"Preparing For Disasters Is An Opportunity Too"

AMOD MANI DIXIT needs no introduction in the field of earthquake and disaster management.

May 8, 2015, 5:45 p.m.

AMOD MANI DIXIT needs no introduction in the field of earthquake and disaster management. Executive director of NSET, Dixit spoke to New Spotlight in connection with the Earthquake Day Nepal celebrates on January 16,2015 to remember the devastation of the great Earthquake of 1934.  We reprint it as the issue raise by Amod Mani Dixit's came into reality. Excerpts:

Having worked for a long time in disaster management, particularly in relation to earthquakes, what to do you suggest for making our disaster plans more effective?

First of all, we will need to bring all the stakeholders together, including the 36,000 wards of about 4,000 village development committees, of 120,000 villages, across the country. Disaster management is impossible without the involvement of all. One ministry or two ministries cannot do it. Even the government alone cannot do it. Similarly, the District Development Committee or Village Development Committee cannot do it by themselves. Likewise, the Ministry of Home Affairs cannot do it alone either.

Why is that so difficult?

Disasters always need we work in rush. If we miss one day, we will lose a month. We need to work in close coordination and with the technical knowledge.

How do you view the debate going on as regards the Disaster Management bill?

Although a Disaster Management Bill is the prerequisite in dealing with disasters, it is yet to be table in the Legislature Parliament. The Ministry of Home Affairs is still holding it as the bill has economic importance. One day's delay in tabling the bill will have long term implications. It will take over 30 years if don’t work now. If we make mistakes in the bill, it will take more time.

Why are you in such a hurry?

If we start from today, it will take twenty years. If you start from tomorrow, it may take thirty years. In case of mistakes or wrong provisions in the bill, it may take even a hundred years. Even with everything in place, we cannot prevent human loss, but we can recover from the loss of property. For this, a functional disaster management act is necessary. One needs to understand this. We don’t have time to make mistakes.

It seems that you are exaggerating the scenario?

I am not exaggerating anything about the severe implications and impacts of a disaster or earthquake in Kathmandu. According to a report published by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which was prepared with support from JICA,  Kathmandu is unlikely to remain as the capital of Nepal in case of a major earthquake like that of 1990 B.S. Does it mean the collapse of Singh Durbar? Or death of prime minister, king or high-level person? Or Kathmandu will fall down.

As Nepal is celebrating the Earthquake Day, how vulnerable is Kathmandu actually now?

Kathmandu may not be in a position to govern Nepal socially, politically and economically after a big quake. Finally, everything lies in the strength of economy and economy is everything. The quake will bring a huge economic cost. Since we are a member of UN and various UN agencies have predicted that Nepal’s economy will have to bear a heavy burden, even impossible to carry, in case of a major earthquake in Kathmandu.

What has all this to do with vulnerabilities from quake?

Tokyo and California are also prone to earthquake like Kathmandu. These cities are also expecting major earthquakes. However, their damage of infrastructure and human loss is likely to be more nominal than Nepal's. In terms of loss of humans, Kathmandu will have to see much larger casualty and devastation than those cities as the settlement of Kathmandu city is unsafe. Along with human casualty, Kathmandu will see a greater economic loss.

Does disaster bring only destruction?

Absolutely no. Natural disasters also bring economic opportunities. After the 1934 great earthquake in Nepal, new roads were planned to accelerate the economic activities. When we talk about the effects, the quake will have devastating impacts and effects in the society. The destruction and devastation like collapse of buildings, bridges, deaths and injuries, short supply of drinking water and electricity are one part of the story.

Why is there such a difference?

Our level of development is different from that of Japan, a highly developed and industrialized country. Nepal is a Least Developed Country. Human life in developed countries is regarded as precious. Thus, focus is always on saving life and preventing human casualty. This is not so with the developing countries.  Even a small quake and flood badly damage us and take decades for us to recover. The good example is how people are still suffering from the flood of last July. Large numbers of people are still living in huts and camps. 

Where does the earthquake affect most?

The indirect cost of disaster is much higher. It would have much repercussion, but what we lack is the discussion in terms of loss and damage. Eighty percent of risk of quake lies in houses and infrastructures. However, there is no role of Ministry of Urban Development.  Ministry of Finance seems to have no interest at all whether there is a quake or not. The quake of September 2011 devastated a large area in eastern Nepal but nothing happened in the way we manage disasters. According to the Ministry of Urban Development, 30,000 houses were damaged, with desperate need for reconstruction. Have these buildings been repaired? Has anybody disseminated information regarding making the house safe? How much compensation did the people get?

How do you see the relations between finance and disaster?

The disaster has direct relations with finance not only in terms of damage but also regarding reconstruction. After any kind of disaster, there is a need to launch reconstruction activities. Kathmandu is one of the most prone to earthquake. It is estimated that over 60 percent of the houses will either be destroyed or demolished, ninety percent of the bridges will be damaged without any chances to operate vehicles. The water supply system will completely go out of order for six months. Telecommunication and electricity will be out of order for months. What will be the impact of all this? Dead bodies will be buried but what about the reconstruction. Do our economists know the disaster economy? So far as I know, nobody thinks about this.

What do you suggest for the business community?

The businessmen should see disaster as an economic opportunity. They have to take three works. First of all industrialists and business communities should protect their families in case of major quakes. Their houses should be protective. They should know what they need to do for their own safety. Secondly, they need to work to make their own businesses and houses safe from any major quake. Thirdly, they should have the business continuity plan. The main basis of that plan is that disaster is an opportunity and they have to prepare for using this opportunity by making necessary arrangements for the coming disasters.

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