Conflict Alerts # 130, 29 July 2020
In the news
Nepal Floods 2020 was a series of flash floods affecting widespread areas of the country. Monsoon rains have resulted in flooding and landslides across the country, especially in the Terai and the hilly regions. The flood situation is currently worsening in those areas where roads are cut off, leaving hundreds of thousands of people stranded. Many regions in Nepal's south are impacted, with highways collapsing in many parts, including the main lifeline highway.
According to the natural calamity statistics recorded by Nepal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority, as of 24 July, at least 132 people had lost their lives whereas 53 were missing, and 128 were reported to be injured. A thousand families have been directly affected since the monsoon season started in Nepal. Rapid assessments have identified shelter, food, and protection as key immediate needs.
Access remains the biggest challenge as many of the remote areas affected by landslides and floods have no adequate road access. The Government is yet to ascertain the loss of properties in the incidents. This calculation is expected to increase further as calamity incidents have increased this year in comparison to previous year records.
Issues at large
First, the constant problem and changes in rainfall pattern. Floods and landslides are most frequent in Nepal yet extremely devastating disasters. Every year, monsoon floods batter the southern parts of the country whereas the hilly districts are affected by landslides. Most of these water-induced disasters occur during the monsoon season that receives 80 per cent of the total annual rainfall of the country. Both natural and anthropogenic activities are equally responsible for the frequent floods and landslides in Nepal. Changes in the regular rainfall pattern, which has become severe and erratic in recent years, also give rise to extreme weather events like floods and landslides. With the rising population, man-made activities have increased, meaning more land encroachment and more deforestation in the Chure and Terai ranges, causing floods in the southern plains. Whereas, deforestation, unplanned settlements along slopes, haphazard road construction, and unsuitable use of land for farming and human settlements lead to landslides in the hills.
Second, the COVID-19 pandemic poses yet additional challenge. The pandemic creates further challenges to disaster response and recovery efforts as measures such as physical distancing need to be observed to minimize the risk of infections among the affected people, especially those in emergency shelters. Another key issue is the depletion of PPE supplies, in particular masks, and the need to ensure minimum availability of protective equipment for the rescue team and the frontline workers.
Third, inadequate Government's response: focus on the aftermath rather than on prevention. The response from the Government to avoid or minimize the impacts of water-induced disasters has been focused on the aftermath rather than prevention. Government agencies and their efforts are focusing on rescuing and rehabilitating victims while the root cause of frequent flood and landslide incidents remains unaddressed. The process of rescue and rehabilitation also remains highly ineffective and sluggish as there are incidents of affected families staying without proper support, food, and shelter for a long time. In this regard, the Government's efforts to reduce disaster risk have been ineffective.
For India and Nepal, there is a never-ending blame game and politics of flood. The annual floods of Nepal and India not only disrupt lives in both countries but also have a political facet. When it comes to water resources, relations between India and Nepal have never been easy. Almost every monsoon, governments and residents on both sides across the border blame each other for causing floods and for their woes. Over 6,000 rivers and rivulets flow from Nepal to northern India, contributing about 70% of the Ganges river flow during the dry season. So, when these rivers overflow, floodwaters devastate the plains of Nepal and India. Despite the governments on both sides being well aware of the potential destruction of the annual flood, there has not been strong willpower and political desire to solve this issue with a sustainable approach. This issue requires a geographical approach rather than petty political lenses to resolve routine problems.