Mandira Singh Shrestha (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Arabinda Mishra (email@example.com) are with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Kathmandu.
Implementing DRR policies through effective governance is a key to the reduction of climate change-induced disaster risks and coping with the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis in Nepal and other countries in South Asia.
The International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDRR) is observed on October 13 each year, since 1989. This day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on, and measure the progress being made towards disaster risk reduction and the minimization of the loss of life, livelihoods, property, and infrastructure. This year’s IDDRR is particularly significant, in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, given its extremely grave impacts on health, tourism, agriculture, and other sectors in South Asia and worldwide, and in the context of the widely-felt need for a ‘green’ recovery.
The significance of governance—at multiple levels—in disaster risk reduction (DRR) is reflected in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015‒2030, which was adopted at the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai, Japan between 14‒18 March 2015. The second of the Sendai Framework’s four priorities for action, ‘Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk’, states that “disaster risk governance at the national, regional, and global levels is of great importance for an effective and efficient management of disaster risk.” A recent, May 2020 study by Oxford Policy Management has also underlined that the highest priority area to be strengthened for DRR is governance. Often, a weak institutional mechanism and poor governance have led to an increase in losses during disasters, as we have repeatedly seen in the past.
The fact that countries in South Asia are increasingly seeing relatively fewer people killed by floods may be due to the development of early warning systems (EWS). For instance, over the last decade, a number of early warning systems have been installed in flood-prone areas in Nepal, such as in the Ratu, Riyu, and Kankai watersheds. Advances in technology and the proliferation of varied modes of communication such as the radio, television, mobile phones, the social media, and the print media have made the dissemination of such warnings much easier today than in the past. In Nepal, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA), 42 people have been killed, 37have gone missing, and 27 out of 77 districts affected by floods this year. During the flooding events, the NDRRMA coordinated with various agencies and ensured effective communication regarding risks and response actions on the ground. However, notwithstanding this improved coordination, there are gaps in disaster governance that need to be addressed. Let us examine one EWS in Nepal a little closely, to identify what some of those might be.
With the new federal structure in the country, there seems to be a need to revisit the mechanisms in place and connect local institutions such as the community-based disaster management committees (CDMCs) with the municipal authorities. CDMCs are voluntary groups formed at the level of the local community, which raise awareness about dealing with disasters, issue early warnings, carry out search-and-rescue, and provide first aid and post-disaster relief. During focus group discussions with communities in Sarpallo, a settlement of about 11,000 people located 30 kilometres downstream of Bardibas in the Ratu basin, one learnt that the Sankatmochan CDMC, which was previously registered with the village development committee, now needed to register with the municipality to ensure effective coordination for disaster risk reduction.
However, it appears that some of the CDMCs are no longer operational, or their activity hampered. There was a lack of an annual plan due to budgetary constraints at the local level. In Sarpallo, we heard that they were unable to procure relief equipment, such as boats, life jackets, and communication equipment and facilities that are essential to minimising the adverse impacts of flood disasters.
Improved governance is a key
The effectiveness of an early warning system depends not only on how good the system is technically in terms of observation, monitoring, and prediction of floods through the use of models. It is equally important to have a good institutional mechanism in place, and ownership at the local level.
Nepal’s new federal governance structure has attempted to strengthen its disaster management systems at the central, provincial, and local levels. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority was established in 2019 to conduct national disaster simulations, advance disaster response technologies, and improve coordination at all three levels of governance to reduce disaster risk and build resilience. The Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (2017) has empowered local authorities to carry out disaster risk reduction at the local level. Flood warnings are provided via technical inputs, but effective risk communication demands coordination among relevant public and private institutions at different levels—community-based organizations, government agencies, local and international NGOs, the private sector, and the local communities. An important function is not merely communicating risk warnings in time, but also conveying the technical information in a language that local communities can easily understand and act upon.
Local governments and institutions are central to disaster risk reduction management (DRRM) because they have a greater understanding of the local context, better access to indigenous knowledge, and greater access to at-risk populations. There is a need to strengthen governance by having a more systematic needs-based approach to DRRM resource allocation, aligned with local governments’ understanding of hazards, vulnerabilities, and disaster risks, and their respective development plans. Despite recent provisions to decentralize decision-making and empower local governments, implementation is a challenge because of two reasons: the assignment of roles and responsibilities remains vague and poorly delineated between the three levels of government―central, provincial, and local―and because resource allocations are inadequate. The delineation of the responsibilities of organizations at various levels also needs to be aligned with existing institutional capacities. There is also a need to raise awareness and build the institutional capacities of various stakeholders in order to reduce flood disasters. Thus, the implementation of DRR policies through effective governance is a key to the reduction of climate change-induced disaster risks, and coping with the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis in Nepal and all other countries in South Asia.