A disaster resilient Nepal is possible
The 2020 southwest monsoon was forecast to be 'normal' in Nepal, but it turned out to be more intense than predicted, and lasted much longer.
Last year saw deadly landslides and floods across the country, killing at least 400 people, with Sindhupalchok, Baglung, Myagdi, Jajarkot, Kalikot and Bajura districts bearing the brunt of the disasters. Entire villages were buried and debris flows swept away rocks, trees, bridges and houses.
We are now bracing up for the 2021 monsoon season, and it is predicted to be much more intense than last year. The South Asian Climate Outlook Forum has forecast that this year's monsoon precipitation will be 'above normal' almost throughout the country.
This year's monsoon comes after the worst wildfire season ever, and it could make this year’s monsoon even more destructive. Wildfires that raged for months burnt through forest-shrub cover, undermining the ability of mountain slopes to absorb rainfall and prevent soil erosion. This could potentially result in more landslides and floods.
Then there is also the Covid-19 pandemic, that is now raging across the hinterland, and has further compounded the challenges in responding to monsoon-induced disasters. Many local first responders have fallen sick during the second wave of the coronavirus, and those who are fit enough to conduct rescue and relief will find it difficult to maintain safe distance.
Given all these considerations, it would be naive to hope that everything will be all right in the next few months, but the slopes are already saturated by pre-monsoon rains and this does not bode well.
Here at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA) we are committed to reducing losses in lives and livelihoods by:
- Preparing joint response during the pandemic to landslides, floods and water borne diseases with federal, provincial, local governments including District Disaster Management Committees for swift rescue and relief operations.
- Closely working with the Nepal Army, the Armed Police Force, Nepal Police, community groups, non-profits, development partners and the private sector.
- Improving Early Warning System and communicating disaster risks in more effective ways.
- Prepositioning search and rescue equipment including relief items.
While preparing for this year's monsoon, we have also begun to look beyond 2021. With the right policies and actions, we can achieve our target of substantial reduction of disaster risk and loss of lives and livelihoods by 2030. It may sound ambitious, but we have a vision to pull it off in sync with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030).
Through this year's budget program, the government has unveiled a 10-year campaign to build Suraksit Nepal -- a disaster resilient Nepal which will fast track actions to ensure safety in not just future earthquakes, but other hazards.
The 10-year campaign to build a resilient Nepal will use our valuable learning and insights from post-earthquake recovery and reconstruction. In the first few years after the 2015 earthquake, Nepal received unfair bad publicity in the international media for sluggish reconstruction, but the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) quickly made up for lost time to achieve its mandate.
The NRA’s completion of post-earthquake recovery despite the 2015-16 border blockade and the 2020-21 lockdowns is a model for other countries. Nepal is planning an international conference next year to share this success story.
To wrap up the post-earthquake recovery, the government has allocated the budget to build 14,155 more classrooms, 105 health facilities, 195 cultural monuments and 36 government buildings. Similarly, reconstruction and retrofitting of heritage buildings and completion of 39 integrated settlements also feature prominently in this year's budget.
This year’s budget also allocates money for disaster preparedness, search, rescue, relief, and rehabilitation. This includes programs for disaster risk financing, helicopters for aerial firefighting, multi-hazard early warning system, multi-purpose robotic firefighting equipment in all provinces, advanced fire brigade, multi-seater ambulance, rescue vehicles and fire trucks at all local levels.
This is the first time Disaster Risk Management has featured so prominently in Nepal's national budget. Disasters are traditionally seen as acts of god in Nepal, this is why there was little will to work on prevention.
We now see a paradigm shift in this thinking. We are moving from response more towards preparedness and risk reduction. Rather than waiting for disasters to happen and spending financial, human and institutional resources on rescue and relief, our new emphasis in this decade is on disaster risk reduction and preparedness for effective response.
As part of the 10-year campaign to build a disaster resilient Nepal, we need to plan, design and implement:
- Multi-hazard risk assessment and mapping
- Establishment of a national platform to communicate risk information
- Early warning system using all forms of media for all hazards
- Disaster risk financing with insurance of private houses and public buildings
- Integrated settlements for communities at high-risk locations
- Guidelines and system to reconstruct infrastructure damaged by disasters
- Revision of the building code to integrate key risks such as floods, fire and lightning and create incentives for implementation
- Reduction of Glacial Lake Outburst Flood risks
- Design standards to integrate disaster and climate risks for roads, water supply and irrigation
- Establishment of Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority at all seven provinces
- Establishment of Emergency Operation Centers at all seven provinces, 77 districts and key municipalities with high risks
- Building capacity of provincial and local governments to integrate risk considerations into development planning
- Restructuring of NDRRMA to include a Training and Research Directorate for disaster risk reduction
Successful completion of these tasks will lay the groundwork for the 10-year plan. Its success will not only save lives and livelihoods, but also reduce recurrent economic damage and loss from disasters.
Anil Pokhrel is the Chief Executive of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA).