Towards risk preparednessThe govt must introduce disaster risk management policies to save lives and minimise damage
The Earthquake Safety Day (ESD) was observed on January 16 to commemorate the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal on January 15, 1934. This day has been observed since 1999. According to studies and research conducted by seismologists, out of 198 countries studied, Nepal is the eleventh country most prone to earthquakes, while Kathmandu Valley is considered to be one of the most prone cities in the world.
Why the risk?
According to Nepal’s history, we can see that a devastating earthquake occurs every 75 to 100 years while every 50 years, a medium scale earthquake occurs. According to seismologists, the geographic condition and risk-prone physical structures are to be blamed for the damages that occur during earthquakes in Nepal.
The seismological areas of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region extends over 3,500km from Myanmar to Afghanistan, and of this stretch, the most sensitive 800kms lies in Nepal. According to some studies, 92 fault lines lie within Nepal’s borders. Thus, Nepal is extremely vulnerable to earthquakes.
Moreover, the unplanned urbanisation which has been increasing each year in Nepal escalates the level of potential damage that occurs during earthquakes and natural disasters. Houses are constructed in manners that violate the Building Code of Conduct, and there are narrow and unplanned roads and a lack of open spaces in the urban areas, which all lead to an increase of risks.
Disasters claim lives and damage property that is worth millions of rupees. But while the devastation and damages make for a bitter pill to swallow, they also provide an opportunity for reconstruction and advancement. Now, Nepal is in the reconstruction phase and if we can utilise this time properly, it can prove to be a good opportunity for reconstruction to make a new Nepal.
The problem is that the survivors of the 2015 earthquake are still forced to live in temporary shelters, even after almost three years have passed since the disaster occurred. The government should not delay in building permanent housing for the survivors. According to data from the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), construction of only 95,188 houses were completed and the third tranche of house construction grants was approved for 53,983 survivors as of January 29, 2018. This clearly shows that most of the damaged or destructed houses are awaiting reconstruction. Secondly, political intervention in the NRA has affected its functioning, further delaying reconstruction. There is also a lack of coordination between the NRA’s central authority and its district offices. Thirdly, coordination and cooperation among the concerned ministries and the NRA should be further strengthened to speed up the reconstruction process. Fourthly, the government must ensure proper implementation of policies for the management of people who were displaced by the earthquake and are living as internally displaced citizens in different districts.
Moreover, it is imperative to ensure the participation of women, poor and marginalised people in reconstruction and resettlement programmes and activities. This will further provide opportunities to make the settlement and reconstruction policies and programmes inclusive. It will further help to address existing social inequalities and to rebuild a fairer and inclusive Nepal.
Preparedness or initiatives taken to minimise disasters and the damages or losses caused by such disasters are related to each other. If there is preparedness, then less damage occurs. But in Nepal, it has been observed that there are minimal preparations for disaster risk management to save the lives and to minimise the damage or destruction of private, public and government structures during disasters. Past experiences have shown that the government only takes initiative when a disaster occurs. So, we are more focused on responding to a disaster when it occurs. Because proper attention is not given to preparedness or disaster risk reduction, many people lose lives during the disasters.
Equal attention should be given to the stockpiling and management of food and non-food items, adequate drinking water, and items related to water, sanitation and hygiene. Likewise, identification and management of open spaces in urban areas should be made accordingly. Attention should be given to the management of essential equipment and required human resources during emergencies.
Measures for management
The much-awaited Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act was endorsed by Parliament on September 25, 2017. Now, it’s time to promote the Act and enhance the capacity of the concerned authorities for the effective implementation of the Act at all levels.
Likewise, necessary steps should be taken to guarantee the rights of the survivors, while participation of the affected community in all mechanisms of disaster management should be ensured. Moreover, required financial as well as human resources should properly be managed for the implementation of disaster management programmes at all levels—district, provincial and federal. Similarly, a separate mechanism should be formed to monitor the implementation of the programmes and the progress of the implementation should be reported to the concerned authorities regularly.
Dhakal works in humanitarian and sustainable development sector