Each year Nepal is subjected to recurring hazards due to varied climatic conditions and geophysical settings. Water-induced disasters, epidemic, earthquake, fire, and thunderstorm appear asthe key hazards claiming most lives. On the other hand, fire, flood, thunderbolt, landslide and earthquake have led to the heavy loss of public infrastructure, private property and livelihoods.Ministry ofHome Affairs has recorded more than a dozen types of hazards occurring in Nepal. Based on figures of 45 year period (1971 to 2016), there were 21,856 disaster events recorded with 500 disaster events happening on an average. Fire related incidences were the highest (8,721 times), followed by flood (3,950 times), epidemic (3,452 times) and landslide(3,246 times).
DRM efforts in policy and practice
In the last few decades, efforts has been made at all levels by the government and other actors for preparedness and response. There are policy provisions in place such as the National Strategy on Disaster Risk Management, 2009; National Disaster Response Framework, 2013; Guidance Note on Disaster Preparedness and Response Planning, 2011; National Guidelines for Search and Rescue, 2014; District Disaster Preparedness and Response Plans and Standard Operating Procedures of National Emergency Operation Centre and subsequent centres. Similarly, National Policy for Disaster Risk Reduction 2018 was endorsed with the aim to reduce disastermortality and number of affected peoplesubstantially, increase resiliency by reducingdisaster damage to means of livelihoods aswell as critical infrastructures and disruption of basic services and reduce direct disaster economic loss.
There are some noteworthy efforts on DRM by the Government of Nepal and development partners such as: establishment of the early warning system in the river basins, controlled drainagesystemin high-risk glacial lakes; implementation of National Building Code. Likewise,rolling out of Disaster Information Management System through Bipad (bipad.gov.np) and establishment of Humanitarian Staging Area and Disaster Preparedness Network (DPNet) Nepalhave also been effective.Knowledge management platforms such as Bipad and networking of humanitarian organizations through DPNet–Nepal have been instrumental in terms of bringing agencies together especially for disaster response.
Gaps in DRM Approaches in Nepal
Most of the DRM initiatives in Nepal have targeted its interventions at the federal, provincial, rural municipality/municipality, ward and community level. However, in terms of the vulnerabilities and risk probabilities, the most affected are household level population due to the yearly recurring hydrology- meteorology (such as flood, landslide, heat wave, cold wave) induced disasters. A recent United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) status report, ‘Disaster Risk Reduction in Nepal’ also highlights that more than 80% of the country’s population is exposed to the risk of natural hazardswhich include earthquakes, droughts, floods, landslides, extremetemperature, and glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs).
In the current policy and implementation structure of Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration, community level disaster management structure exists through Community Disaster Management Committee and Community Disaster Risk Management Plan. Yet there are no interventions at the household level, where it is most required.
Need for household based Disaster Risk Management
Household based interventions provide scope for a targeted approach to disaster management as activities would be designed based on situation of individual households – not only in terms of disaster vulnerability but also considering other socio-economic vulnerabilities such as gender, caste/ethnicity, income levels, disability, age – for children and elderly, among others.
In order to reduce the vulnerability of individual households,local government and implementing partners need to advocate for the development of Household Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan. The level of preparedness and response capacity of the households needs to be significant, which at the current stage is very limited.
First and foremost, in order to prepare the household based disaster mitigation plan, there needs to be a robust assessment of the vulnerability levels. One such approach is using Participatory Disaster Risk Assessment tool and categorizing the households into different vulnerability areas such as “highly vulnerable”, “moderately vulnerable” or “less vulnerable”.
Furthermore, there needs to be appetite from the local government to allocate regular funds for disaster risk management as implementing partners at best can only commit for financial and technical support in certain locations at specific time periods, and especially for response activities. Routine fund allocation through annual development programs will ensure longevity and sustainability for disaster mitigation. This will also ensure the ownership at the local level to plan and implement household DRM activities.
Tagging the households as highly vulnerable can also bring forward issues of stigma, for which a cautious approach is required. Herein comes the role of effective behavior change communications approaches of orienting the communities and especially Palikas about the need and purpose of such categorization, which is to design tailored response and preparedness activities. Diverse approaches such as vulnerability maps in the community, key messaging through radio, SMS and toll free phone numbers, street play and community gatherings could be organized to spread the awareness and interest for such household based interventions. As an innovative approach to vulnerability mapping, use of digital technology can also be promoted such as use of Geographic Information System (GIS) especially for locating the vulnerable households and keeping essential records of the households (for instance household vulnerability status and size) for planning immediate response packages.
In the current decentralized governance structure and the lessons from the past highlight that the policies and guidelines related to DRM have not effectively rolled out at the community or household level. Thus, there is a need to revisit the DRM approach by keeping the lowest unit or households in the forefront of disaster mitigation. This can only be possible through a collaborative effort of the local government, implementing partners and especially community stakeholders including ward officials, local leaders, women’s groups and youth clubsto help households understand their level of vulnerability and coping strategies.
Sudeep and Santosh are affiliated with World Vision International Nepal