Enact the lawThe Disaster Management Act should be approved without delay
Nepal is highly susceptible to natural disasters, including earthquakes, landslides, fire and floods. Every year, the country loses hundreds of lives and properties worth billions. According to the Asian Disaster Reduction Centre, Nepal is one of the top 20 multi-hazard prone countries in the world, and is ranked fourth, 11th and 30th in terms of risks associated with climate change, earthquakes and floods respectively. The Nepal Disaster Report 2013 of the Ministry of Home Affairs estimates that between 1971 and 2012, 31,908 people have died and 5,936,170 families were affected due to natural disasters.
There was a marked increase in the number of disasters in 2013 and 2014, according to Nepal Disaster Report 2015, prepared by the government and some development partners. But until recently, Nepal’s approach to dealing with disasters had been relief-centric—treating disasters as acts of god and providing some relief in cash and kind to the victims. That best explains why the Chief District Officer (CDO)-led ad hoc committee is put in charge of dealing with disasters under the Natural Calamity (Relief) Act 1982.
Since the Koshi river floods in 2008, disaster preparedness has become a buzzword within the donor and government circles in Nepal. The National Disaster Management Strategy and the National Disaster Management Act were drafted in 2009, bringing in the much-needed investment and expertise in retrofitting schools and hospitals. Investments have also been made in setting up emergency communication centres in all districts. Yet seven years down the road, the cumulative effect of these investments has been diluted in the absence of a governing Act.
Experts argue that if the Act was approved and a disaster management agency created in time, as envisioned by the original draft of the Act, the post-earthquake response would have been relatively well-coordinated, and the countless delays, which have been the hallmark of the government’s post-disaster recovery approach, would have been avoided.
The failure to approve the Act was attributed to overzealous bureaucrats in the Ministry of Home Affairs, who wanted to control the disaster management portfolio and who failed to understand the proposition of the disaster management agency being led by either the prime minister or a Cabinet minister.
After the earthquake, the original proposal of a high-powered agency was reincorporated into the draft bill. The current version of the bill proposes a National Council for Disaster Management under the chairmanship of the prime minister. The Council will comprise the vice-chair of the National Planning Commission, the chief secretary of the government, the chief of Army staff, and two nominated members with expertise in disaster management. Such high-level representation is key to timely and effective coordination in mounting an effective response to disasters. Nepal can take its cue from India and a few other South Asian countries with similar agencies.