Better forecasting reduces flood impact in Nepal

Photo: WFP / Srawan Shrestha

Disaster response usually is just that: responding to disasters after they happen. But with better forecasting, communities can get help before weather extremes induced by the climate crisis unleash floods.

October’s unseasonal rains in Nepal was not a surprise, meteorologists using weather modelling had warned of unusually heavy unseasonal post-monsoon downpours. This allowed relief agencies and the government to rush aid to the remote Karnali region of western Nepal. 

The World Food Programme (WFP) with support from the German government distributed emergency cash, early warning information and other assistance to 3,000 households deemed to be living in high-risk areas.

Even so, nearly 100 people were killed when landslides and flash floods hit settlements in the Himalayan foothills in early October, and the heavy rain destroyed ready to harvest paddy in large parts of Nepal. 

It is called ‘anticipatory action’, and is an innovative new approach to disburse humanitarian aid before a weather-related disaster hits communities that depend on subsistence agriculture. More than 15,000 people in the Karnali Basin benefited from the Rs15,000 cash entitlements per household to help soften the blow of the climate-related disaster.

“With reliable forecasts, it is increasingly possible to anticipate extreme weather events and take necessary action in advance,” said Robert Kasca, WFP Representative and Country Director in Nepal.

He added, “Nepal is extremely prone to climate-related disasters, and this approach offers a new and effective way of supporting communities not only to cope with, but also adapt to the impact of the climate crisis.”

By supporting preparedness and anticipatory action, humanitarian organisations help prevent and mitigate some of the impact of extreme weather events on the food security, nutrition, and livelihoods of at-risk households. This also reduces potential loss and damage, and the cost of later humanitarian response. 

As world leaders prepare to meet on the climate crisis at the COP-27 UN climate change meeting in Egypt next month, WFP is calling for increased investment in climate change solutions to better protect communities from future climatic shocks like the ones that hit Nepal and the bigger disaster in Pakistan this year.

Last year, too, WFP provided cash assistance to 1,665 vulnerable households before flood emergencies hit their villages based on accurate weather forecasts. 

WFP says this was the fastest forecast-based response that it had ever implemented in its history, reaching targeted households in a record four hours, following the onset of sudden flash floods. The cash enabled the families to buy food and other necessities, evacuate family members and livestock to safer places, and protect their houses and assets.

Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology has upgraded its forecasting systems with real-time satellite data, doppler radar and other equipment. However, while predicting extreme weather has become more accurate, there is still a need for a wider network of precipitation measurement equipment that can prove early warning of localised flash floods.

For example, a sudden debris flow on a small tributary of the Tila River in Kalikot District on 9 October killed 17 people who were attending a funeral on the banks. The neighbouring districts of Jumla, Accham, Dailekh, and Mugu were also hit by deadly landslides.

Nepal’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA) has dispatched a technical fact-finding team to determine the impact of the floods and landslides, and to come up with solutions on how to improve early warning to save lives and reduce damage from future climate-related extreme weather events. 

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