TOPICS : The handful for disaster preparedness

A disaster is the result of the destruction of environment and assets caused by extraordinary natural phenomena or human induced hazards which disrupt normal life. Earthquakes, floods, droughts and other natural hazards continue to cause tens of thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousand of injuries, and billions of dollars in economic losses around the world annually. In Nepal, the most recent examples of such disasters were massive floods caused by the Koshi and Mahakali rivers that led to a heavy loss of life and property.

Many of the districts in Nepal run the constant risk of disasters as they are frequently hit by landslide, fire, earthquake, flood and other natural calamities. Apart from the losses in terms of lives and property, the frequency and magnitude of such disasters have often caused the destruction of development infrastructure and the flora and fauna in the country, including endangered species. Moreover, disaster relief and recovery not only consume a huge chunk of the resources available but also drain resources away from other social and economic development priorities. A study has shown that annually Nepal spends 12 per cent of its development budget on rescue, relief and rehabilitation of disaster victims.

Therefore, it is high time to put into practice community based disaster preparedness programmes. For instance, “Mutthidaan” - meaning the system wherein people donate a handful of grain (e.g. rice, wheat, millet etc) from their usual meal for religious purposes - could be brought into practice to support the disaster victims. In a country, especially like ours, which is much too often forced to grapple with natural disasters, Mutthidaan can be an effective system in facilitating the process of providing speedy relief to the victims through the local communities’ own initiative. Mutthidaan is a self-help programme aimed at inculcating a spirit of humanity by helping people in grief.

To elaborate the concept, at the end of every month, people bring the collected Mutthidaan to a communal storehouse, preferably centrally located in the community (such storehouses can be built by VDCs and other local bodies). In their monthly meeting, the community members discuss disaster issues and make plans to cope with all situations. Following the discussion, the community members may start planting saplings in barren hills, and thus promote community forests. Besides the disaster issue, the community members may also discuss ways to ensure better livelihood.

The above model can be adopted as an effective strategy to ward off and deal with post-disaster situations. The empowerment of the grassroots people should be the motto of government’s future plans and programmes. Local bodies, I/NGOs, stakeholders and local communities should start implementing community based disaster preparedness and relief action in advance (not after disasters). This would minimise the risk of monumental loss in terms of lives and property that disasters often invite.