TOPICS : Lessons from Koshi disaster

Recent disaster resulting from bursting of embankments at the Koshi River has directly affected nearly 100,000 people in six village development committees of Sunsari district, with over 50,000 people rendered homeless. According to the Department of Irrigation (DOI), during the time of the disaster, the maximum flow was only one-third of the original design discharge capacity of 900,000 cusecs. Experts claim that the long over-due maintenance has reduced the maximum capacity of the barrage to the 450,000-500,000 cusecs, thus making it more disaster-prone.

Early warning to Patna for regulation of the dam gates went unheeded, resulting in the tragedy. Recent visit by Prime Minister Puspa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ to the flood affected areas underscores the gravity of the situation. He has assured the flood-hit to take up matter with India immediately.

Unequal treaties of the past between India and Nepal must be jointly reviewed and rectified as per the norms of international riparian and appropriation water rights. As per the international water law, many bunds and dams built by the other side across the border with Nepal should either be dismantled or rebuilt in suitable locations that will provide optimum safety and beneficial use of water to both friendly countries on a consensual basis. The Home Ministry acknowledges that challenge. However, it has been the government’s tradition to adopt a normal course of response even during extraordinary times and not make even reasonable and humane demands.

A national strategy for Disaster Risk Management (DRM) is long overdue along with the 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 include the following: a) adoption of a well defined and articulated national policy document for DRM; b) consensus to continually educate and raise awareness on DRM issues, demonstration and adoption of disaster preparedness and combating procedures; c) well-articulated institutional coordination mechanisms among the concerned ministries, related INGOs/NGOs/CBOs, civil societies and associations and local bodies. The new government is advised to form a powerful cell directly under the Prime Minister for the protection of environment, DRM and review of international treaties and their timely implementation.

As promised by the prime minister, TORs for the international water rights/laws experts need to be prepared by the cell and necessary homework begin immediately to right the wrongs which have been accumulating for years. On top of continuing massive relief works, as per the request made by Nepal’s foreign ministry to the government of India, work should also be simultaneously initiated for repairs, maintenance and fortification of embankments, including the dilapidated barrage.

Rana writes on water resources