Though we have been facing flood and landslide risks every single year, we still lack dedicated and functional institutions for disaster preparedness and emergency response
As the monsoon rain has started to pour across the country affecting lives in southern cities like Nepalgunj already, it is time to talk about flood and landslide induced disasters which claim hundreds of lives every year. The period between June and early September—roughly lasting a hundred days—receive the maximum rainfall in Nepal. Last year, due to cloudburst across Chure range, floods in southern plains wrecked havoc, claiming nearly 160 lives. Floods, landslides and incessant rainfall claimed 258 lives and left 132 people injured. Even today 52 people are reportedly missing and presumed dead according to National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC).
According to the estimate of National Planning Commission flooding alone caused economic loss of over Rs 60 billion and more than 70 billion rupees is needed for reconstruction of flood damaged properties across the country. According to the government data, from 1971 to 2015 flood alone has claimed 4,344 lives across the country. Nepal Disaster Report 2017 notes that Nepal is among the 20 most disaster prone countries in the world. Nepal is being severely affected by flood and landslide induced disasters. Over 20 people have already lost their lives to floods and landslides this year, according to the government report.
Scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests that climate change is contributing to increasing frequency and magnitude of flood and landslide induced disasters in the recent years. Country like Nepal is bearing the consequences due to intensive rainfall or cloudburst. Mass deforestation across the country in recent years has made the matters worse. Experts have cited that rampant exploitation of Chure range for raw materials has also increased Nepal’s vulnerability to monsoon floods. Stones and sands are being exported out of Nepal’s Chure range to India illegally by mafias while the government watches as mute spectator.
Former President Ram Baran Yadav had initiated much-needed Chure preservation project by establishing Presidential Chure Conservation Commission. In the recent years due to politicization, the commission has not been able to do much even as the whole region is bearing the brunt of flooding.
Poor coordination on cross border dams and embankments has made the southern plains more vulnerable to flooding. India has built 18 dams just along the southern border of Nepal. It has also constructed a 1,355 kilometer long road with an embankment along Nepal-India border.
Two years ago a serious dispute had occurred after the Indian side started building an embankment at the no man’s land near Tilathi of Saptari district. When locals from the Nepal side dismantled the ‘illegally built’ embankment which caused flooding in Nepal it caused confrontation between two sides. Some of these unilaterally constructed dams and embankments defying international norms have become the source of suffering for Nepal. Indian government’s upper hand in controlling flood gates at Koshi barrage, Laxmanpur dam, Kalkalawa embankment and Sharadha barrage has made our land vulnerable to inundation every year.
We cannot completely predict disasters but early preparedness can help mitigate the damage. This is why we need to focus on preparedness before monsoon wreaks serious havoc. If we can install early warning system in all of 6,000 rivers and rivulets, we could save so many lives and properties. Sadly, the government has installed early warning system only in 13 rivers.
Government should set up hydrology and meteorology units across the country to collect weather data. Currently we have only 20 such units. Department of Hydrology and Meteorology had done a commendable job last year by releasing bulletin that gave prior information regarding possible floods in major rivers based in predication of rainfall and weather.
The department should continue sending mass sms to flood prone area to alert people regarding the level of water in the river. People living around river side should be given flood drills and community shelters should be built. At the same time, capacity of local communities should be enhanced with the coordination with local and provincial governments.
Even though we have been facing risks of natural disasters like floods and landslides every single year, we still lack dedicated and functional institutional set ups for disaster preparedness and emergency response. We need a separate institution, like National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), to mitigate the disasters induced by floods and landslides.
Formulation of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (2017) was the right step in the right direction. It could go a long way in long-term planning to mitigate disaster risks. The joint team of Nepali and Indian officials is set to conduct on-site inspection to assess the problem of flooding for finding a sustainable solution this year in three phases—before monsoon, during monsoon and after monsoon. Let’s hope this meeting will bring lasting solutions to perennial problems of flooding.