With over 70 confirmed deaths from floods and landslides over the past one week, it may be hard to see how the early warning systems installed on the rivers of the Tarai region could have worked. But most of them did. On their basis, the flood forecasting division of the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology had sent countless flood alerts when rainfall had started crossing dangerous levels in parts of the Tarai in the second week of July. These alerts were broadcast over FM and TV stations, social media and even sent as SMS to those living in flood-prone areas. And yet there was such widespread death and destruction. What
One surprising hindrance to effective long-range communication in Nepal is its unfinished transition from a unitary state to a federal one. There is still no clarity about the distinct functions and responsibilities of each of the three tiers of the government, nor a clear channel of communication from the center to the federal level, or vice versa. Effective flood-control, as Lin Ning argues in an article for APEX this week, is a centralized affair. A central nodal agency must be able to clearly coordinate and communicate with all the affected provinces.
But there is little or no coordination between the two levels in Nepal. It is thus not surprising that most SMS flood alerts sent from Kathmandu to vulnerable Tarai residents never reached them. Another problem has been with the elevated infrastructures built along the border by India, resulting in inundation in Nepal during the monsoons. There are joint commissions to address this kind of issue, but to no avail. The Indians in these commissions seem lukewarm. The Nepalis there, not plucky enough to strongly make their case.
Regional mechanisms like the SAARC Disaster Management Center in Gujarat have been of limited help as well. At a time when a high level of regional coordination is needed to collectively fight the ravages of climate change, even existing regional climate bodies are withering on SAARC’s deathbed. Nepal blaming India for high border infrastructures while the Indian news channels chide Nepal for opening the sluice gates of the Koshi Barrage to flood Bihar will take us nowhere. This is a multifaceted problem. Installing good early warning systems is just a start.