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Time to Adopt Disaster Impact Assessment in Development Initiatives

By Gehendra Gurung On 09.09.2018 Influence & ImpactBlog

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.