Assess the situation fastThe torrential rain that triggered massive floods and landslides has inundated thousands of hectares of farmland in the southern Tarai belt, also known as the country’s food basket.
The torrential rain that triggered massive floods and landslides has inundated thousands of hectares of farmland in the southern Tarai belt, also known as the country’s food basket. The disasters hit the Tarai right after the official paddy plantation season had come to an end. So far, the extent of the damage caused to paddy plants is unknown, but government officials say losses could be huge if flood water is not released within the next three to four days, or if flood waters have deposited sand in rice fields. The floods and landslides have also caused significant damage to huge swathes of vegetable farms, killed livestock and swept fish away from ponds.
The agricultural sector contributes around 30 percent to the economy, and all these losses are expected to reduce agricultural output in the current fiscal year and shave billions of rupees off the country’s gross domestic product. But what is particularly worrying is the loss of houses, income-generating opportunities, and durable assets. These losses are likely to push many people living on the edge of the poverty line back into the poverty trap.
The country’s Tarai belt is considered prosperous because of the presence of huge swathes of arable land and plain terrain, where various physical infrastructures can be easily built. Yet there are pockets where poverty is rife and the human development index is below the national score of 0.490. Such is the case in the districts of Saptari, Siraha, Dhanusha, Mahottari, Sarlahi, Rautahat, Bara and Parsa, which lie in Province 2; they have also been greatly affected by the latest natural disasters. The situation is particularly worrying in the districts of Rautahat and Mahottari which fall on the bottom rung of the country’s human development ladder, according to United Nation’s Nepal Human Development Report 2014.
Here, perhaps remittance sent by foreign migrants could provide relief, as big chunks of youth from these districts are working in the Gulf or Malaysia. However, studies show that foreign migration is generally lower among the poor and the vulnerable; and these groups of people generally make a living either through self-employment or wage work in the country’s agricultural sector. The disasters may keep them out of the job market because of a shortage of employment opportunities in the agricultural sector in the short term. And even if they do find jobs, they may have to reject them because of a need to repair homes and to bring stability back to their lives.
Once the rescue and relief operations are over, the government must conduct a post-disaster needs assessment, find vulnerable groups, provide adequate support to them and restore their sources of livelihood. Otherwise, these groups will fall back into the trap of poverty, proving detrimental to Nepal’s plan of graduating from the grouping of least developed countries to that of developing countries within 2022.