Gehendra Gurung

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  • Time to Adopt Disaster Impact Assessment in Development Initiatives

    September 9th, 2018

    In the recent pasts, it has been observed that human activities play prime role in creating disasters. The impact of 2015 earthquake in Nepal took lives of 9,000 people and completely damaged nearly 500,000 rural and urban houses. The 2015 April earthquake in Nepal destroyed and damaged properties worth more than USD7b, which is over 1/3 of the GDP. The main reason to such a huge loss and damage was due to weak housing and infrastructure that were built without paying proper attention to potential impacts of earthquake. The monsoon flood in 2017 affected nearly 1.7 million people and completely or partially destroyed 190,000 houses. The 2017 monsoon flood damaged properties worth nearly USD600m, which is around 3% of the country’s GDP. The reason behind such damage was again weak structure built on the flood plains without assessing the potential impacts of the flood. This year (2018) flood in Hanumante River in Bhaktapur (Kathmandu valley) damaged over 500 houses, nearly 30 factories, over 100 shops, schools and hospitals. The reason behind this damage was building human settlement on the riverbed encroaching right of river with no assessment of potential flood and its impacts. Despite the knowledge that flood would enter, the structure were not built safe from flood. In these events, human error was clearly observed as a key reason to disasters.


    The Sikta Irrigation canal in Banke district of Neal is costing the government millions of rupees every year to maintain it because the design did not pay adequate attention to the potential impacts of the flood to it. The irrigation canal not only gets affected by flood, but it also creates flood in the downstream communities where the people did not experience such flood in the past.


    We have been observing that the rural roads in Nepal built without any design and assessment has created thousands of landslides and debris flow downstream taking lives and properties of the people. The roads themselves are also affected by landslides and flood costing to government thousands of money to maintain and compensating to households who have lost lives and properties.


    We can go on and on for several such development interventions and initiatives where they bring disaster to local communities and the development initiatives are not safe from the disaster as well. So a brief review of how the development initiatives are designed and implemented clearly tells us that at the design phase there is a serious error with no assessment of potential disasters the development initiatives can bring and the potential magnitude of disaster that these development initiatives have to face. Until the disaster impacts are seriously assessed as a mandatory process for every scale and type (large and small, public and private) of development initiatives, the investment will create problem by bringing disaster to nearby communities, and they will also be affected by disaster that require high maintenance cost making the project a waste of resources and unsustainable.


    So the time has come to make Disaster Impact Assessment (DIA) for each development initiatives small or large, private or public, mandatory. A DIA will assess the potential disaster that the development intervention can create in the development site where there was no such disaster in the past. Potentially the development initiatives can create floods, inundations, siltation, debris flow, landslides, soil erosion, river pollution, loss of habitat and resources, fire, health/ disease epidemics, accidents, problem of waste, or any such hazards that can bring disaster to the nearby communities where such hazards did exist in the past. The impact of disaster could be far lasting and wide spread. The DIA should assess such potential disasters that the development interventions will potentially bring or create. The value of impact of such potential disasters (risk) should be assessed at the designing phase together with cost of humanitarian activities, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction because of the potential disaster that could be brought by such development interventions. The cost /impact should also accommodate the social, environmental and cultural cost due to potential damage to these resources by the disaster created by development interventions.


    The DIA should also assess the impact of disaster on the development initiatives and interventions if the development activities cannot be avoided from that particular location. As for example Sikta Irrigation project was a must in that particular location, but it gets affected by flood annually. As it is not built adequately strong to resist the impacts of flood, it gets destruction annually by the flood. It seems the design did not assess such potential floods, as a result each year it has to bear millions of rupees for repair and maintenance. This is an example from many such projects. The thousands of private, government and public building destroyed by 2015 earthquake was primarily because the risk of earthquake was not properly assessed and proper protection measures were not adopted timely. The houses built on the river bed in Hanumante River in Kathmandu valley did not pay attention to the risk of flood, so they got affected by flood.


    So it is time now that we have to learn from the past where we did not assess the potential disaster of development initiatives and intervention to local communities and environments, because of which they created man-made disasters. Similarly because of lack of assessment, these development interventions and initiatives have been adversely affected by disaster and the government has to pour millions of taxpayers’ money on their repair and maintenance annually.


    DIA will look at the disaster risk aspects of the development initiatives and provide following recommendations


    1. The appropriateness of the particular development intervention or initiative in that particular location. The cost of potential humanitarian activities, post disaster activities such as rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction, and the cost of repair and maintenance of the initiative compared to the anticipated benefits from the development interventions
    2. If it is feasible then the assessment will provide recommendations to prevent potential disaster that the development interventions can create to the community and the environment, at the project period and throughout the life of the initiative
    3. The assessment will also provide recommendations for the protection and resilience measures to be adopted for the development initiatives to be safe from the potential disasters that can affect them. This will include measures to adopt at the time of development and construction, and after the completion at the time of benefit taking from the initiatives.


    However the DIA should not be like EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) which has become like a ritual. The DIA should be done by an independent study / assessment team commissioned by the government. It is government’s responsibility to protect its people and their properties, and the properties of the state.


    The DIA will need robust tools and methodologies. It is not to prevent development initiatives from happening, but to enhance the value for money of the development initiatives and interventions, and protect lives and properties of the people, and that of the state. It should be part of designing process and should not take unnecessarily long time that delays the development process.

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  • Climate Change Adaptation – From NAPA to NAP

    April 22nd, 2018

    I assume by this time there is no need for defining and clarifying what climate change is. But yet there are still some ambiguities among many of us as to what it actually is, on which many of us still are not so convinced.

    When we say an increase of 1°C global (or national) average temperature, we do not usually believe that it affects us because we have diurnal difference of more than 10°C between minimum and maximum, and difference of over 30°C between winter minimum and summer maximum.  So we question ourselves why we are so panicking about just 1°C temperature change in our atmosphere?

    But the difference that we have in our heads is the daily or seasonal difference or difference in events, and climate change is about the average of these events. Naturally the average climate values should not change significantly over the year, the annual average values of temperature should remain the same despite their diurnal and season variations.

    In case of precipitation it is not just the annual average but also the seasonality, the form and characteristics of precipitation. So for precipitation, it is not just the annual average, but the average change in monthly and seasonal average values also matter.

    Using statistics

    We believe in statistics. When statistics tell us that there is a significant difference between two numbers, no matter how small it is, this indicates that there are certain disturbances and such differences will also have certain impacts around it as a consequence.

    Nepal climate data analysis carried out by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) of Nepal recently indicates that even a change of 0.056° C per year in the maximum temperature over 43 years (1971 – 2014) is highly significant which could have potential impacts. So by this standard a change of 1° C is highly significant which will have a high impact on the environment and our life systems. Nonetheless there is still a belief that if there is a 1.5° C increase over 100 years, perhaps we can cope with it.  But if this happens over a short period of time, the impact will go beyond our capacity to cope.

    The result of DHM of 0.056° C per year increase is based on observed temperature data of 1971-2014. This shows over the last 43 years of time with 0.056° C per year, there is already an increase of 2.41 ° C in Nepal’s average maximum temperature. Unfortunately the report did not provide information on the average temperature, but the increasing trend of the minimum temperature over the same period is not significant, it is smaller than that of maximum, pulling down the mean average below 2.41 degree C, which could be still within our coping capacity.

    We have already observed the impact of such a temperature increase on the physical and social environments. The very obvious impacts we have seen are receding snow lines and declining of snow and glacier masses and an increase in the number and size of lakes formed from the snow and glacier melt water. As a rule of thumb rule the relationship between temperature and elevation in Nepal is such that for each 1,000 m increase in elevation, there is a drop of temperature of 5° C. So a 1° C average rise in temperature will recede the snow lines around 200m vertically with thinner depths of snow and glacier deposition.

    We have also observed an increased number of intensive flood events, an extended monsoon season in recent years, and erratic rainfall that affects agriculture, which is the main livelihood of two thirds of the Nepal’s population. These events have affected the poorest the most who depend on natural environment for their livelihood and have poor coping capacity.
    The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) brought the concept of NAPA (National Adaptation Programmes of Action) in 2001 specifically to support the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to address their urgent and immediate needs to cope with impacts of climate change. With the supports from the UNFCCC mechanisms and several other funding agencies, the LDCs including Nepal have prepared NAPA and are in the implementation process. NAPA is basically a response and coping approach based adaptation. Its actions are designed based on observed impacts of climate variabilities and changes. It enhances the autonomous adaptation process of the communities. So the NAPA focuses to restore the damages or impacts already being brought about by climate change and find alternatives if they cannot be restored. As for example, if there is a drought because of erratic rainfall or drying up of water sources, NAPA helps to find out alternative mechanisms to cope with the problem. Similarly, if there is damage due to flood, NAPA helps to build mechanisms to prevent from further damage of such floods, etc. So NAPA designs its action plans based on observed impacts of the events, it does not design its actions based on the anticipated impacts of climate change that is going to happen in to the future.

    In view of continuous increase in global temperature and erratic events of climate variables which have been anticipated to occur for next several decades, action plans under NAPA is not sufficient. NAPA is good for supporting autonomous adaptation which is more or less a natural process.

    Realising the inadequacy of NAPA to take action now to address the needs for the anticipated events of climate change in the future, which did not exist in the past several thousand years, the UNFCCC came with the concept of NAP (National Adaptation Plan) in Cancun in 2010. But still there exist some confusions between NAPA and NAP, many of us think they are the same or similar, and when we discuss on NAP, the discussions do not get differentiated from NAPA. There is a need of understanding the objectives of NAP first, which is to act now for reducing potential adverse consequences of climate change in the coming future, which is completely different from NAPA that takes the actions based on the observed events. In short NAP is forward looking action. NAP theoretically does not prepare plan to build irrigation canal to address the drought faced last year hoping the same will happen, this will be done by NAPA, but NAP asks to take actions now to address the impacts of anticipated drought in the coming years which might not necessarily be the similar that occurred in the past.
    In this context implementation of NAP needs more science based future climate information in addition to observed information. Nepal NAPA has refereed that Nepal’s temperature might increase by 1.2 – 1.4 degree C by 2030, 1.7 – 2.8 degree C by 2050/2060 and 3.0 – 4.7 degree C by 2090/2100 based on pre-2000 baseline and different models. Different models show there will be increase in temperature in the coming decades, but there is uncertainty in the magnitude of increase which results uncertainties in impacts as well. This needs periodic assessment and use of best science to minimise the uncertainties- both climate change and its impacts that helps identifying and choosing the most appropriate measures.
    The uncertainties are also amplified by developments in social, economic, cultural and political sectors. NAP needs periodic information on the best future scenarios of these sectors to make it more effective. Such information need to be ensured at federal, province and palika (local level government in Nepal) levels for effective development planning and implementation. The strong climate science will minimise uncertainty in future climate predictions or scenarios. A federal level climate science mechanism under the relevant ministry needs to be established, its capacity needs to be enhanced and institutional mechanism should be established that this federal level institution or organisation has access to province and palikas to ensure that province and palika level governments have access to such climate information and use it.

    In order to ensure integration of climate change in development and enhance the capacity, the existing provisions for NAPA can serve as foundation for NAP, but it is not sufficient. Institutional mechanism is required to ensure climate change integration in development at palika, province and federal levels. These institutions should be permanent as climate change is going to affect for next several decades. There are some institutional mechanisms at the federal level at present in Nepal, such as Climate Change Council under the chair of Right Honourable Prime Minister and Multi-stakeholders Climate Change Initiative Coordination Committee (MCCICC). But these mechanisms are not effectively functioning. Two actions are required to make them functional and effective 1) they need to be legally recognised by defining their roles, responsibilities and authorities in relevant acts, rules, regulations and legal documents, and 2) they need to have linkages with federal and palika governments. Currently they are not legally bound and they do not have local reach. It is not necessary that there should be a separate institutional mechanism for climate change from federal to province and then to palika levels, but the institutional mechanism for climate change can also be integrated with other existing mechanism like environmental or disaster management sectors given the functions can be delivered effectively instead of creating several such organisations mechanisms for different issues.

    The other core element of NAP is to integrate climate change into development sectors or in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through strategies, policies, plans and actions. Climate change is not a separate issue from other development issues, rather it amplifies the existing issues that demands additional resources and capacities. The development sectors need to understand the future climate scenario, its potential impacts on respective sectors and the right technologies to adopt now that minimise and avert the potential future impacts on the particular sector.

    Technical skills need to be built in the respective sectors who will be affected by climate change and who need to take actions. As for example, water resources will be affected by climate change. Therefore the human resource working in water resource should know how the water resource will be affected by change in climate, when and where will be affected and what will be the magnitude of the effect. Based on these scenario they should have the knowledge, skill, technologies, capacity and resources to use before the impacts are felt to avert it or minimise the impacts. The sectors will require additional resources in addition to what they possess or have access now. Such additional resources need to be allocated to the respective sectors basically the financial resources. Monitoring is essential to ensure integration of climate change in development sectors with the additional resources being allocated so that they do not just address the issues based on the past events like done by NAPA, but also address the issue based on the future events that are anticipated scientifically.

    Clear policies, strategies and legal mechanism needed to ensure that development sectors integrate climate change into their development programmes and ensure resources and capacity required to address the future potential impacts of climate change. Nepal has already initiated NAP. It is a process to ensure climate change integration in overall sustainable development goals. The process needs to produce policies, strategies and legal instruments to ensure resources and capacity to address the potential impacts of climate change effectively in the coming decades. The process should not be delayed as the impacts of climate change do not wait NAP to be prepared and implemented. So sooner we integrate climate change adaptation in development, better we avert or reduce the adverse impacts of climate change on our sustainable development goals.

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  • DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) has become Urgent

    March 27th, 2017

    On 25th of April 2015, Nepal was hit by a 7.6 magnitude of earthquake followed by several aftershocks. The total value of direct loss and damage of personal and public properties and assets have been estimated at USD7,065m. In that fiscal year (2014/2015) Nepal’s total annual budget was equivalent to around USD6,468m. This clearly shows that the earthquake destroyed properties and assets with value more than the annual budget of the country. The death of 8,979 lives, injuries to over 22,300 people, the scares they left behind in the community and families and the indirect cost of the effects are beyond the estimate of these losses and damages. The cost that incurred during the Rescue and Humanitarian supports, and will incur for the full Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction are yet to be calculated. The annual GDP of Nepal over past few years is almost stagnant at USD value which is around USD20b. The above estimated value of direct loss and damage by the earthquake makes more than 1/3rd of the country’s GDP. The GDP growth rate is also not encouraging which is limited to below 5% over the past some years ranging mostly between 3 and 4%, and below 1% in the year after the earthquake. So at such a slow GDP growth rate with annual official inflation reaching as high as 10%, the recovery of over 1/3rd (35%) of GDP will definitely take considerable amount of time as the resources otherwise would be used for development will be diverted towards recovery, restoration and reconstruction activities.

    Table 1: Some financial statistics of Nepal

    Fiscal Year Budget (NPR- 000,000) Budget (USD- 000,000)* Projected Growth Rate % Achieved Growth rate (or final projection) % GDP (NPR- 000,000) GDP (USD- 000,000)**
     2011/12 (2068/69)


    5,437.21 5.00 4.50 1,558,000


     2012/13 (2069/70)


    4,967.73 3.60 1,708,172


     2013/14 (2070/71)


    5,976.20 5.50 3.50 1,928,850


     2014/15 (2071/72)


    6,468.19 6.00 2.32 1,934,040


     2015/16 (2072/73)


    8,219.35 6.00 0.77 2,130,520


     2016/17 (2073/74)


    9,924.51 6.50

    * Nepal Rastra Bank Exchange Rate is used as of April 1 of the previous year

    ** Nepal Rastra Bank Exchange Rate is used as of April 1 of the later year

    Data Sources: Ministry of Finance, Government of Nepal


    Another study carried out by Practical Action, IDS-Nepal and G- CAP UK for the Government of Nepal indicates that Nepal suffers a high economic cost due to current climate variability and extreme events. The annual direct cost of current climate variability in Nepal, on average, is estimated to be 1.5 to 2% of the current GDP per year. In extreme years the cost go much higher reaching to 5% or more, a very high cost by international comparison. The indirect cost can be as high as the direct cost resulting the cumulative effects to as high as 10% of GDP during the extreme years, which is increasing in frequency and intensity as the climate has changed. The study focused only on agriculture, hydro-electricity and water induced disasters[1].

    These are just two examples that show how much disasters cost to development of a country, how disasters play roles in pulling development backwards. These examples clearly indicate that without working on disaster risk reduction through systematic assessment of the factors of disaster and addressing them systematically, development cannot move forward. It is clearly seen that if the disaster risk is not addressed, no matter how much there are development achievements; they will be brought down to ground zero or even pushing towards negative leaving unbearable cost to poor countries like Nepal.

    Will Disaster Risk Reduction work?

    A study conducted by Practical Action on Benefit-Cost Analysis of DRR actions indicated a ratio of 1.13- 1.45 even with a conservative methodology. In the same study a little bit liberal methodology indicated the Benefit-Cost Ratio of 2.04. In this study the cost included the cost of the DRR activities and the benefits included the additional benefits that the communities received which otherwise would not be if the DRR activities were not implemented[2].

    Similarly, another study implemented by Mercy Corp indicated that the Benefit-Cost Ratio of DRR activities was 3.49. In this study also a very conservative methodology was applied. Benefits basically included the saved cost or expenses that otherwise could have incurred on humanitarian activities if the DRR activities were not implemented[3].

    So the DRR activities not only save the loss and damage of lives and properties, but they also give benefits to the communities.

    Assessing Risk and Reducing Risk

    The Risk Concept (Figure below) developed by IPCC in its Fifth Assessment Report, Climate Change, 2014 provides a conceptual tool to understand the risk and its elements[4]. Although this concept is basically designed for addressing climate change risk, it is equally useful for systematic analysis and assessment of risk due to any other hazards. In the following paragraphs, attempts have been made on how this concept can be used in practice for Disaster Risk Reduction.


    The conceptual framework indicates that “Risk is a function of Hazard, Exposure and Vulnerability“. As per the AR5 definition of vulnerability, which is different from the definition used in AR4, it covers the sensitivity or susceptibility of an exposed unit or system and its lack of capacity to cope and adapt to effect or impact of a hazard. For simplicity let me use the following relationship.

    Risk ≈ Hazard * Exposure * Vulnerability

    If vulnerability is split into its components (sensitivity and capacity), the following can be the relationship or equation

    ​Risk ≈​Hazard * Exposure * Sensitivity / ​Capacity to cope and adapt

    Based on this equation, an element or system (individual, social, economic, environmental, etc.) is in high risk when –

    • Hazard is high – it is intensive and frequent with spatial and temporal dimensions
    • Exposure is high – there is presence of high number or large unit of elements and systems exposed to hazard during the period / time/ season and in a geographical area (space) where there is occurrence of intensive and frequent hazards
    • Sensitivity is high – the sensitivity or susceptibility of an exposed unit to be harmed or adversely affected is high when the weakness part of the exposed system / unit is high
    • Capacity to cope and adapt is low – the knowledge, skill, social, physical, financial and natural resources that enhance the capacity of the exposed unit are low that is the strength part of the exposed system/ unit is low


    So this concept helps simplify risk reduction which is basically

    • Reduce the hazard – the hazard mitigation parts
    • Reduce the exposure – keep the elements / units / system away from the hazard areas and time or period of hazard
    • Reduce the sensitivity or susceptibility – minimise the weaknesses of the exposed elements, units, or systems, if they cannot be removed from area or time of hazard, or even in the period and locations where and when they have been relocated.
    • Strengthen the capacity to cope and adapt – enhance the strength parts of the exposed elements, units, or systems, if they cannot be removed from the hazard areas or period, or even in the period and locations where and when they have been relocated.


    In order to understand the Hazard, Exposure, Sensitivity and Capacity, there is a need of systematic and simple approaches. Where possible scientific and systemic tools and methodologies need to be applied, but where it is not possible, some basic tools and methodologies can be applied in a participatory approach with the communities who are especially the Exposures.


    Assessment of Hazard:

    In the concept diagram, there are two hazards 1) extreme weather events which are beyond the natural or usual variability. Such hazards could include Extreme Rainfall, Extreme Hot, Extreme Cold, or any such extremes weather events and 2) any physical or qualitative events as a result of weather events like Flood, Landslides, Sea Level Rise, increase in Salinity, etc. In order to reduce the hazards, an assessment should be carried out on how the trends of these hazards are in terms of frequency and intensity – how frequent and how destructive it is happening, and their seasonality and spatial behaviour – where and when it is happening. The assessment will lead to understand the causes of the hazard and potential actions to reduce the hazard.


    Assessment of Exposure:

    AR5 of IPCC defines exposure as “the presence of people, livelihoods, species or ecosystems, environmental functions, services, and resources, infrastructure, or economic, social, or cultural assets in places and settings that could be adversely affected” by hazard. In addition to this, the presence should also look into the timing.

    In order to reduce the exposure, it is straightforward that to reduce “the physical presence of people, livelihoods, species or ecosystems, environmental functions, services, and resources, infrastructure, or economic, social, or cultural assets in places, times and settings that could be adversely affected” by hazard. This is basically relocation of the Exposures if they are movable, and reduce their exposure by putting barriers between hazard and exposure if they cannot be moved or relocated.


    Assessment of Sensitivity or Susceptibility

    The Exposure unit, elements or systems have their Weaknesses and Strengths. The weaknesses are the Sensitivity whereas the Strength part is Capacity. The characteristics of weaknesses differ depending upon the Exposure elements and the hazard to which they are exposed.  As for example, if exposure unit is people, the weakness aspects of people may be young age (infant or child), old age (elder above 70), pregnant woman, physical disability, lack of knowledge and skill, etc. If there are more number of people with some or most or all of these characteristics, the population or the people is more sensitive.

    Similarly if it is a building, the sensitivity of the building could be low plinth level, mud-plaster wall, wall system, etc.

    At the system level, the assessment of sensitivity would be more systemic from livelihood asset point of view. This approach will also be used in the assessment of capacity below. So if there is less capacity, there is high sensitivity of a system to hazard and then that result into disaster.

    To reduce the sensitivity, the weakness parts of the exposed element should be reduced. In case of population, it might not be applicable, therefore the exposure and capacity or strength parts of the population should be emphasised.


    Assessment of Capacity

    Capacity is the strength part of exposed element, unit or system. The assessment of capacity needs to assess both strength of the exposed element, unit or system and the opportunity that exist to the system, unit or element. Assessment of capacity through livelihood asset approach seems more systemic and convenient. It is because capacity to cope and adapt needs all five assets of livelihood. In case of human resources, the capacity should assess the physical as well as qualitative aspects of human resources including their knowledge of risk and DRR measures and, skills to apply measures and technologies for DRR

    Physical assets like trails and bridges at strategic sites and alternatives to one if damaged, facilities like rescue centres, health centres and market centres, etc. are important both before and after the disasters. Natural resources like water or forest products which make basis for livelihood and provide resources during the time of post-disaster are important to the communities.

    Similarly financial resources at individual as well as at community levels together with financial services are vital for strengthening the capacity of the individual and the communities. The institutions and organisation from both formal and informal sectors are equally important to the communities and individual for enhancing their capacity for DRR. The government policies and plans, and laws are must for the mobilisation of formal resources from the government part. Therefore they play vital roles as well

    So to assess the capacity of the communities for DRR, the five livelihood assets need to be assessed. The assessment should be assessed base on their existence in terms of physical numbers and sizes, and their availability or access of the communities to these resources at the time and place of need.

    Where the assessment shows poor capacity, the DRR actions should focus on strengthening of these assets which will ultimately strengthen the capacity of the individual and the communities to cope and adapt to effects and impacts of climate change and disasters.

    Strengthening livelihood assets of individual and community also enhances the resilience of the individual, communities or the overall system, the exposure



    [1] IDS-Nepal, PAC and GCAP (2014). Economic Impacts Assessment of Climate Change in Key Sectors in Nepal. IDS-Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal

    [2] D. Willenbockel (2011) A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Practical Action’s Livelihood-Centred Disaster Risk Reduction Project in Nepal. Brighton: IDS.

    [3] Mercy Corp (?). Cost-Benefit Analysis for Community-Based Disaster Risk Reduction in Kailali, Nepal

    [4] IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

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  • Building resilience needs learning from the past and looking to the future

    July 17th, 2016

    Let me start by writing about the recent disaster in Nepal in Bhote Koshi River that originates from Tibet (China). A sudden flood on 5 July 2016 damaged roads and houses along the river. The pictures from the field show that multi-storey houses were build at the foot of the fragile hills which were prone to flood at anytime.

    woman surveys the damage to her home by the Nepal earthquake

    Hira Devi Gurungstands in front of her house demolished by the earthquake at Pangtang Village in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal

    In April 2015, Nepal was struck by earthquake of 7.6 magnitude which damaged nearly 500,000 houses. Most of the damaged houses were weak in structure or they were built in areas of fragile geology which is susceptible to earthquake. In August 2014, the western part of Nepal received heavy rainfall due to a sudden cloud burst which resulted in a heavy flood,of a magnitude that comes once in 500 – 1,000 years. The flood damaged several houses which were built in the river valleys and plains. Most of the damaged houses in the plains were at lowland sites close to the river course. These houses were also built with weak materials like mud plastered straw walls and if other materials like bricks were used, they were built with mud-mortar which is susceptible to flood water damage.

    A short review of these events tells that:

    1. Man-made structures, both houses and others, are not built safely
    2. These structures are in disaster prone areas

    This situation lays a double burden, pushing households or communities towards disaster.

    If the structures were built strong enough to resist hazards in safe places, obviously the loss and damage to properties and lives due to disaster would be significantly reduced.

    Why is this?

    1. People only think of the short term future. Events of previous generations fade from the memory and potential events for coming next generation have not been on the radar of planners.
    2. Education and awareness on hazards and the risk posed by them and the need of resistant structures are lacking or there is an ignorance
    3. There is lack of resources in the hands of the people to invest in building resistant houses and structures
    4. The government’s policy enforcement is lacking or there is lack of policies and legislations to enforce
    5. Reviewing recurrent disasters reveals that all these shortfalls are simultaneous. Efforts to strengthen any one of these factors in isolation are less likely to result in structures with significant disaster resistant or a resilient households or communities. An integrated approach is the only way for achieving resilience. Depending on the locality, the priorities among the factors indicated above could be different, but the interventions on all the issues should be implemented simultaneously.

    What should be done?

    1. Building resistant structures (houses and structures) in safe locations through use of appropriate technologies
    2. Education and awareness on the local risk to communities and stakeholders, with consideration of hazards from several generations past to anticipated or projected potential hazards with potential magnitude for the generations to come with potential anticipated disasters
    3. Generating and building resources and assets at household, community and government levels to enable the communities and the individuals to invest in preventing or reducing disasters
    4. Promulgation of policies and legislations for an encouraging environment for building a resilient individual, household and community
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  • Disaster Risk Reduction: Needs translation from Theory to Practice

    November 26th, 2014

    I recently visited the communities in Banke and Bardiya districts of Nepal who were affected by flood in last August (2014). While we look into the theories and definition of the Disaster Risk Reduction in paired reviewed literatures and sometimes debate a lot on words, for the communities it was very straight forward, why they were affected by flood and how their risk to flood can be reduced.

    Lower terrace of flood plain where poor people liveLower terrace of flood plain where poor people live

    Most of the communities who were affected by flood were living along the lower terrace of flood plain where the river flew in the past. So when there is a rainfall in upstream and river gets swell up, they are the ones who are affected first. Their number one demand was simple – relocation /resettlement to a higher ground can save their lives and properties from flood. For the government, relocation is one time cost to save the losses and compensations that occur on the annual recurrent disasters. However, resettlement is linked with livelihoods of these vulnerable communities which need to be assured wherever they are relocated.

    Some of these communities were freed bonded labourers who were resettled by the government in such flood vulnerable locations. The government could have settled them in a safer place. But unfortunately during the resettlement process, they were located in such vulnerable locations.

    Local houses with mud-plastered wall, plinth level at ground levelLocal houses with mud-plastered wall, plinth level at ground level

    Secondly their houses were constructed by mud plastered grass or twig mats. The plinth level was almost at ground 0 level. When there is a flood of even some inches high, the water gets into the house and the mud plastered walls easily dissolve into the water and collapse. Since they were poor, that type of house is the best they could construct. They are very aware of, that if they could raise the plinth level of the houses to certain level which are safe from flood and if they could use bricks or stones or concrete with cement mortar, their houses would be able to resist the flood. But such houses were beyond their financial capacity. The rebuilt houses after the flood were even weaker than they had before.

    A house collapsed by the floodA house collapsed by the flood

    Health was a problem after the flood. It was mainly due to unsafe drinking water as they did not have source of clean drinking water after the flood event. The hand pumps were inundated and they could not reach safe drinking water. Raised hand pumps were the need for the communities. It is not necessary that such hand pumps should be in each household for the emergency use during the time of disaster, but at least if there were adequate number of hand water pumps for the sufficient safe drinking water, they will not suffer from health problems originating from unsafe drinking water.

    The community people opined for having simple raised structures in the communities or in individual houses which can resist the flood where they can assemble for some hours before the rescue teams come and take them to temporary shelters.

    A raised wooden structure innovated by local people where the family members can assemble during the flood timeA raised wooden structure innovated by local people where the family members can assemble during the flood time

    They also indicated the needs of rubber tubes or rings in each house which help save their lives during the time of flood.

    In the past early warning through mobile telephones was very effective. But in this monsoon, the mobile telephone did not work effectively as they were unable to recharge the batteries for several days. The electricity line went off for 2 to 3 days before the flood event. They suggested for solar mobile battery chargers which can work when the main line electricity gets cutoff and such charger should work even in a very poor sunlight as the sun radiation becomes very week during the monsoon due to cloudy weather.

    New house after the previous was collapsed by flood. The new one is weaker as the people have no resource to invest in raising new housesNew house after the previous was collapsed by flood. The new one is weaker as the people have no resource to invest in raising new houses

    They were very clear that they cannot reduce the flood level, but there are several ways that they can reduce live and property losses to flood. But it is almost not possible on their own as their financial resources is very poor to invest on the interventions that they know of.

    Flood mark inside the houseFlood mark inside the house

    We think that these are very simple things and technologies, and why the people are not using, but the poor people still do not have access to these simple technologies and they have lack of resources in their hands. Because of which they are losing their properties every year and flood is actually suppressing them from coming out of vicious cycle. And to reduce the disaster risk of these poor communities, there is no need of high academic education and sophisticated technologies, it needs to support their ideas that comes out of their struggling with flood every year; it is a matter of helping them access to technologies and resources, and assisting to improve their livelihoods.

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