OM ASTHA RAI
KATHMANDU, Aug 25: The inhabitants of Surkhet, a district in Nepal´s mid-western region, were recently struck by what was arguably the worst flooding in living memory.
The death toll from the Surkhet flood, caused by the downpour that continued for two days in the second week of August, has reached 33, excluding 99 people still missing and thereby feared dead, so far, according to the National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC).
Around the same time, devastating floods struck other districts of the mid-western region like Bardiya and Dang, too. So, what led to such disastrous floods throughout the whole region? “Such a heavy downpour is unprecedented,” says Mahesh Gautam, president of Nepal Red Cross Society, Bardiya. “We had never before witnessed such intense rainfall.”
Banke flood victims heading for higher grounds along with their belongings last week. (Republica)
According to the Meteorological Forecasting Division (MFD), more than 150 mm of rainfall was recorded in eight different districts of the midwestern region during a short period of just 24 hours ending at 8:45 in the morning of August 15. In other regions of the country, no more than 100 mm rainfall was recorded during that same period.
“If 150 mm rainfall is recorded in some particular area in such a short period, we generally anticipate devastating flooding,” says Gautam. “But, in some places like Surkhet, even more than 400 mm of rainfall was recorded around that same time. It was something we never witnessed before. Even the elderly people in our community do not remember if they had witnessed such a heavy downpour before.”
The MFD officials say some rain data recorded in the midwestern region this year are record-making. Ever since it started keeping rain data in 1969, the MFD had never recorded 423 mm of rainfall in just 24 hours in Surkhet. Similarly, 298 mm of rainfall recorded in Dang during the same period is highest of all time. “Rains were intense this year in the midwestern region,” says Barun Poudel, a meteorologist at the MFD. “In our recent memory; we had not seen such an extreme weather event.”
Scientists say climate change causes extreme weather events, among other things. The term ´too much rain or too less rain´ is often used to explain the effects of climate change in the simplest way. The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has unequivocally stated that climate change is already causing extreme weather events.
So, can the intense rainfall of the midwestern region be described as a result of climate change? “Theoretically, yes,” says Dr Arun Bhakta Shrestha, a senior climate change specialist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). “This is what climate change causes. But, we cannot say surely without proper research.”
Dr Shrestha says climate change increases frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, meaning that Nepal could face in future more of what led to the devastating floods and landslides of the midwestern region. “It is a wake-up call,” says Dr Shrestha. “We now need to better mitigate climate change and better adapt to its effects.”
However, what happened in the midwestern region during and after the flooding has demonstrated that Nepal is yet unable to deal with disasters. When floods ravaged much of the region, early warning system collapsed, embankments gave way and government authorities fell short of resources to rehabilitate the displaced families.
In Bardiya, thousands of families living along the Babai River were confident that an early warning station set up to the north of their villages would alert them in case of a disastrous flood. But, the locals living south of Chepang village, where the station was placed to gauge the water level in the Babai River, had no inkling that the flood was about to wash away everything they had. The station failed right at the moment when it was needed the most.
“We had not anticipated such a worse flood in Babai,” says Rajendra Sharma, chief of Flood Forecasting Project at Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM). “The very first wave of flood swept away our station; and people were caught unguarded.”
Gautam, the Bardiya Red Cross president, says, “We need better early warning system as climate change poses more serious threats of extreme weather events.”
Published on 2014-08-26 02:42:03
OM ASTHA RAI
KATHMANDU, Aug 21: Nepal has put in place plenty of plans, strategies and mechanisms to deal with disasters in the last five years.
But, is Nepal now well-prepared to manage disasters?
The answer is a big NO.
In the aftermath of the recent Sunkoshi landslide and other devastating floods, particularly in the plains of the midwestern region, it seems that Nepal´s disaster preparedness is almost non-existent.
Government officials often dub 2009 as a landmark year in the field of disaster risk management. On October 11 that year, the government approved a national strategy for disaster risk management, outlining top five priority areas.
In the years since 2009, several mechanisms, as envisioned by the national strategy, have been formed to manage disasters.
Water trapped by the August 2 landslide in the Sunkoshi River flows from two outlets dug in Mankha VDC of Sindhupalchowk district on Thursday. The water level in the trapped river had dropped by a meter and a half by Thursday. Nepal Army, which is involved in draining out the water, said it aims to reduce the water level by 15-20 meters. (Dhurva Dangal/Republica)
First of all, a consortium for disaster risk reduction was formed. The consortium, led by the home secretary, consists of development partners supporting Nepal´s disaster preparedness programs; and provides required financial and technical assistance.
Also, disaster response networks and search and rescue strategies have been prepared. The Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development (MoFALD) has also formed disaster management committees in many districts and villages.
So, despite all this preparedness, why did the recent floods cause so much damage in the mid-western region?
According to the National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC) of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA), floods and landslides have killed 123 people, injured 67 people and left 126 people missing in several parts of the country since August 14.
In the same floods and landslides, 9,954 houses were completely damaged, 10,361 houses partially damaged, and 11,205 houses were inundated, and 20,245 families were displaced. Although the recent floods and landslides have hit as many as 25 districts, Surkhet, Dang and Bardiya are the worst affected ones.
Why did Nepal´s disaster management plans, programs, trategies and mechanisms fail to reduce the damages caused by the recent floods and landslides?
“Perhaps, our disaster preparedness is far from adequate,” says Ramesh Shrestha, an early warning system officer at Mercy Corps Nepal, an NGO working in disaster management sector.
Shrestha believes that there is no gap in disaster management policies and strategies but their implementation is far from satisfactory. “This is why disasters continue to cause so much destruction every year,” says Shrestha.
Ram Chandra Neupane, chairman of ECO-Nepal, another NGO working in disaster management sector, says, “In our plans, programs and strategies, we have focused on how to respond to disasters. But, we have failed to focus on how to mitigate risks of disasters.”
Neupane says mitigation is as important as responsiveness or even more so. “Unless mitigation is prioritized, response will always be insufficient,” says Neupane.
Constructing embankments along rivers is one of the most important aspects of mitigating the risk of floods. But, even flood-prone rivers are without embankments and flowing waywardly, killing people, damaging houses and displacing families every year.
This year, Babai River swelled up, changed its course and caused devastation in a vast area of fertile land – somewhere as far as five kilometers from the original water course. Although Babai is and was always a flood-prone river, the government has not built a strong embankment along its serpentine course so far.
Only a few months before the onset of monsoon, temporary embankments were built in some parts of Babai River, which were washed away by the flood. “Had there been a strong embankment along Babai River, damage would have been far less in Bardiya,” says Shrestha. “This is one area where our disaster management plans have failed.”
Even in terms of responsiveness, Nepal does not look well-prepared. As part of Nepal´s flood forecasting project, nearly two dozen flood measurement stations have been set up. But, the recent floods showed these stations are too few and far between. In Babai River, the flood washed away the entire early warning system.
In the flood-ravaged villages, the displaced people have no place to sleep, no warm clothes to wear. They have been given rice. But, without kitchen utensils and fuelwood, they are unable to cook their meals. According to the NEOC, the government has distributed more than Rs 1.6 million as relief money to the flood victims. But, that seems too little.
“The recent floods and landslides showed that we are yet not prepared to deal with big disasters,” says Mahesh Gautam, president of Nepal Red Cross Society, Bardiya. “We need to go a long way in disaster preparedness sector.”
Published on 2014-08-22 02:07:15
OM ASTHA RA
KATHMANDU, Aug 7: The landslide that killed more than 150 people and blocked the Sunkoshi River last Saturday at Mankha village of Sindhupalchowk district has exposed yawning gaps in Nepal´s hazard mapping and early warning mechanisms.
Hours before the dawn of August 2, a massive landslide occurred, creating a huge debris dam that completely blocked the course of the Sunkoshi River for over 12 hours. Only after a Nepal Army (NA) team created a channel through controlled explosions, some of the blocked water started flowing downward. However, almost a week later, the dam is still there, posing flood threats to people living downstream.
As per a report released by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a 1.9 km long slope of land perched 1,350 meters above the river bed collapsed in Jure area of Mankha village, burying around two dozen houses. Within the first three days of the disaster, rescuers recovered 33 dead bodies from under the rubble. On the fourth day, the government declared all 123 missing people dead.
Nepal Army soldiers perched atop rocks in the Sunkoshi River as they set up ropes for possible rescue efforts in view of the continuing threat of flooding.(Phot Couresy: Nepal Army)
Immediately after the Sunkoshi landslide, the government declared downstream villages along the river a flood emergency zone and evacuated more than 100 vulnerable families from the area. As days passed, normalcy seems to be slowly returning to downstream villages. With the NA team trying to release more water through controlled explosions, a lurking crisis seems to have been averted.
However, the Sunkoshi disaster could just be a wake-up call. If serous efforts are not undertaken, immediately, more such disasters could strike Nepali villages in future, say experts.
In Larcha, a little village located between Tatopani and Fulping Katti VDCs of Sindhupalchowk, a massive landslide had occurred in 1996, sweeping away dozens of houses. However, the landslip-affected families resettled in the same village.
The Larcha landslide is a testimony to how hundreds of thousands of families are haphazardly living in flood and landslide prone villages. They are often struck by floods and landslides but continue to live there. Worse, the government has no plans and programs to identify flood and landslide prone villages and rehabilitate people from there.
Even in Jure, the hill where the Sunkoshi landslide occurred had collapsed around 60 years ago, according to Amrit Kumar Bohara, a CPN (UML) leader who witnessed the disaster when he was just a six-year-old child. But, the locals of Jure neither relocated to safer locations nor the government ever tried to evacuate them.
Suresh Nepal, who was Vice President of the Sindhupalchowk District Development Committee (DDC) when the Larcha landslide occurred, says, “People always want to live near the road even though there is constant fear of flooding and landslides. This is why the locals in Larcha and Jure did not move elsewhere even after being struck by landslides in the past.”
It is not just the locals who choose to overlook the threats of possible disasters. Even big companies have built hydropower plants fully knowing the risks of possible floods and landslides. Along the Sunkoshi (Bhotekoshi) River, there are at least three major hydro power plants apart from many other micro hydropower projects.
“Some people know the risks but are too poor to go elsewhere,” says Arun Bhakta Shrestha, a senior climate change specialist at the ICIMOD. “But, if you look at houses built along the Sunkoshi River, it would be hard to say that all the locals are poor and therefore incapable of moving elsewhere. In fact, they take calculated risks. So do hydropower companies.”
Risks can be reduced
The Sunkoshi river basin is vulnerable to Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) and Landside Dam Outburst Floods (LDOFs). In the last 30 years, one GLOF and two LDOF events, excluding the August 2 tragedy, have already occurred in this region.
After a GLOF event in 1981, the level of the Araniko Highway was raised and taller bridges were built in an effort to minimize damages that future GLOF and LDOF events could cause. Beside, early warning system was set up by the Bhote Koshi hydropower plant.
What was done in the wake of the 1981 GLOF needs to be scaled up, say experts. They say hazard mapping and early warning system need to be developed not only in the Sunkoshi basin but across the country. “Although we cannot control natural hazards like landslides and floods, there are many things that can be done to minimize their adverse impact on lives, livelihoods, and valuable infrastructure,” says the ICIMOD report on the Sunkoshi landslide. “More efforts to map landslide risks are needed, and much more frequent monitoring of potential landslide sites is necessary.”
Can what the ICIMOD report recommends be done? “It is not a question of whether we can,” says Dr Shrestha. “We can and we must do it. If we cannot do it across the country at one once, let us start it from the most vulnerable village. But, let us do it right now.”
Published on 2014-08-08 03:06:2
By Om Astha Rai
Climate-resilient varieties of rice could help to protect crop yields from the ravages of droughts and floods caused by the increasingly erratic weather patterns in South Asia.
KATHMANDU, 30 July, 2014 − Farmers badly affected by changing weather patterns in South Asia now have the opportunity to improve food security by planting new varieties of rice capable of withstanding the impact of both severe droughts and floods.
This is particularly good news for countries such as Nepal, where around 65% of its more than 26 million people are involved in agriculture. Rice is the country’s most important crop, planted on more than 50% of its arable land.
And it comes at a time when new research using satellite imaging has highlighted the growing need to change agricultural practices in South Asia as higher average temperatures cause the reduction of crop yields on the Indo-Gangetic plain.
Scientists say the new seeds, developed by the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and approved by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), are vital in order to deal with changing weather patterns − in particular, the increasingly erratic behaviour of the all-important South Asia monsoon.
“These new varieties can really change the future of the country’s farmers,” says Dr Dil Bahadur Gurung, NARC’s executive director. “The new rice can, in most cases, beat the effects of droughts and floods.
“All these varieties have been tested in Nepal’s soil and climate over and over again. If all the country’s farmers replace their traditional varieties with these new ones, the impact of climate change on our agriculture could be reduced considerably.”
Local scientists say the timing of the South Asia monsoon − the only source of irrigation for the majority of Nepali farmers − is changing.
“Each year, we see the monsoon arriving later,” says Mani Ratna Shakya, a leading meteorologist in Nepal. “The duration of the monsoon is also getting shorter as each year passes.”
According to Nepal’s Meteorological Forecasting Division, the monsoon − which usually arrives in Nepal during the first week in June − came 10 days late this year.
Droughts are becoming more frequent. This year, the monsoon is generally judged to be very weak, leaving a vast area of arable land parched, particularly in western parts of Nepal. And often, when the rains eventually do arrive, they are torrential, causing flash floods.
So far, NARC has approved six drought-tolerant varieties of rice, under the name Sukkha − meaning dry.
“Ordinary rice varieties dry out and die in droughts,” says Hari Krishna Uprety, a paddy expert at NARC. “The new seeds survive droughts even in the early stage of growth. And uncertainty about the onset of monsoon has made these varieties even more important.”
- Hari Krishna Uprety, NARC paddy expert,
with the new rice seed varieties
Image: Om Astha Rai
The new varieties still need water, of course, but they become more drought tolerant by being able to store energy during the early stages of their growth.
Two rice varieties capable of surviving flood conditions for up to two weeks have also been approved by NARC.
Although the experts are backing the introduction of the new seeds in order to combat an increasingly erratic climate, persuading farmers to change their cultivation methods is a difficult task.
Farmers are often reluctant to replace traditional rice varieties, which in Nepal tend to be specific to each part of the country, depending on soil conditions, elevation, and other factors.
The new seeds are no more expensive than the traditional ones, and farmers even get a 30% discount on seeds approved by NARC, but a factor that could hamper uptake is that distribution is through the National Seed Company, which is not yet reaching out to farmers in every village.
But scientists warn that the new varieties must be planted – not only to combat changes in climate, but also to feed growing populations. – Climate News Network
• Om Astha Rai is a reporter with Nepalese national newspaper, Republica Daily.
OM ASTHA RAI
LAWPANI (ASSAM), INDIA: Whenever the villagers of Lawpani, a nondescript village in the North Indian state of Assam, organize meetings to discuss local issues, Rita Devi Magar, a 40-year-old illiterate woman, represents her family there. Her husband never attends local meetings.
Like Rita Devi, many women in Lawpani village, which is located by the Brahmaputra River, attend local meetings as de-facto heads of their families. Usually, they are the ones who decide what contribution their families can possibly make to dealing with recurring problems like flood, inundation and erosion by the Brahmaputra River, which is the source of both livelihood and misery for hundreds of thousands of people in Assam.
To read my full story, please link the story given below:
OM ASTHA RAI
One recent sunny afternoon, Krishna Maya Sharma, 42, was hoeing her crop field soaked in winter rain which lashed most parts of north India just a day before. “I used to plant paddy here,” says she, showing her land where the upper layer of soil looks covered with sand. “Now, I can grow just taro roots.”
In 2012, when a flood in the Brahmaputra River, seen as the most devastating since 2004, caused havoc in the north Indian state of Assam, Krishna Maya lost much of her fortune. “I was about to harvest my crops,” she says. “But the flood damaged everything.”
Not only did the flood damage Krishna Maya´s crop but also trigged a chain of effects, rendering her family poorer. When the flood retreated, her land was covered with such a thick layer of sand that she is still unable to grow paddy there. “After the flood, I tried to plant crops but nothing grew,” she says.
Krishna Maya´s family owned about 11 bighas of fertile land before the flood. “The land is still there but it’s just sand. Only a small plot of land is left for growing taro roots,” she says.
The flood, which reportedly killed at least 125 people and displaced thousands of families in Assam and Bangladesh, also damaged a vast area of grassland, adding to difficulty in collecting fodder. With no green pasture to graze on, all her five cattle died.
The severest aftereffect of the flood turned out to be the deaths of two oxen, which her husband, Punya Prasad Sharma, would use to plow the land. “After our oxen died, my husband couldn’t plow the land and now he works as a manual worker at a nearby construction site,” she explains.
Today, even for cultivating whatever land is left, Krishna Maya needs to purchase chemical fertilizers. Earlier, she used to grow plants by using compost fertilizers – mostly made up of cow dung. “As we have no cattle now, we can’t make compost fertilizers,” she says.
Krishna Maya´s is not a unique tale. In Lawpani, a nondescript village in Tinsukia District of Assam, which is mostly inhabited by people of Nepali origin, everyone has similar tales to tell.
Like Krishna Maya, most of people in Laowani, which now has more than 150 households of Nepali origin, are affected by floods, followed by inundation and erosion, every year. They find it very difficult to save their crops and livestock from floods in monsoon months.
To read the full story, please click the link below
Floods get a lot of attention in our warming world. They can kill people and livestock, inundate crops, destroy infrastructure and homes — and they make great photo ops. Less attention — and less international aid — is directed to victims of intense heat waves that are also linked to climate change.
But it is these heat waves that are most responsible when Pakistanis leave their villages, new research suggests.
Continue reading at Grist … http://grist.org/news/which-is-more-likely-to-drive-people-from-their-homes-floods-or-heat-waves/