Scholars for Disaster Risk Reduction in Nepal

Disaster is an event that has a capacity to bring serious disruption on the functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic and environmental losses. Technically disasters that are of geological, hydrometeorological or biological origin are naturally occurring process on earth until and unless that are evident to any physical or biological fatalities. These natural events or process may include landslide, flood, earthquake, debris flow, snow avalanche, heat waves, cold waves, thunderstorm, Landslide Dam Outburst Flood (LDOF), Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF). Once these natural processes bring about illness, death and adversities in the physical or biological systems, these very same terms are noted as hazards. Nepal falls in the top 20 list of the most multi-hazard prone countries in the world and is ranked 4th, 11th and 30th in terms of climate-change, earthquake, and flood risk respectively. Nepal’s population has surpassed 29 million, of which almost 80% depend on agriculture-based livelihoods. Limited domestic economy, geographically dispersed, unconnected population, as well as diverse groups belonging to various castes contribute to the compounding social vulnerability to disasters.

As mentioned above, natural events are nothing but just natural events if these do not cause harm. However, it is important to note that humans can do little or nothing to change the incidence or intensity of most natural phenomena, they have an important role to play in ensuring that natural events are not converted into disasters by their own actions, human intervention can increase the frequency and severity of natural hazards. For example, when the toe of a landslide is removed to make room for a settlement, the earth can move again and bury the settlement. In a similar way human intervention may also cause natural hazards where none existed before and reduces the mitigating effect of natural ecosystems. The topography of Nepal, varying from the Himalayan Mountain range and hills to low-lying plains, which creates an equally diverse setting for disasters to occur. For example, the Terai plains are more exposed to seasonal flooding due to the monsoonal rains and the present complex river systems. The mountainous and hilly regions on the other hand are more at risk of landslides and GLOF events due to the vicinity of glacier lakes. Also, despite the earthquakes having the potential to affect the whole country, vulnerability to seismic activity is the greatest in the urban regions following unplanned urban growth, and in the mountainous regions where earthquake-induced landslides are more likely. The hunt for employment opportunities can be considered as one of the main drivers of domestic migration in Nepal. Additionally, Poverty, lack of economic opportunities and the absence of basic amenities in both urban and rural regions are some of the numerous push factors which suggests growing vulnerabilities for various disasters.

Disaster arrives at the moment that is least expected. Only the fittest and most trained will endure and survive their wrath when it comes. Todays, with technological advancement, acquiring knowledge and its application in the realm of action is regarded as the only effective way for prevent disasters or reducing its effects.  Knowing the negative impact of disasters, customization or integration of Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) into the educational institution ‘s curriculum is required. It encourages tolerance and a better understanding for the immediate situation or climate. Disaster prevention is strongly required in order to educate the population in general to reduce the vulnerability to the full. Learning about disaster reduction will have a more successful impact especially for the age sensitivity factor of children. According to the studies conducted in various countries such as Japan, there is a direct link between education, increased risk perception, and students risk reduction measures. Encouraging children to think about the importance of preventive measures and preparedness can bridge the gap between knowing and acting on knowledge. Todays, disaster education should be explicitly addressed as a way to improve the level of child resiliency and information transmission to reduce the risk of disasters in their homes. It also advocates approaches to reduce the risk of disaster across the school, where its activities are enforced through disseminating information awareness and disaster behavior. Moreover, the educational landscape is shaped in order to improve the quality of education from elementary to tertiary level. Each and every people out there are equally susceptible to suffering from disaster since disaster do not recognize age, sex, caste and so on. They are more vulnerable, in the sense of having less capacity to cope with disasters. Through learning about disaster threats in school, college office and every possible media will continue to play a significant role in saving lives and supporting community members in times of disaster.

Community engagement should be promoted to increase awareness of the principles of disaster risk reduction and thus enable them to withstand the effects of the disaster. More integrated actions across different development domains shall be pursued to enhance coherency and maximize the benefits. Risk information should also be gathered through conducting multi-hazard risk assessments based on detailed, sectoral data. Systematic collection, management and consolidated of data from different sources is considered an essential start with risk analysis, post-disaster needs assessments and country’s progress monitoring against various disasters. During the last decades, some studies indicated that trained people in society can be prepared for disasters and respond well. In addition, some reported that disaster education is a functional, operational, and cost-effective tool for risk management. Disasters are basically reduced when people are well aware and the motivation is to create a culture of prevention and resilience to disaster. In this regard, collecting and disseminating knowledge and information on hazards, vulnerabilities, and capacities, especially for vulnerable people should be prioritized. In addition to, it is important to note that people who are vulnerable due to their limitations and conditions certainly need special training and attention with the help of trained and professional people.

Gathering and developing comprehensive risk information, based on technically-sound risk assessments remain a challenge. Despite different available products for hazard assessments and risk mapping, the approaches rely on project-based exercises, or small-scale projects in specific localities. The technical tools adopted for conducting risk assessment are varied, and there is still a lack of commonly referenced tool and standards. Localization of the DRR and CR agenda should also be highlighted as a high priority for the government. In context characterized by limited resources and low local capacities, the ability of sub-national level disaster authorities to effectively respond and manage disaster events must be rapidly enforced. Given that local actors are usually the first responders, the success of immediate rescue, for example, often correlates largely with their available equipment and capacity to instigate operations. Empowering province and local governments to assume effective and efficient roles in leading DRM activities in their respective localities should be increasingly emphasized in the future.

Sarala Adhikari

(Note: The views published in the blog are personal views of the writer alone and do not represent Environment Protection and Study Center. The article has been selected as winner for the monthly blog competition based on the theme provided on July by Environment Protection and Study Center.)

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