Nepal has faced significant impacts from disasters, resulting in high costs in terms of human life and economic damages.
--BY SAMJHANA KARKI
The probability of disasters occurring worldwide is increasing. The Annual Weather, Climate, and Catastrophe Insight Report 2023 revealed that natural catastrophes alone resulted in $313 billion in global economic losses. According to the Global Risks Report 2023, natural disasters and extreme weather events rank second in the top ten risks over the next two years. Whether caused by natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes, and floods, or non-natural hazards such as industrial accidents, terrorist attacks, civil wars, and pandemics, disasters can have significant social, economic, and political consequences. The impacts of these events can have far-reaching and cascading effects on governance, power dynamics, and public policy.
The recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria has highlighted the impact of disasters on a country's socio-economic status. According to the Global Rapid Post-Disaster Damage Estimation Report 2023 published by the World Bank, the two major earthquakes on February 6 caused direct physical damages estimated at $34.2 billion for Turkey, which accounts for four per cent of the country's 2021 GDP. Syria also experienced damages worth $5.1 billion.
South Asia has been experiencing a series of disasters that have had a significant impact on the region's development. Unfortunately, poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and ineffective governance have worsened the consequences of these disasters. One major example of their devastating impact can be seen in Bangladesh, where around 7.2 million people were affected by flooding in June 2022. Similarly, Pakistan experienced historic floods the same year, resulting in damages and economic losses exceeding $30 billion.
Nepal is not immune to the consequences of disasters. It is among the 20 most multi-hazard-prone countries in the world. In 2015, the Gorkha earthquake and subsequent aftershocks caused the deaths of approximately 9,000 people and injured around 22,000. The disaster also resulted in loss and damage estimated at $7 billion, equivalent to one-third of Nepal's GDP. Additionally, severe flooding in August 2017 affected 1.7 million people and caused loss and damage of $585 million, equivalent to three percent of Nepal's GDP. Despite having a small population of 30 million, Nepal has faced significant impacts from disasters, resulting in high costs in terms of human life and economic damages.
Disasters have far-reaching consequences, affecting not only the physical environment but also the social and economic fabric of society. The loss of life, injuries, and displacement can cause significant trauma and mental health issues for individuals and communities. Disasters also disrupt businesses, leading to lost revenue and decreased productivity. This can result in reduced economic activity, job losses, and a decline in living standards. Additionally, disasters can have a significant impact on the country's economy, leading to decreased agricultural output and slowed tourism activities.
The physical damage to infrastructure can also make it difficult for people to access essential services. For example, the floods and landslides of 2021 caused damage to physical infrastructure worth $9.9 million in Nepal, making it challenging for people to access critical services such as water supply and electricity. Furthermore, investment in disaster relief efforts, including search and rescue operations, emergency shelters, and reconstruction and rehabilitation, increases government spending. This can have implications for the country's budget and development priorities.
Disasters can also worsen existing social inequalities, leading to unequal access to relief and rehabilitation measures. Individuals from so-called higher castes or with political affiliations may be more likely to receive humanitarian aid than the actual needy and affected population. This can lead to a breakdown in social order, and criminal activities may increase.
In addition, disasters disrupt the health sector, causing difficulties in accessing medical care, particularly for individuals with pre-existing health conditions. This leads to a significant impact on health outcomes, resulting in increased morbidity and mortality rates. Moreover, climate-induced disasters often force people to evacuate their homes and seek refuge in evacuation centres or camps. The overpopulation in these camps results in reduced access to safe water and sanitation facilities, increasing the risk of waterborne diseases. Therefore, the socio-economic impacts of disasters make people more vulnerable to future disasters.
Reducing Nepal's vulnerability to disasters is a complex issue that requires a multi-faceted approach. The government has taken several steps to minimise the impact of disasters, including adopting the National Policy and Strategic Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (2018-2030), enacting the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, establishing various Early Warning Systems, launching the BIPAD portal, creating the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA), providing emergency response training to communities, and offering disaster response training. However, the implementation of these initiatives has been challenging due to insufficient coordination, resources, and capacity.
One of the ways forward to reduce the impact of disasters is increasing awareness among students. The Nepali curriculum and textbooks have not been fully disaster sensitive until now. Incorporating disaster risk reduction (DRR) education into the school curriculum is essential to building a more resilient society. DRR education enhances people's awareness and knowledge about disasters and how to mitigate the hazards and consequences of such disasters. Schools can develop dedicated modules on DRR, Emergency Preparedness, and Crisis Management Plan (EPCMP). Games, simulations, and other activities (use of case studies and real-life disaster examples) can be done to illustrate concepts and principles related to DRR. This could help build our future generation to cope with the risks and impacts of disasters. Nepal can learn from Japan about incorporating DRR into the school curriculum.
Overall, reducing the impact of disasters requires a comprehensive approach that involves developing a disaster preparedness plan, conducting risk assessments, strengthening early warning systems, and establishing emergency response teams. Inclusive policies in DRR can help reduce the impact of disasters and promote inclusive and sustainable development. Collaboration between governments, the private sector, and educational and research institutes is crucial for disaster resilience. Additionally, prioritising community awareness is essential. Moreover, government and local representatives can play a crucial role in reducing disaster risk by promoting preparedness, coordinating responses, and advocating for policies and programs that support resilience.
(Karki is a Research Assistant at the Nepal Institute for Policy Research (NIPORE))