According to the Nepal Disaster Report 2015 produced by the Government of Nepal, Nepal is among the top 20 on the list of the most multi-hazard-prone countries in the world. Its active tectonic plates, variable climatic conditions, rugged and fragile geophysical structure, unplanned settlement, and increasing population exposes the country to all kinds of risks, making it a disaster hotspot. The question then is not if what kind of natural disaster will beset the country, but when. This predictability thus demands vigilance and preparedness of the government, which so far have been tepid at best, and reactionary at worst.
In a span of 10 years, from 2005-2015, Nepal has faced three major floods - the Koshi flood in 2008, the 2008 flooding of the mid-west and far-west regions of Nepal, the Kailali and Babai flood of 2014 - in addition to the landslide in Jure in 2014, and the 2015 earthquake that alone killed more than 8,500 people. These disasters could actually be a great proving ground to test and better disaster management practices. However, the lack of serious coordination among government and other agencies, and inadequate risk assessments, among other factors, have had a negative impact on Nepal's disaster management preparedness.
An Overview of Past Policies
A review of government initiatives reveals that several policies have been in place since 1982. The Disaster Relief Act 1982, Natural Calamity Relief Act 1982, and Local Self Governance Act 1999 were some initial steps taken. Following the two major deluges in 2008, the government formulated the National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management (NSDRM) in 2009, which was adopted in 2010. It aimed to develop Nepal as a disaster-resilient country by identifying priorities for disaster risk management. NSDDRM focused on building institutional capacities, assessing risk factors, installing early warning systems, developing a culture of disaster resilience, and improving preparedness and coordination for effective responses. By 2013, the government had formulated a National Disaster Response Framework, which served as a key tool for the coordination of its earthquake response in 2015.
Post NSDRM, Nepal has made significant progress in investing in risk reduction, such as retrofitting of school buildings and new constructions. There has been training and building capacity at various levels: community, local authorities, civil society, and NGOs. Also, the integration of flood early warning systems have helped save lives to some extent, and property, too. Assessing Nepal on its implementation of the NSDRM and NDRF suggests that there has been a substantial evolution from the National Calamity (Relief) Act 1988, which focused on relief and rescue, to an approach focusing on disaster risk reduction (DRR).
Nepal has a cornucopia of legislation that address disasters with different acts, but several gaps remain. The most common shortcoming learnt from the natural disasters that occurred between 2005-2015 has turned out be poor coordination among government and other agencies. Different acts and governmental bodies cede ownership to multiple government entities, further complicating the implementation process. Development of institutions and thorough risk assessments are also problem areas. There is a lack of emergency warehouses, and relief and rescue operations have been inadequate - consequently creating a significant gap between the needs of the affected people and delivery of services.
Furthermore, although there has been a shift from relief and rescue to DRR, Nepal has not been able to draw a national or a local strategy relevant to it. Although Nepal, along with 86 other countries, has endorsed the Sendai framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, so far only India has produced implementation plans. Moreover, there is no comprehensive and broad-based Disaster Risk Management Act in place, either. Post the 2015 Gorkha earthquake, the Disaster Risk Management Act (DMA) was amended to incorporate lessons learnt. The new DMA is not yet available. However, as of February 2017, it was confirmed that the national Disaster Management Bill - which is to be the umbrella authority for coordinating all disaster risk management activities, response, rescue operations along with and relief and rehabilitation-related tasks - is in its final stages of preparation and will soon be enacted.
The latest flood of 10 August 2017 in eastern Nepal where the death toll has already reached 120, is a case-in-point that again shows a lack of coordination among different agencies, thus delaying relief and rescue efforts. While relief efforts for flood victims have been deployed faster than they were during the 2015 earthquake, the lack of an umbrella institution to disseminate information and coordinate efforts have impaired efficacy. There were also allegations that the Home Ministry had not heeded the Department of Meteorology's early warning signs regarding weather conditions, which led to significant damage that could have been prevented.
To overcome these loopholes, the way forward has to be through improved coordination - within communities, humanitarian organisations, and government institutions for DRR - all of which can happen once an umbrella authority with defined codes on disaster management is set up. Similarly, although there are different point people on disaster management in different ministries, their roles must be clarified. And, finally, if early warning signs are given, the government must attend to them, as again, the key lies in being proactive, not reactive.