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)**|
* 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.
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.
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.
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. 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
 IDS-Nepal, PAC and GCAP (2014). Economic Impacts Assessment of Climate Change in Key Sectors in Nepal. IDS-Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal
 D. Willenbockel (2011) A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Practical Action’s Livelihood-Centred Disaster Risk Reduction Project in Nepal. Brighton: IDS.
 Mercy Corp (?). Cost-Benefit Analysis for Community-Based Disaster Risk Reduction in Kailali, Nepal
 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