Quake And Climate Resilient Development

We need to adapt ourselves to such events – earthquake accelerated or climate-induced. Adaptation is our 'survival strategy' but we need information, knowledge and skills on how to adapt to such calamities.

May 8, 2015, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 08 No. -21 May 08- 2015 (Baishakh 25, 2072)

April 25, the day Nepali people experienced a major earthquake and a series of its aftershocks with far-reaching implications in Nepal, has challenged their life, livelihood and property and affected over 8 million people in all. The continuing aftershocks have generated discussions on relief and rescue operations, and futuristic approach to rehabilitation and reconstruction. Several articles and opinions have been published to guide the future works. The last ten days have informed the people better on Nepal's geological conditions, consequences of earthquake, people's feelings and experiences, relief and rescue situations and the future of the affected people. Optimistic views on opportunities, support pledges and experiences and lessons learned from the earthquakes of Indonesia and Haiti are shared to contribute to the rebuilding process in earthquake affected areas. Friendly countries and people all over the world have shown their continued interest to support Nepal. Within a week, billions of dollars have been pledged and millions have been disbursed. People from different walks of life have volunteered to support Nepal and Nepali people who are in dire needs of support for food, shelter, water, medicine and so on. This event has also further strengthened the culture of 'supporting each other' in rural Nepal.

Nepal's Himalayas and mountains are the most vulnerable to earthquake and climate change. Mountain ecosystems provide ecological, economic and social services to billions of people living both upstream and downstream. Decline in snow and glacier formation would directly result in less availability of water, which is used for drinking, irrigation, recreation, and generation of hydro-electricity. High rate of snow melting from climate change would convert 'snowy' to 'blacky' mountains. This earthquake has provided Nepal to reconsider its development model and further consider geological setting, earthquake threats and adverse impacts of climate change and calls for promoting integrated response, and earthquake and climate-friendly infrastructure development.

Seismologists and meteorologists do not see a clear linkage and inter-dependency between earthquake and weather. However, underground and over-ground events would finally affect the people and resources with multifold implications during the rainy season. Fragile geology, young mountains and continued threats of earthquakes and climate-induced disasters should not be overlooked during reconstruction and rebuilding process of the earthquake affected areas in the near future. Opportunities should be explored to benefit from these challenges for sustainable mountain development and promote reconstruction and rebuilding processes in such a way that it addresses multiple objectives, including addressing earthquake and climate-induced disasters.

Nepal lies in a highly earthquake-prone region. Recent earthquake might have made the affected area very weak. Weak zones in Nepal's degraded watersheds might be severely affected due to heavy and localized rainfall during the monsoon season. In the recent years, number of rainy days in Nepal is declining without reduction in amount of total rainfall, indicating potential torrential rainfall. If so, it might accelerate landslides in the hills and other earthquake affected areas, and resultant effects of floods in the Terai. Earthquake affected people will further suffer and new types of support might be urgently needed to those who have lost houses and spent their days and nights in open areas.

Currently, earthquake affected people are supplied with tents, food and medicine as immediate 'survival strategy'. Experiencing and considering the present approach of support, it might not be possible to construct a reasonable house before the onset of the rainy season, this year. It is likely that those who 'survived' but were affected by the earthquake might be severely affected by, and impacts of, torrential rain. It is also likely that the weather modification will accelerate landslides in 'earthquake-induced weak zones', may block rivers and streams, and might lead to 'vertical tsunami'. Floods will likely carry boulders and soil along with other mountain materials. Degradation and loss of materials in the upland will accelerate sedimentation in the plain areas. This will greatly affect people and resources of the low land. Both upland and low land people might further suffer during the forthcoming monsoon season from likely accelerated devastation.

We need to adapt ourselves to such events – earthquake accelerated or climate-induced. Adaptation is our 'survival strategy' but we need information, knowledge and skills on how to adapt to such calamities. Realising the vulnerability to earthquake and climate-induced disasters, Nepal needs to build and promote resilience in the nation building process. Recalling the present call and response, opportunities exist for greater international support. Important aspect is how to mobilise available resources for ensuring an earthquake and climate-resilient development. From the last three decades, there is a strong policy focus on 'integration' such as integrated watershed management but action sufficiently departs from this policy. The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. This reality should be corrected in 'action'. We need to transfer present situation of#^ to ^# in action so that different opinions could be consolidated right from planning to implementation stages and people will benefit from 'functional integration' and help address the on-going and potential threats of earthquake and climate-induced disasters.

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Batu Uprety

Former Joint-Secretary and Chief of Climate Change Management Division, Ministry of Environment (then), and former Team Leader, National Adaptation Plan (NAP) formulation process. E-mail: upretybk@gmail.com

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