Need for flood preparedness

Jiba Raj Pokharel

Parts of the country have been swept by hot waves of such a magnitude that quite a few persons have already lost their valuable lives in the past few days. There is still more than a week for the heavens to open up in the form of monsoon, according to the weather experts, when it will bring respite by bringing the mercury down to tolerable limits. The capital city has received some showers but the rest of the country is still impatiently waiting for it. Agrarian Nepal will then spring back to action for the plantation of rice, which remains the most popular food of the country. But the same blessing may turn into a curse triggering a spate of landslides and floods. Of the various disasters in the country occurring every year,

landslides and floods cause colossal loss of life and property. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs that oversees the disaster management works in the country, 232 persons lost their lives to floods and landslides in 2003. Whilst fire claimed 8 lives, the windstorms, hailstones and thunderbolts together killed 60 persons. The economic loss stood at a staggering one billion rupees.

A quick look at the disaster figures of the last twenty years (1983-2003) reveals that floods and landslides claim lives second only to epidemics. The corresponding loss of lives because of these twin disasters, namely landslide, flood as well as epidemics, were 315 and 1101 in 1986, 328 and 427 in 1988, 680 and 879 in 1989, 1336 and 100 in 1993 and 209 and 1207 in 1999. Earthquake is another big killer that strikes at an interval of 50 to 75 years. Whilst the light-weight earthquake of the year 1988 claimed 721 lives, many more were killed in the major earthquake of the year 1934 A.D. Preparedness, rescue and reconstruction form the trinity of disaster management of which preparedness is the most important as it helps reduce the loss of life and property. But we in Nepal follow a curative approach despite the well-acknowledged fact that prevention is always better than cure. We surrender to the disasters without making an attempt to prevent them from happening. As a result, rainy season assumes the form of an evil necessity in Nepal—necessity because of its use for agriculture and evil as it causes devastation.

Even in normal times, the Ministry of Home Affairs used to be preoccupied by the law and order situation. It has become more so now because of the insurgency. It will thus be a far-fetched proposition to expect more from the ministry. It is necessary for all the disaster management partners to work hand in glove towards alleviating the effects of disaster. Disaster is a local phenomenon and it is thus obvious that there has to be a local initiative to contain it. It is due to this that the Natural Calamity Act, 1982 provides for a Local Disaster Relief Committee. It is formed under the chief district officer with the line agencies as members including social and political workers in the district. Unfortunately, this committee barely holds its meetings before landslides and floods occur. It is necessary that the pre-monsoon meeting should be held in all the disaster prone districts to better cope with monsoon disasters. The country cannot afford to be caught unawares by floods and landslides.