The night of the big windIncidents such as the recent rainstorm cast doubt on the authority’s preparedness to deal with disasters.
No news is good news is an old adage in the media world, but it’s amazing to see how the cliché has not lost an inch of its glory all through these years. Being part of the media ourselves, we can’t help but recall the old saying every time the nation is hit by a disaster, big or small, in magnitude. The glaring case was evident yet again on the evening of March 31 when three minutes of mayhem in Bara and Parsa in the Tarai region, some 127 kilometres south of Kathmandu, left scores of people injured or dead, and many more displaced. April 1, the next morning, otherwise a fun-filled day globally, when people take time out to pull pranks on each other, left a sour taste on the nation.
The three-minute rainstorm was sudden and the people in the affected region, to say the least, were ill prepared for a calamity of such nature and scale. The local residents definitely did not see it coming: the worst storm tragedy nature has unleashed in the region in history. As our reporters and anchors paced back and forth in the newsroom and studio early on Monday, the death toll kept rising. The atmosphere inside the newsroom was that of disbelief, since never before had we heard of a rainstorm of such intensity, causing loss of lives and property on such a scale.
The immediate question in the aftermath of the destruction was the nature and origin of the rainstorm or cyclone, whatever name we give it. We talked to meteorologist Min Kumar Aryal, who has been working at the Meteorological Forecasting Division for the past 11 years. Aryal said the division had not been able to decide on the exact term to describe the weather phenomenon. According to Aryal, the country still lacks the technology to measure the velocity of the wind that flattened several villages in Bara and Parsa, which would have helped the authorities in defining it correctly. Aryal says the only way now to characterise the rainstorm is with the help of information recorded by satellites. The decision whether and when to retrieve the information, however, lies with the government.
Regarding the question of how the ‘cyclone’ originated, Aryal pointed out that a combination of cold air in a high pressure region that moved from Chitwan to Bara and hot easterly winds blowing from the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea created a vacuum resulting in the three minutes of havoc which had never been experienced before. The combined environmental development took a toll on Bara and Parsa.
As per Aryal, the Meteorological Forecasting Division has just one radar to measure the speed of high winds in the entire country. The equipment, which is able to measure wind speeds within a 200-kilometre radius, is installed at Guranse Danda in Surkhet, 360 kilometres west from the worst hit district of Bara. Aryal also said they were receiving training on analysing data collected by the radar and other available models, and admitted they currently lacked expertise on utilising the equipment to its potential. Our weathermen are clearly deficient in technological knowhow. The existing Weather Research and Forecasting model, Aryal says, is not adequate to predict such a disaster. He insists that Nepal needs to test various models to select one best suited for its varied topography. The division is planning to install additional radars in Palpa and Udaypur Chipre Dada.
On a sadder note, we always hear of serious management lapses following every disaster. There have been many recorded incidents in the past, especially in the wake of the April 2015 earthquake or devastating floods in the Tarai, of various groups exploiting the emotions of the Nepali people to collect money for their own interests. At this time of a tragedy of this scale, we can only hope that such games of emotional exploitation are not repeated.
Incidents such as this have also raised questions about the authority’s preparedness to deal with disasters of any magnitude. Unfortunately, once again, there were reports of genuine victims being denied immediate relief assistance such as tents and food which have already been pouring in. The scenario was similar during the catastrophic 2015 earthquake. It has been no better during the current disaster in Bara and Parsa. Lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties also jumped in to show their sympathy, pledging to donate one and two days’ salary respectively. Our parliamentarians might feel that they have washed their hands of the whole affair with their ‘hefty’ contribution, but the scale of the devastation shows that their gesture is pathetic. They are making a mockery of a national crisis of this scale.
Pradhan is a journalist with Kantipur Television.