Each year natural disasters claim lives of several innocents in Nepal. The Himalayan nation is globally ranked extremely high in terms of susceptibility to geophysical and climate hazards. More than 80% of the population is vulnerable to some type of risk that arises from natural disasters which makes Nepal one of the most disaster-prone countries. While Nepal is prone to most of these disasters, floods and landslides seem to have become a regular phenomenon. Nepalis have lost lives, poultry, livestock, vegetation and property worth billions over the years.
An erratic rainfall pattern has developed over the past few years as a result of increasing population, deforestation, unplanned settlements, poorly built roads, and urbanization of flood plains. The rain-induced disasters during the months of June-September have caused extensive destruction to human life. Consequently, there have been infectious water-borne diseases in the aftermath, which only worsen the recovery. Since 2011, according to DRR, 1,550 recorded human lives have been lost to these disasters. The estimated financial loss for the same stands at Rs 18 billion approximately.
Recently, amid the infamous coronavirus pandemic, casualties due to landslides and floods have made it to the headlines again, like every other year. The disasters have forced several families to displace or relocate. The situation is miserable in the Terai region as few municipalities have completely been swamped by floodwaters where police and locals are also unable to extend support. Likewise, the landslides and avalanches along the Himalayan belt have made the lives of locals there unpredictable. Human-made faulty constructions primarily trigger these recent lethal landslides and floods.
However, despite countless lives being lost to floods and landslides each year, government plan and response has been inappropriately minimal. The graph below suggests how there are fatalities each year, and yet the government has failed to take a concrete measure towards environment protection and climate change.
Nepal Disaster Risk Reduction has reached milestones but has lacked in implementation. Most of the plans and policies are merely on paper and do not provide any provision for immediate mitigation, nor does it target risk reduction.
Furthermore, there is no shortage of disaster management institutions across the country. There are recognized Relief Committees in all the regions. The government of Nepal has established the National Council, Executive Committee, National disaster Risk Reduction Management Authority, and Disaster Management Committees at the province, district, and local levels as per the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act 2017. Yet Nepalis continue to lose their lives and loved ones.
Like each succeeding year, the conversations and meeting dry up as the rainwater does. Millions and billions of rupees have been allocated for disaster management, but no local or provincial government seems to have utilized it efficiently. While the relief packages provide a short-term solution, no long-term mechanism is in place for risk reduction and mitigation. The attitude of the government towards the natural disaster is worrisome and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The more concerning issue is the government’s ability to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. If the government has failed to establish distinct protocols and relief for a disaster that is expected each year, how will it control the spread of an unexpected fatal virus? The government’s decision to impose a nation-wide lockdown was initially lauded since it provided time for preparedness.
However, lack of government initiatives, preparedness and provisions during the lockdown left the citizens furious. While most countries took steps towards making the economy safer by imposing rules to contain community spread, Nepal’s lockdown kept getting longer without any plan. Months went by, and no strategy was in place to gradually open up Nepal’s economy so that labours could be employed again. The government failed to establish protocols leading to unfathomable loss. Experts have also attested that the initial months of lockdown did more harm than good to the nation. Nepal’s government recently started lifting the lockdown across the towns but still doesn’t have enough PCR testing kits or adequate medical facilities for a patient. There are minimal ventilators, and the death toll is on the rise. The government’s obliviousness in the face of the pandemic was heavily criticized. It only indicated the government’s unaccountable and unreliable attitude.
The government response to the disaster and the virus is evidently inadequate. The grassroots problem seems to be the general outlook— emphasis on relief and rescue operations, which is also inefficient. Instead of focusing on the aftermath of disasters, the government must address the contributing factor and concentrate on mitigating the risk. The primary approach should be to establish a precautionary and prevention strategy. The government must identify learnings from past events in order to recognize the errors which can be avoided in the future. Similarly, the government must be dedicated to the coronavirus cause and implement a well-thought-out plan of action which is robust. The government’s ability to manage a crisis is fundamental to its next election and power.
Author: Shraddha More: More is a junior research fellow at CESIF-Nepal.
 (MoHA, 2009a)
 DRR Portal
 Gaire et al., 2015
 National Policy for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2019