July 15, 2019 02:00 AM NPT
Deaths, homelessness in floods, landslides
Every year, over hundred people lose their lives to raging floods, inundations or landslides from the plains to the hills and mountains. The nation is taken by grief. The government authorities spring into action—promising and executing relief and rescue operations, even providing some compensation money. Pledges are made to minimize the damage as much as possible. Leaders speak of leaving no stone unturned to minimize deaths from the next year onward. And then the rains recede. Winter comes followed by dry season. We come to realize the urgency of our pledge only when similar tragedies befall. The country stands in solidarity. From Nepal Army to Armed Police Force as well as Nepal Police to civilians, they do all they can to rescue or comfort the affected people. Almost the same thing is happening this year. Floods, landslides and inundation have led to the deaths of over three dozen people, dozens are missing and many others have become homeless. The rains that started from Friday—even earlier in some parts of the country—have ravaged settlements in various parts of Nepal’s hills and plains. Even inside the Kathmandu Valley eight deaths have been reported. The country is back to the tragic situation, once again.
All these casualties should have been avoided at least for one reason—our weather alert system is more reliable than before. Meteorological Forecasting Division had predicted the danger as early as July 10, detailing which particular river settlements are more vulnerable, what will be the scale of disaster and why people should shift to safer locations. In fact, Department of Hydrology and Meteorology has been actively informing the people with regular updates through press notes or twitter messages or through mass SMS alerts. Where did these warnings get lost? Could it have been that the people were not informed of the matter in advance? Or did they ignore the message or not take it seriously? In either case, there is a room to improve our flood awareness system—to make the information reach the target community of both hills and the plains on time and to make the people trust the information. Often during the rainy season, telephone network in the high hills is poor. And they don’t get to know what is happening elsewhere sometimes for hours. We need to enhance our telephone network system as well.
When our plains get inundated, we affirm that we will leave no stone unturned to negotiate with Indian authorities to stop floods and inundations caused by dams and structures built across the border by Indian authorities (and unilaterally). This is where Nepali authorities have almost always failed. Even this year, over a dozen villages were inundated when the embankment in Bairaganiya stopped the natural flow of water. Whole of Rautahat is plunged in chaos. The locals there are sad, furious and frustrated with the authorities for failing to take up this issue with Indian authorities to find a permanent and mutually less-damaging solution. The truth of the matter is the dialogue for this purpose has rarely been held. Nepali authorities are allegedly not bold enough to raise such issue. They have to be. Floods and inundation affect settlements in both in Indian and Nepali sides. Thus Indian side must be ready to find the solution. Nepalis have been facing this tragedy for years. Days to come must be different.