“Prepare Locals To Cope With Disasters”

PRATAP KUMAR PATHAK, Secretary

Feb. 23, 2013, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 06 No. -17 Feb 22- 2013 (Falgun 11, 2069)

Having worked for a long time in the disaster sector of Nepal, PRATAP KUMAR PATHAK, secretary at the Ministry of Irrigation, knows what has gone right and wrong. He spoke to New Spotlight on various issues regarding the overall scenario. Excerpts:

Although Nepal has been facing the natural disasters for long, it has yet to be able to reduce the damage and devastation from disasters. Given your long association with the work in the disaster sector, how do you look at the overall Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy of Nepal?

One of the weaknesses of disaster management in Nepal is that it is yet to reach to the community level. Nepal's present institutional set up to deal with disasters is very much centralized.  This is the reason the awareness of the Disaster Risk Management is very nominal at the community level. This approach needs to change to reduce the casualty and damage from disasters at the community level.

How do you view the focus of disaster in Nepal?

When we talk about disaster, our focus will be in relief and rescue. Preparedness and planning part is given a low priority. Our capacity in managing post-disaster management, including the rehabilitation side, is poor. Although our relief and rescue part is very strong,

What do you suggest to make it more effective?

We need to go for decentralized disaster management approach to make Disaster Risk Management (DRM) and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) more effective. We have to teach people at the community level on how to prepare to face the disasters. For instance, we can use early warning system to reduce the effect of disaster and save human lives. In some areas, the NGOs and INGOs have been launching the early warning system programs. There is the need to make the local level institutions more effective and capable to carry out the disaster related activities in a coordinated manner. The nature of Nepal's disasters is very much similar to the water induced disasters, that have been creating major havoc in the country and outside. Landslides or floods, they are related to water. Thus, there are more casualties during the rainy session. Of course, Nepal is very much vulnerable to earthquake; the damage done by water is much higher. Similarly, fire and other manmade disasters have also regularly occurred in Nepal.  Thus, Nepal needs a smaller institution at the center and bigger institutions at the local or community levels. There is the need to decentralize the authority to the local institutions.

Other important aspect that is lacking is an integrated working model. There are several governmental and non-governmental and International non government organizations looking at the disaster related issues. Apart from that, there are several other international organizations actively supporting Nepal. What is lacking is effective coordination among them. There is the need of coordination from center to district levels.

You said that there is the lack coordination in the disaster management issue. Don't you think the time has come to make an independent institution to deal with it?

There is no doubt about this. Under HUGO Frame Work of Action 2005, we have already formulated a National Strategy in 2008. Under this strategy, the cabinet has endorsed a draft disaster management bill. It is in the process to become a law. The new bill has proposed a national level disaster body to coordinate and manage disasters in the country. The framer of the bill envisages that proposed institution will be like an organization having autonomous status consisting of the experts.  The proposed body will be more capable and will have more authority to deal natural disasters.  Since disasters are cross cutting issues, involving different stake holders like local, regional national and international institution, the new institution should have the capability to coordinate with all and provide its own technical strength. 

How do you look at the risks in the absence of coordination?

If the institutions related to disasters are scattered in various ministries, this will create more of a trouble at the time of disasters.

What is the role of Water Induced Department?

The department is confined now to prevention issue as prevention and preparedness are two major components of any disaster.  If there is a national institution to deal with disaster, the department will also be part of technical and expert unit of such an institution.  There is no way other than to go for integrating programs.

How do you evaluate the current Nepal's disaster strategy?

Rationally, we have been following the rescue and relief. Instead of prevention, our approach focuses on rescue and relief. Our institutions dealing with disaster are created according to the model of rescue and relief. There is the need of a decentralized capacity to prepare beginning from the community.  I don't think central institutions are created to conduct preparedness. Their role is to support the efforts of the community at disaster preparedness.  We need to empower District Development Committee, Municipalities, Village Development Committees, NGOs and CBOs to enhance preparedness capabilities.  We need to increase knowledge and technique and technology. There is also the need to enhance the technical capability of local institutions.  Government and INGOs have been launching preparedness programs through their one local partner. This is taking place at the health and school sectors.  It is not enough. They must be carried out integrated manner.

What is the present stage of preparedness now?

At present, the District Level Natural Disaster Rescue relief Committee conducts the meeting of various stake holders before the onset of rainy season to avoid the catastrophe. This is all about the preparedness now. However, the preparedness function will complete after the end of monsoon. It is now a seasonal work.  There is the need to have an institution with legal backing. This institution can also mobilize the resources when there is a massive disaster in the country.

How do you look at the resources available in the disaster sector?

The resource is based on intensity of disaster. In 2008 when there was a flood in Kosi, Nepal got a lot of resources. In 2009, there were many incidents of water logging, so there was a plenty of investment. The situation was similar in 2009 and 2010. After 2010, the resources have gradually declined.  We need to have a standard benchmark of budget at the central level and district level to deal with possible disasters. There is the need to have a prepositioning of equipment and fund management. This should be done at district, region and central levels. Such arrangements can help carry out immediate relief. There is the need to have two kinds of fund management in disaster. The first is regular and the other is emergency. We need to have a regular budget to conduct the regular preparedness backed by programs and planning.  The act should ensure this.

What is lacking in the disaster sector?

One of the main thing lacking is the preparedness and mitigation. Despite our long experiences dealing with some major disasters within the country, Nepal is yet to build the preparedness capability. For instance, some institutions have already been involved in small scale mitigation, like community based early warning system.  We can save a lot of lives and property in case of our strong system for mitigation and preparedness.  International experiences have shown that the level of preparedness drastically reduces the human casualty and loss of property. Japan is a good example to show how preparedness helps to reduce the casualty and loss of property. Rescue and relief is regular. Our total focus should be on preparedness and decentralized capacity building.

How do you see the contribution of Nepal's donor communities in disaster?

They have been playing a very important role in providing opportunities to share the experiences of disasters at international level and they have also been playing important role in mobilizing the NGOs. Donor communities have also been playing a role to coordinate international agencies during the time of disaster.  They have also been supporting in capacity building. Donors have their own agenda.  There is the need to integrate the national and international agenda. We have different priorities, interests and capabilities. One of the objectives of the proposed act is how to make the coordination among the different stake holders stronger and involve people in DRR and use their resources to enhance the capability of preparedness and mitigation. As Nepal is one of the most vulnerable counties of the world, securing the 8th position in terms of vulnerability to earthquake, and the 30th in flood in the world, it will need to develop mechanism to deal with disaster.

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