The Himalayan Times: Disaster has manifested as a double-headed hydra in the form of floods and landslides throughout Nepal since the last few months. Whilst the mountains and the hills have been rocked by the landslides, the Terai has been submerged in deep flood waters. This has put the country in general and the Home Ministry, the umbrella agency for disaster risk reduction, in particular, virtually in a state of doldrums.
Donations have been pouring in and the relief distribution machinery of the country has been totally overwhelmed. This unfortunate situation has been created by the lack of awareness in the politicians of the country because they have conveniently turned a deaf ear to the proposed Disaster Risk Reduction Act. The said draft has been gathering dust since almost a decade in the murky shelves of the Parliament. Surprisingly, our politicians find time to hold lengthy and almost never-ending discussions on trivial issues, but the proposed Act related to disasters, which can cause an astronomical damage of even more than 200 per cent of the GDP as could be seen in the case of Haiti earthquake, has been enveloped in total darkness. The enormity of the probable damage can be gauged from the loss of a mere 5 per cent of the GDP in the decade-long conflict in the country.
The proposed Act seeks to create an autonomous institution under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister with the leader of the opposition as its deputy so as to prevent the political divide at the time of disasters as the Ministry of Home Affairs can no longer perform efficiently in view of equally important task like the maintenance of peace and order. It further proposes the involvement of the ministries that are fit for the purpose such as the Ministry of Local Development for preparedness because of its network goes deep down to the grassroots level, Ministry of Home Affairs for rescue because of the Nepal Armed Police Force and Nepal Police under it, the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works for reconstruction because it is armed with technical/engineering human resources, and the Nepal Army under the Defence Ministry.
As the said draft has not moved in the Parliament, the country is being governed by the Natural Calamity Relief Act, 1982 at present which is by its very name very confined to the narrow realm of relief distribution. It does not encompass the most important elements of disaster risk reduction trinity, namely the preparedness and reconstruction tasks. As those two important aspects are not in its sphere of action, they have been largely ignored thereby allowing catastrophic events to engulf the country without any stated acton in that direction to mitigate the effects.
The disaster risk reduction machinery is merely focused on the distribution of relief which has been far from satisfactory going by the complaints of the disaster victims and what they have been receiving at best is merely a trickle despite the donations pouring in from within and outside the country. This is because the relief programme is sailing like a ship which has lost its direction at the present. Whilst the orientation should have been towards development after the disaster, it is merely confined to charity, understanding little that the relief is the right of the disaster victims and should no more be taken as a show of kindness as has been done erroneously so far.
The present system of relief distribution in practice in Nepal has already been hopelessly outdated. We often think that the victims are completely helpless and devoid of skills, energy and motivation with the result that we ourselves hatch the dependence syndrome among the victims. It is true that the immediate needs have to be met in the wake of the disasters, but it does not mean that the development works need to wait till the passing of the crisis.
For this, a seminar was held long back in 1986 at Harvard School of Education to find ways and means as to how development works could go side by side with the immediate relief distribution. Following this, a project was implemented successfully in Ethiopia at a district Yifat na Timuga where the famine victims were given relief at their homes instead of in the shelter camp. The victims participated in the construction of a road track through which they later transported relief to the famine-hit villages by using animals that came to be far cheaper than the customary air drops. Similarly, in Mali, the project established a village of Tai Aicha working with the nomads and changed their age-old wandering lifestyle.
In the same vein, if the disaster victims of say Sindhupalchowk in Nepal have to be resettled eventually, why can’t it be done speedily so that the landslide and flood victims could work for disaster-resilient development instead of lazily killing time in the shelter camps consuming relief packages with no future to look at to return to productive life as before? For this, the disaster risk reduction managers have to give up their hoary mindset and emulate good development-oriented relief distribution practices which have been successfully carried out in other countries. This shift can certainly transform the disaster risk reduction scenario dramatically for the better.
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