25-31 August 2017 #873

Early warning

Man B Thapa
The Category 4 Bhola Cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1970 killed 500,000 people. The more powerful (Category 5) Sidr Cyclone that smashed the same area in 2007 resulted in only 3,500 deaths. The reason: disaster preparedness.

If Bangladesh can be prepared, why cannot Nepal? We can also minimise death and destruction from earthquakes and floods. We need to create an end-to-end, early warning system, multi-hazard and GIS-based risk assessments, develop shelters and evacuation plans, and raise awareness at the community level.  

The monsoon season happens every year, and Nepal receives 80% of its annual rainfall between mid-June and mid-September. Unfortunately, the soil is sometimes unable to absorb heavy rain, which leads to floods, flash floods and landslides. Advances in forecasting, remote sensing and communications have made it possible to very accurately predict information about rainfall (location, time and even amounts), and then transmit warnings to the public. Nepal has made progress in predicting and warning about floods, but there are still problems with alerting vulnerable communities in time, as we saw with the recent floods in the Tarai.

There has been some work on river-based early warning systems, and there are emergency operation centres at national and regional levels and in some disaster-prone districts. However, district-based centres are not functional and staff is poorly trained.

An accurate and effective early-warning system that informs vulnerable populations about the possible risk of floods, post-flood responses and relief mechanisms must be put in place.

The number of people killed in floods and landslides is high, and many are a result of faulty development initiatives: roads that do not respect the natural flow of water, encroaching on rivers and streambeds, and neglecting proper drainage systems.Uncontrolled extraction of building materials from riverbeds in the Chure has caused rivers to change course frequently with unpredictable, destructive and deadly consequences.

The existing 1982 Natural Calamity Relief Act only deals with relief and rescue activities, not risk reduction and preparedness. A high-level authority is needed to coordinate with all ministries and development partners. Disaster risk management must be part of regular development planning and evaluation. Early warnings should encompass multi-hazard risk assessments of the entire country to identify disaster prone areas, types of disasters and proper mitigation measures.

Man B Thapa, is program manager at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre.

Read also:

Marooned by the monsoon, Om Astha Rai

Unnatural disaster, Editorial

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