It is hard to predict what havoc the monsoon rains will create year after year. What the authorities and the people can do is mitigate their impact, especially the loss of lives and property. The early flood warning system, for instance, has already proved to be a boon in cautioning the people before the natural calamity, and save many a life. While it is easy to blame nature’s wrath for causing extensive death and destruction, one cannot dismiss man’s folly for compounding the devastation. It has come to light that the inundation of different parts of the Kathmandu Valley was caused due to the encroachment of the rivers to make way for homes and apartments. In other parts of the country, there would have been less loss of life and property if settlements had not been allowed in the first place at places that are prone to landslides or flash floods. The haphazard development of both urban and rural areas is doing no one any good. If the social media is any guide, it is slowly dawning on the people that we cannot fight the laws of nature. Will this awakening nudge us into planning safe settlements in the future?
It is disturbing to learn that as many as 121 wild animals were killed in road accidents in Banke, Bardiya and Parsa national parks in fiscal year 2017-18. According to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, 84 wild animals were killed in Banke National Park, 27 in Bardiya National Park and 10 in Parsa National Park during the last fiscal. Officials at the department have blamed over-speeding of vehicles for the rising number of deaths of the wild animals. The wild animals are killed in road accidents as some sections of the East-West Highway pass through these parks.
The maximum speed limit of a vehicle on the highway that passes through these parks is 40 kilometres per hour. But the drivers do not follow the rule and, the law enforcement agencies are also least bothered about enforcing it. It might be necessary to build underpasses and erect fences in the forest areas through which the highway passes. A time card can be issued to the drivers to see to that they follow the rule. We can promote tourism in the national parks and conserve the ecosystem and biodiversity at the same time by protecting the wildlife. The department should also build rehab centres in these areas to provide medical treatment to the injured animals.
A version of this article appears in print on July 15, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.