In the past, the government has faced criticism for prioritising relief over prevention. This could change with the formation of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA), which works primarily on preparedness and mitigating risk, while delegating more rescue responsibility to first-responders in local governments.
“In earlier years landslides were not discussed as part of our monsoon preparedness plan, only floods were, and this year we set landslides as a priority for preparedness and response also looking at the intersection of wildfires, Covid-19 and the monsoon,” says Anil Pokhrel, who heads NDRRMA that has produced a workplan for monsoon preparedness and response.
The NDRRMA with DHM recently trained officials in 36 municipalities in nine of the most high-risk districts (Myagdi, Gorkha, Kalikot, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchok, Bajhang, Jajarkot, Syangja and Dailekh) on Impact Based Forecasting which predicts extreme weather events so that at-risk groups can be ready.
“We are dealing not just with floods and landslides this time, but also Covid-19. Local communities are setting up rapid response teams to best prevent an outbreak in shelters and maintain health protocols, and spreading awareness through FM radio in local languages,” says Liladhar Adhikari of the NDRRMA.
Despite the ‘above normal’ forecast in the models, climate scientist Ngamindra Dahal expects the monsoon to even out unless Nepal experiences cloudbursts over the Mahabharat and Chure ranges. These sudden heavy showers have been the cause of the deadliest floods and landslides in recent years.
“We now have the technology to predict localised cloudbursts through Impact Based Forecasting which is crucial in saving lives, all we need now is real-time action so local communities get advance warning,” says Dahal.
But predicting and determining the impact of floods and landslides only from the perspective of weather gives us an incomplete picture. The climate crisis has changed precipitation patterns and made extreme weather events more frequent and destructive. Poorly designed and built roads, bad engineering, and unplanned settlements have disturbed fragile mountain slopes, making them more disaster-prone.
“We have in recent times recorded 105mm rain per hour in Surkhet, 100mm in Bajhang and 73 in Kulekhani which is a clear indication that the monsoon is getting more intense, but we are only now trying to understand this trend,” says Dahal. “We need to see whether there are indeed more frequent cloudbursts, or if the disasters are more noticed because they affect new settlements in floodplains and roads that follow river banks.”