No more helicopter toursHundreds of Nepalis die in floods every year, and we need to do things differently this year.
The monsoon season will soon open its floodgates and cause formidable damage to life and property. Almost 400 persons died last year due to monsoon-induced natural disasters. This year, too, thousands of families will potentially be displaced as floods and landslides destroy homes, roads, cultivable lands, hydropower plants, drinking water networks, irrigation channels and much more. Meteorologists predict that with higher precipitation than usual, and with almost 1.8 million people being affected, this year is going to get harder than the previous one.
Ticking all the boxes of high risks ranging from earthquakes to flooding and climate change, Nepal is considered a hotspot for natural disasters. Almost 83 percent of the country’s topography comprises hills and mountains, which is what leaves Nepal with a perpetually high risk of landslides. Parts of those hills and mountains have been rendered fragile due to the deadly 2015 earthquake. And if that were not enough, our mountains have been ravaged by the development monster, as earthmovers are deployed everywhere possible to build poorly engineered roads and extract sand and gravel for commercial purposes. In the plains, the Chure range is already in tatters due to mining and concrete embankments dot the Indo-Nepal border, hindering the natural flow of excess water.
The fact that the country saw an unusual number of forest fires this year means a significant fall in the number of trees that function as natural check-and-balance mechanisms against floods and landslides. Combine all that with an erratic monsoon and we have a recipe for disaster perfect with human greed and nature’s laws. And with the financial capabilities of the citizens as well as the state institutions taking a hit due to the Covid-19 induced economic downturn, the resources for disaster mitigation, rescue and rehabilitation are tighter this year. The vulnerability of the people can only be lessened if the government prepares in advance. But the big question is: Are we prepared?
A real test of our aptitude for defence and resilience against natural disasters lies in how we are going to do differently this year in terms of disaster risk communication, rescue and rehabilitation. And the only way to do that is to prepare in advance. If we are clueless about handling the landslides and floods this year just as we were last year, it tells more about us than about nature. No amount of hurrying up is going to help once the disaster is already at our doors. In any case, we are already pretty late in stopping our mountains from being turned into ugly patches of red mud and barren slopes, and our riverbeds from turning dry due to excessive extraction.
Agencies tasked with disaster risk reduction and management need to monitor landslide and flood-prone areas and evacuate people to safer areas in advance. We need the agencies to actually work on the ground towards learning from past mistakes and improving their disaster management mechanisms. This year, we do not expect a repeat performance of the home minister hovering over vulnerable people on a flood and landslide-monitoring tour, and throwing a few sacks of rice and instant noodles.