Disaster preparednessGovt’s decision to focus on readiness as much as response a welcome move
The first meeting of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDDRMC) chaired by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on Monday decided to keep Nepal Army (NA) rescue and search teams on a standby at three places. The government’s decision to keep search and rescue teams of NA with helicopters on a standby in Itahari of Province 1, Pokhara of Province 4 and Surkhet of Karnali Province to minimise casualties in monsoon-related disasters this year is a welcome move.
Monsoon is finally here. The period between June and early September, roughly lasting a hundred days, gets the most rainfall. And like every year, monsoon leaves behind a trial of destruction: floods, landslides, epidemics, displacement being the most common ones. Nepal Disaster Report 2017, biennial government publication, notes that Nepal is among the 20 most disaster prone countries in the world. The rains kill hundreds of people each year and wreak havoc to our already-thin infrastructure of roads, bridges, and irrigation canals. In fact, according to Ministry of Home Affairs, last year alone loss of lives and properties from disasters amounted to around Rs2700 million.
As such, the decision that came about after the first meeting of the NDDRMC in terms of early preparedness is highly appreciated. True, we cannot completely predict disasters, but early preparedness can help mitigate the damage. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) is doing commendable work in this regard.
Upgrading its previous early warning system, the DHM has been providing information to the public much earlier than previous years. Every day, it releases bulletin that gives prior information regarding possible floods in major rivers based on prediction of amount of rainfall and weather condition. Further, DHM has been posting regular updates on its social media platforms and sends out messages through SMS services. These services were found to be useful for people last year when floods in Southern plains wreaked havoc, claiming nearly 160 lives.
The Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act 2017 is also an achievement. Finally jettisoning a cornucopia of legislation, the government has come up with a single law that incorporates several issues significant to mitigating disaster risk and its management. However, the bill also envisages disaster management committees at local level and provincial level. As the meeting suggested, this needs to be done at the earliest since monsoon has already set in.
Although Nepal’s overall preparedness for disaster management leaves a lot to be desired, steps like these will be significant in mitigating the human and financial losses incurred due to disasters. The problem has been a scant recognition of the need for pre-emptive measures to minimise the impact of disasters. Perhaps that will change now. To sustain the government’s proactive role, such meetings must be held regularly and rightly as the they stress , intra-ministerial coordination will be key.