Nepal is battling with the double-whammy of unchecked Covid-19 spread and incessant monsoon rains. Early morning rooftop talks have shifted from the inevitability of widespread coronavirus contagion to the number of daily lives and properties lost to floods and landslides. There is a sense of pervasive fatalism. The KP Oli government has gotten its coronavirus response wrong from the start, and there is no sign it is learning. Likewise, people feel the state has learned little from these water-borne disasters that strike every monsoon. In both the cases, there was ample time to prepare.
Even with well over two months remaining till the end of the South Asian monsoon, the death and destruction in Nepal is already the deadliest in years. As of this writing, around 200 people were dead or missing in different parts of the country. In Sindhupalchowk district, whole settlements have been wiped out; in Dhading, the major road into Kathmandu valley, its lifeline, is damaged. Major towns in he Tarai like Birgunj and Janakpur are under water. Yet more rain is predicted. Now that the nationwide anti-corona lockdown has been near completely—and rather controversially—lifted, the hope is that the state will now train its focus on controlling water disasters.
It will still be a herculean endeavor. Besides moving those at risk to safety, and tending to their necessities, there is little that can be immediately done to make the country more resilient to water risks. There is also an imminent risk of the spread of water-borne diseases like cholera and dysentery from pooled water and damages to normal water-supply systems. And when water levels start receding at the start of winter, the families that have lost their homes will be at the mercy of the elements.
In these testing times, one thing that will definitely help is greater coordination among the three tiers of government in channeling flood relief, taking care of the diseased, and resettling those displaced. This kind of coordination was missing on Covid-19 control, which made the contagion worse. As local level units have given a reasonably good account of themselves during the corona crisis, the federal government should start trusting them more. There in fact is no other way. It is hence vital to develop a functional coordination mechanism in the next few days, with clear-cut responsibilities of different tiers. Many likely damages form this season of water woes can still be avoided.