Monsoon is a hot topic right now. And rightly so. It has just started and already there has been a steady stream of gut-wrenching news of floods and landslides. The problem, however, is that monsoon is only an issue during monsoon. Once the rain abates, we forget about the devastation it left in its wake. We will, for sure, talk about it again. But until next monsoon, there will be other issues to occupy us.
It’s this attitude of the country towards water-induced disasters that leads to a déjà vu like situation in Nepal year after year. Our approach to disaster management is rescue and relief operations-centric rather than focused on preventive measures. Dil Kumar Tamang, operation chief, National Emergency Operation Center, Ministry of Home Affairs, doesn’t deny this. He says minimizing disasters and the potential losses—of both infrastructure and lives—should get as much importance, if not more.
“We are trying to work out ways in which we can prevent and mitigate disasters,” says Tamang. However, there is, he adds, a need to learn from past mistakes and revise plans accordingly as well as emulate international practices of disaster prevention. The main focus should be on developing reliable early warning systems that will give people enough time to get to higher ground.
Geologist Prof. Dr. Bishal Nath Upreti emphasizes the need to install weather forecasting and radar stations throughout the country to make real time data collection and analysis possible. Only accurate weather prediction can help mitigate the effect of natural calamities in a disaster-prone country like Nepal, he says. And, we have, thus far, failed to prioritize it.
He says when Nepal first started giving weather forecasts on television and radio, a running joke was that the forecaster would look out of the window at the time he was scheduled to go on air to check whether it was sunny or cloudy. Dr Upreti laments that our weather forecasting system today isn’t a whole lot more advanced than that. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) under the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation was until quite recently the most neglected department of all, reeling under manpower and budget constraints.
Currently, the DHM is doing whatever is in its capacity, says Tamang, but various concerned departments, the local government as well as people should work together to change the way disasters are handled in Nepal. The effect of collaborative effort can be far greater and impactful than individual action.