National strategy for cutting disaster risk

Globally, mankind has been confronting frequent natural emergencies. The recent disasters in Myanmar and China, including the tsunamis and the earthquakes, ravaged a large part of South Asia and North East Pakistan. In a small and fragile country like Nepal, size and scale of such devastation can cause immense damage, particularly to fragile agriculture-based livelihood systems of the poor farmers.

A Home Ministry official recently warned that the monsoon this year could create more havoc than in the previous years. In 2007, more than half of the country’s territory was badly affected by floods during the monsoon, which claimed 148 lives. According to government records, floods hit 47 districts, displacing more than 24,116 families and destroying over 24,815 houses. Losses of agricultural lands and crops were very high. Nepal ranks 31 among 196 countries of the world in terms of threats of water-induced disasters.

Besides sweeping away of agriculture land, the whole Tarai belt is facing the threat of waterlogging due to construction of bunds by India near the border. The Home Ministry has acknowledged that Kailali, Bardiya, Banke, Kapilbastu, Dhanusha, Mahottari, Siraha and Saptari districts are going to be largely affected in the years to come. In addition, glaciers in the mountains are slowly melting and possibility of an outburst of glacial lakes is also growing.

Inventory of the damage caused largely by the monsoons already depicts a grim picture. While more than half a dozen people have lost their lives, hundreds of families have been displaced; roads and bridges have been damaged. Apart from loss of lives and property, no amount of relief work, though perfectly executed, can compensate for the emotional damage.

A pre-monsoon disaster preparedness workshop on May 2 drew commitment from political parties and other stakeholders to support the government on disaster mitigation. The government has identified Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Saptari, Siraha, Udayapur, Dhanusa, Sindhuli, Mahottari, Sarlahi, Rautahat, Bara, Parsha, Makawanpur, Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Rupendehai, Kapilwastu, Dang, Banke, Bardia, Kailali, Kanchanpur, Rasuwa, Doti and Kalikot as flood-prone districts. The Home Ministry acknowledges that the challenges are monumental.

A national strategy for Disaster Risk Management (DRM) is long overdue with adoption of a well defined Plan of Action (PoA) to be implemented on a long term basis. At the actual design phase, the details of PoA may demand many inevitable elements. A fully responsive PoA should invariably adopt a well-defined and articulated National Policy Document for Disaster Risk Management, which would focus, among other things, on educating and raising regular awareness about DRM issues. The government should build articulated institutional coordination mechanisms among the concerned ministries, related INGOs/ NGOs/CBOs, civil societies and associations and local bodies including the formulation and implementation of a DRM task force, DRM response fund, DRM response centre, climate and disaster forecast centre, DRM information centre, learning and documentation center, to name a few. Nepal being highly prone to water and quake induced disasters must learn to adapt fast to the effects of climate change.