Disaster, loss, damage and povertyImproperly planned infrastructure and unplanned urbanisation are giving an open invitation to disasters.
Repeated hits by disasters are one of the reasons Nepal has not been able to develop and rise out of its status as a least developed country. Water-induced disasters are particularly having an adverse impact on the country. Floods, droughts and landslides take lives, make people homeless and worsen food insecurity, further compounding the burden of poverty.
Development and disaster
Ill-considered roads, improperly planned infrastructure and unplanned urbanisation are giving an open invitation to disasters. Man-made disasters often cause more casualties. Instances of disasters induced by maldevelopment are reported frequently, but no one is concerned about pursuing safety measures. For instance, more often than not, bulldozer drivers launch an impromptu road construction project. Former water resources minister Dipak Gyawali called this ‘dozer terror’, which will lead to increased incidence of calamities. Nepal has been ranked the world's fourth most vulnerable country to climate change, and such maldevelopment is expected to create more destruction in the years to come.
From 1983 to 2013, water-induced disasters resulted in the destruction of 7,618 households, with 22,274 families being affected. These mishaps cause economic losses valued at Rs762 million annually on average. In addition to the quantified losses, the mental and physiological trauma the people go through is never assessed.
The Sustainable Development Goals identify disaster as one of the leading causes of poverty, therefore, Goal 1-Target 1.5 aims to build resilience among the poor to climate-related hazards. Goal 11-Target 11.5 seeks to reduce death and economic losses caused by disasters. Global targets identify disaster as the bottom line. But Nepal seems to be less focused on the disaster component. Nepal has not set goals to achieve Target 11.5 even though only a decade remains to do so.
A recent field visit to the East Rapti River Basin revealed how water-induced disasters were a major driver of poverty. Dhruva Kumar Banjara, who owns a shop at Hetauda-5, recounted how a single day's monsoon flood caused him a loss of Rs25,000. Local women recalled how they lost all their furniture and mattresses to floods two years in a row, costing them Rs100,000 annually. Sarita Upreti of Lothar, Rapti Municipality said floods inundate their fertile farmland and take away their livestock leading to food scarcity. When asked why they lived on hazardous floodplains, Harimaya Tamang of Manahari Rural Municipality said such land was all they could afford.
These cases present a vivid picture of how the poor get trapped in a cycle of poverty in their effort to meet their basic needs. With the rapid rise of unplanned development activities, it could be said that in the near future the poor can become much poorer. Besides individual families, this even leads to huge economic losses for the country, trapping the state in a vicious cycle. To illustrate the point with an example, millions of rupees are spent to construct roads that disintegrate every monsoon. Consequently, almost the same amount of money is needed to repair such roads every year.
Poverty is inherently linked to disaster events. Realising the need for disaster risk management to reduce poverty, China is amalgamating disaster risk reduction into poverty reduction policies. With a huge number of people at risk of natural disasters and one-third of the population living below the poverty line, Nepal’s poverty reduction programmes and policies must integrate disaster risk reduction as one of the essential units. Previous policies on poverty alleviation excluded the disaster risk reduction component. Moreover, water-induced disasters should be given the top priority. Developmental projects should be properly planned, considering the geography and geological hazards in any region and taking into account nature-based solutions.
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