Climate-induced Disasters

Oct 28th, 2014 | By | Category: Disasters and Climate Change, Nepal

vignetteThe Himalayan Times: Three weeks ago, I visited Madi area of Chitwan. Forty-year-old Ganga Devi Sunwar was among the many people I met—and who have been affected by extreme weather events. Every year Ganga feels that she has seen the worst flood of her life, only to be proven wrong in frequent intervals with more floods induced misery for her family and the community.

Sunwar lives in ward 9 of Govinda Basti VDC in Chitwan with 225 other families. Over a third of these families are directly affected by floods every year.

The story is similar across 64 districts in Nepal that are susceptible to some type of disaster. The poor, especially in rural areas, face the most severe impacts of climate change as they directly depend on ecosystem goods and services for their survival and well-being.

Disaster can exacerbate already the high inequality among social groups and regions affecting Nepal’s ability to generate a high growth rate in the economy, a prerequisite if Nepal is to change its story from poverty to prosperity. Climate and disaster risks, which if not properly addressed, will even push those above the poverty line to a life of vulnerability and marginalization. This has the potential to significantly reverse Nepal’s impressive gains in poverty reduction and improving quality of life. This will also significantly increase the cost of development. The estimated direct cost of climate induced natural events is equivalent to 1.5 to 2 per cent of the current GDP every year, according to an assessment commissioned by the Ministry of Science Technology and Environment. This ratio per GDP is higher in extreme years, rising to about 5 per cent, which is very high by international comparison.

According to an Asian Development Bank report titled “Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia,” the effect of climate changes ‘can cause losses equal to almost 10 per cent of the country’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 2100.’ Even to meet its own target of graduating from a Least Developed Country status, Nepal needs at least 9 per cent growth rate every year until 2022.

Over the years, Nepal’s commitment to disaster risk management has become obviously stronger.

However, fragile policy environment and gaps in implementation have not kept up with the increasing risk level. The recent tragedy in Sunkoshi in Sindhupalchok and floods in mostly Midwestern Nepal laid bare the vulnerability and the limitation of the preparation so far. While even developed countries are struggling to cope with the climate-induced disasters, Nepal cannot take solace in this fact. Rich countries have the means and the knowhow to quickly rebuild and get back on their feet. As the slow reconstruction and rebuilding following the Sunkoshi tragedy shows, Nepal cannot afford to always react to the aftermath of disasters. It has to become more proactive in identifying risks and find ways to integrate schemes to disaster-proof development gains from the get-go of development project implementation. Disasters cannot be completely prevented, but certainly casualties and losses can be minimized.

It is beyond Nepal to stop the forces that are increasing the pace of climate change. But Nepal can certainly make its population more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

In Madi area of Chitwan, which has been already hit by extreme weather patterns, communities are already trying to adapt to these changes. There are about 45 rivers in this small area that flow down from the Chure hills—including rivers that flow from South to North direction. A combination of erratic, extreme, concentrated and partial rainfall create annual havoc for the communities living here. The result is that in a small area, you see a combination of floods, soil erosion and drought. Farmers here are already switching to crops that grow either in less or lot of water. In some sections, it has become difficult to grow crops, so Ganga Devi and her family are looking into fish farming and goat rearing as an alternative source of livelihood to make ends meet.

Local efforts deserve much stronger support from both the government and the international community if they are to be successful. And these solutions cannot be implemented in isolation. They need to be looked at in an integrated way taking into account the settlements and agriculture pattern, forest and bio-diversity, infrastructure and overall cost of development. This would require different line ministries and development partners coming together to address development challenges in each village. Overall, it will require good data to underpin both predictions and any local adaptation measures—which can only be generated with the involvement of the central Government and the international community. The threat from climate change is real, and communities across Nepal are already struggling to cope with it. Nepal proactively installs an effective system that can help anticipate and adapt to threats exacerbated by climate change, tragedies as the Annapurna blizzards or Sunkoshi floods is regrettably likely to be a regular occurrence.

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Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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