#NepalQuake 8 years later

Commemorating the past and building a green, resilient and inclusive future for Nepal

Photo: NEPALI TIMES ARCHIVES

Commemorating the eighth anniversary of the 2015 earthquakes is a time to mourn the loss of lives, and recall the resolve of people and institutions who came together during that national calamity for reconstruction and recovery.

But most of all, it is a chance to make Nepal resilient and sustainable against similar future shocks in the coming decade of BS 2080s and beyond. Over the past decade, Nepal has been struck by one disaster after another: the 2015 earthquakes, the Covid-19 pandemic, the biggest dengue outbreak in 2022, unprecedented loss and damage from floods and landslides, fires, avalanches, Glacial Lake Outburst Floods, a rare tornado in the Tarai that levelled villages in 2019, locust infestation, highway fatalities, aviation disasters. 

During the very first week into New Year BS 2080, we topped global charts for the worst air quality due to widespread wildfires across the country.

Just in 2021, three climate-related disasters brought heavy rains, floods, landslides, debris-flows and wildfires that claimed hundreds of lives, destroyed thousands of homes including schools, bridges, government buildings and hydropower stations. Other slow-onset disasters such as the aggradation of river bed and ‘flash’ droughts have led to the forced migration of hundreds of settlements.

Disasters and climate change-induced loss and damage in the last decade have stretched our idea of what these impacts can do and how we can cope.

Read also: Back to classroom for earthquake preparedness, Rachael Lau 

After 2015, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) set an example of planned and systematic reconstruction within a tight deadline. Local governments in new federal structure performed well in Covid-19 recovery. The fast-paced reconstruction of the Bara-Parsa tornado helped people get shelter before the monsoon. 

In 2017 Nepal’s Parliament endorsed the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, which led to the creation of Nepal’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA). The Act and the establishment of NDRRMA in December 2019 signals a paradigm shift in Nepal's approach to disaster risk management: from being mostly response-centric to prioritisation of understanding risk, improved governance, financing, including preparedness for effective response, early warning system, recovery and reconstruction.

The NDRRMA has not only taken on the NRA's remaining task of reconstruction, but also has a responsibility to increase resilience during future disasters. In a short span of three years, it has collated nationwide multi-hazard risk information and made it available through the Bipad Portal. Municipal governments have been trained to enter risk and open space information (below).

Credit: NDRRMA
Credit: NDRRMA

All 753 local governments contribute to the disaster risk, hazard, exposure and vulnerability information including the down-to-the-household information on disaggregated information by gender, age and disabilities. The technical teams have been deployed to undertake risk assessment in areas impacted by landslides and floods. The use of satellite imagery and drones including for land displacement to assess complex risks has begun.

A national volunteer bureau management information system that houses more than one hundred thousand trained volunteers has been established. The volunteers are mobilised under the municipal leader’s command. Similarly, information of stockpiles and search and rescue equipment are housed in a resource management system.

Building on the NRA’s experience of owner driven reconstruction, the Executive Committee led by the Minister of Home Affairs has endorsed a nationwide reconstruction of private households damaged by floods and landslides.  Reconstruction of thousands of homes have begun using the World Bank-supported loan.

Read also: In a disastrous state, Sonia Awale

But making Nepal’s mountains, hills and plains more resilient to climate-induced disasters will also require investment and increased capacity. Since the 2015 earthquakes, there have been moderate-intensity earthquakes in Lamjung, Bhojpur and Khotang. The recent Doti-Bajura earthquake in November 2022 killed six people and thousands of houses were destroyed or damaged, many of them public buildings. Apart from the immediate response and relief we have not been able to support the reconstruction of houses and infrastructure there.

A nationwide assessment of Emergency Preparedness for Response prioritised five key areas for improvement. Nepal requires nearly $200 million just for preparedness and response till 2030. Setting up a nationwide multi-hazard early warning system that considers key service sectors such as disaster management, transport, agriculture, hydropower dam operations and water management will require another $600 million.

These priorities are being woven into a National Disaster Resilience Framework that includes the role of all levels of government, financing needs, roles and responsibilities of relevant agencies and means to track progress over time till 2030.

In September 2021, Nepal and 17 of its development partners endorsed the Kathmandu Declaration on Green, Resilient and Inclusive Development (GRID) which involves a fundamental shift in managing risk and development: from a basic reactive response mode to a deliberate proactive risk reduction and recovery strategy for long-term growth, climate action and sustainable development for all.

The Finance Ministry, with support from development partners, has started developing a ten-year GRID Strategic Action Plan and identifying new investments and policies for building resilience. The Nepal government and partners like the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and UN, as well as Australia, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, The United Kingdom and the United States have identified up to $4.2 billion in potential future support, in addition to the $3.2 billion already committed to GRID for Nepal.

In the Nepali 2080s decade, we will need to learn our lessons from the 2015 earthquakes and climate change impacts to focus on building a green, resilient and inclusive country to minimise loss and damage.

Read also: Turkey and Nepal face similar seismic risks, Surya Narayan Shrestha

Anil Pokhrel

writer

Anil Pokhrel is Chief Executive at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA).

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