July 18, 2019 02:00 AM NPT
Since the devastating floods and landslides triggered by incessant rains last week ravaged the settlements in various parts of Nepal, mainly in the Tarai plains, political actors have risen up to help the flood-affected people. Lawmakers from almost all parties have announced to donate some portion of their salaries for the survivors. Provincial governments have also announced compensation for victim families. On Wednesday, high-level government officials and ministers flocked to the flood-hit areas in different parts of the country to monitor the situation. Former Prime Minister Madhav Nepal, Health Minister Upendra Yadav, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, Physical Infrastructure Minister Raghubir Mahaseth and Energy Minister Barshaman Pun reached Rautahat. They were accompanied by state ministers and lawmakers. Given the scale of damage the floods have done to the country—78 dead, 40 injured, 17,420 displaced, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs—it indeed demanded greater response from political actors. And their reaching out to the survivors is welcome step by all means.
But this is something they have been doing during the times of disaster every time. They go to the affected areas, promise rehabilitation, rescue and announce compensation. But these promises are rarely followed through. As a result, the victims of natural disaster have to live under the makeshift tents for months, even years, their family and social life disrupted and their access to education, health and livelihood seriously affected. Besides, during the natural disasters, political actors also promise to enhance early warning system and make rescue and relief operations smooth and fair. Again, this does not translate in action. Experts have argued that much of the loss in life and property from floods this year could have been avoided if the country was prepared with an effective early warning system and rescue and relief mechanisms. As more rainfall is expected in the days to come, the country is sure to face more cases of landslides and floods. We will need very effective early warning system. Yes, Flood Forecasting Section of the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology forecast the flooding, but it has been found that lack of enough radar capability hindered early warning in the highly prone areas. Department of Hydrology and Meteorology itself does not have enough human resources. As a matter of fact, national attention is directed toward this office only after disasters. Most other times, we tend to take this vital office for granted. And even when the Department becomes able to spread the message through various means—which it should be credited for doing—there is no guarantee that the message reaches the intended communities. Zakir Hussain Miya, Ward-6 chairperson of Pheta Rural Municipality of Bara complained with Republica that his community had not been given alert notice through SMS or any means of communication.
We do not seem to have learned lessons from experiences of annual flooding and landslides. We have not made enough investment in early warning systems and a stronger institutional setup. Our attention should be focused on disaster risk reduction, preparedness, responses and recovery. It must also be reemphasized that the government needs to take diplomatic initiatives with India to prevent floods and inundation caused by structures—such as embankments, roads and dams—unilaterally built by Indian side along the no-man’s land. Part of the reason of inundation has been identified as India-built structures. Nepal and India should sit together to resolve this issue. Nepalis—from ministers to commoners—demonstrate exemplary solidarity during the times of disaster. But soon after, we pay no heed to vital tasks to be done to prevent loss of lives and properties. So we suffer almost every year. We must learn this year to find ways to ensure safety of lives and properties.