Friday, 15 April 2011

Case Study: Disaster Risk Reduction - Nepal

The Guardian 'Poverty Matters' blog, focusing on global development, published an article by Alan Duncan today (Minister of State for International Development, UK) in which he highlights the importance of Disaster Risk Reduction in the Asian country of Nepal.


Nepal, situated north of India - in the Himalayas, is located in the collision zone of the Indian Plate with the  Eurasian Plate (right centre in diagram below). This results in a very high risk of earthquakes, with an estimated 10,000 people killed as a result of seismic activity between 1900 and 2008 (NSET-Nepal, 2010). The last major earthquake was in 1934, and palaeoseismology suggests that they occur every 70 years - meaning a major earthquake is due in the region.

In addition to earthquake hazards, Nepal also suffers serious problems from flooding and landslides - both of them resulting in more deaths than earthquakes in the period 1971-2008 (Landslides = 3987, Floods = 2936, Earthquakes = 873, as stated by NSET-Nepal, 2010). 


Nepal is very vulnerable to natural hazards, rapid urbanisation - especially in the large city of Kathmandu, with poor spatial planning and disaster management means that communities are very vulnerable to a large earthquake, with a conservative estimate of 40,000 being killed, and many more injured (Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre). The range of hazards that could strike Nepal also complicate the situation. Communities are vulnerable to seismic-induced landslides, water-induced landslides, flooding and other hazards (wildfires etc), with the varied topography being a key factor in this. Poverty in this country increases the vulnerability to disasters. Building to resist earthquakes is expensive, and preparing communities requires investment. 


As Alan Duncan states, there is a real need for action to reduce the risk in Nepal, by supporting the Nepalese government to develop their disaster management plans, investing in community education, urban planning resources and other risk reduction methods. As the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium established by the UN work to support the Nepalese in preparing for disaster, and reducing the impacts of that - it is important to:
1) Ensure excellent communication between all stakeholders, including scientists, engineers, social scientists, town planners, politicians and community representative. 
2) Ensure a sustainable programme is put in place - drawing on community participatory methods to ensure that risk reduction is in place at all levels.
3) Develop multi-hazard risk assessments in order to better understand the complex nature of the hazards 

1. Communication
In order to develop detailed and thorough disaster management plans, and a disaster risk reduction plan, there must be good and detailed communication between stakeholders. Geologists and engineers must communicate with social scientists and urban planners in order to ensure the science is accurate and detailed, and incorporated into their plans and procedures. Communities must be consulted and their experiences and knowledge drawn upon to ensure a sustainable programme and policies (see below). 

2. Sustainability
In order to make disaster risk reduction sustainable there must also be substantial community involvement at every level - from identifying hazards, to educating communities, to determining how communities can build resilience and in writing disaster management plans. My experiences in water & sanitation work show that simply pouring finance and building institutional knowledge will not guarantee success or sustainability - without working with the community, drawing on community knowledge and involving them in the decision making. Community participation builds ownership, a sense of responsibility and community knowledge. In a similar way, if DRR is going to be successful in Nepal it must engage people from all aspects of the community and not be a 'top-down' exercise.

3. Multi Hazard Risk Assessments
There is a real need to develop multi-hazard risk analyses for this area. Single hazard risk assessments (i.e. one for flooding, one for landslides, and one for earthquakes) have the potential to result in increased vulnerability to other hazards - they fail to incorporate the complex interaction of hazards, triggering mechanisms, or the increased vulnerability to one hazard if it follows another hazard. Disaster Management Plans also need to examine wide-ranging factors such as water & sanitation, in order to determine how that will work in a disaster, hopefully preventing epidemics of diseases such as cholera.

Further information on multi-hazard risk assessments (in the context of Japan) can be found in this post.


As stated in this blog's analysis of the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review by Lord Ashdown, there is a definite need for investment in disaster risk reduction, and it is welcomed that DFID is taking this seriously. However, as outlined above it must be ensured that there is communication at all levels, and that it is sustainable, with community involvement and knowledge being fed into the process. A move to multi-hazard risk assessments is also suggested in order to better understand the complex interactions between hazards, and so improve the response in Nepal to future disasters.