Monsoon madnessInundation ravages lives and livelihood each year. The government can’t remain clueless anymore.
In August 2017, photos of the dead body of eight-year-old Kamal Sada being cremated on the Koshi River brought tears to many eyes. Sada had reportedly succumbed to illness caused by prolonged rain and flooding. Since there was no dry land around, the Sada family had to offer the dead body to the raging river. The child’s unusual cremation has remained a haunting image of the death and destruction monsoon brings in the Tarai each year. This year, the monsoon came earlier, and with it came early floods. Like in the previous years, thousands are expected to be rendered homeless this year as well. And our disaster preparedness this year is disastrous, to say the least.
Although monsoon floods are a country-wide phenomenon, the Tarai region, home to almost half of the country’s population, is especially prone to devastation. We may continue to blame it on the rain gods, but the floods in the Tarai are often the cumulative result of awful natural resources management and unequal water-sharing arrangements with India. On one hand, the continuous exploitation of the Chure hills has resulted in riverbeds rising 10-15 cm each year, leading to changes in the course of rivers, erosion of riverbanks and sedimentation of fertile lands.
On the other, India’s construction of big infrastructure on the border areas, including 28 big dams and barrages apart from elevated roads, has hindered the natural flow of water. Over 60 major rivers that flow southwards from Nepal onto India face hindrance. Additionally, the southern neighbour controls several barrages including Koshi and Gandak, leading to flooding on the Nepali side. Nepali authorities have to request India each time the flow of the rivers gets blocked and floods the Nepali Tarai. In their failure to take these issues up with India and solve them permanently, Nepali authorities continue to fail the people of the Tarai.
This year, the rescue and rehabilitation process is going to be even more difficult owing to the physical distancing norms being followed avoid transmission of Covid-19. That the Tarai is highly affected by the pandemic adds to the problem. As the country’s human and financial resources have been directed towards containing the pandemic, we face a bigger crisis this year. The floods took many more lives in Nepal last year than the pandemic has this year. If the monsoon remains unforgiving this year, we’re looking at a disaster of an even bigger magnitude as authorities have started citing the pandemic as an excuse for their unpreparedness to deal with the floods.
Although the government has been giving advanced flood alerts in many places, its preparation for rescue and rehabilitation is negligible at best. At several places, local levels have built temporary shelters for possible flood victims and allocated limited budgets to bear the costs of rescue and rehabilitation. But these won’t be enough, considering the magnitude of the problem that lies ahead. Greater coordination between all three levels of the government is a must for effective preparedness and for ensuring the safety of the lives, livestock and property in the Tarai. The stakeholders must spring up to action right away. They can’t afford to fail the people of the Tarai yet again owing to their indifference and ineptitude.