This year the summer monsoon season brought devastation to Nepal. Over a few days, in the middle of August 2017, Nepal saw its worst rains in 15 years. 27 of the country’s 75 districts were completely submerged.
As of Wednesday 30th August, 159 people had been reported as being killed by the floods, with 29 missing due to floods and landslides and 45 injured. The total is possibly even higher, with certain parts of Nepal having been kept out of contact by disrupted telecommunications and blocked transport links, and the full impact not yet entirely known, and difficult to comprehensively predict. What we do know so far is devastating.
Over 43,433 houses have been destroyed with 158,197 houses partially damaged. On top of this, many roads and bridges have obstructed, washed away or destroyed. The total population of the affected districts is 11.5 million; however, the damage from the flooding will likely have a knock-on effect across the country. Much of the flooded land is farmland; vital crops including rice, grains and livestock has been ruined or washed away. Concerns have already been raised about how this could likely cause food and resource shortages, with the Ministry of Agricultural Development estimating livestock losses of US$100 million.
There are also fears about access to healthcare for those who require it, particularly given the damage to roads and transport links. Health facilities in certain areas have been inundated, and there is a particular concern about water-borne diseases.
The Natural Disaster and Rescue Committee (NDRC), led by Minister for Home Affairs, is taking charge of the recovery. They have imposed restrictions on support being distributed through any channels outside the management of government authorities, to ensure support is provided equitably throughout all of the affected districts. On Friday 25th August the Humanitarian Country Team released a Joint Response Plan budgeted at US$41 million. However, international support for the floods currently only totals US$7 million. Two days later, on the 27th, the Central Natural Disaster Relief Committee released almost US$900,000 to start the recovery process.
While the concentrated relief efforts that we are seeing now and will see over the next few weeks and months are vital for helping those immediately affected by the floods, the importance of sustainable aid and investment that goes beyond disaster relief cannot be overstated. Nepal is still recovering from the damage done by floods in 2014 and the earthquake in 2015. What is required to safeguard Nepal against future disasters is investment that goes beyond urgent disaster relief, promoting self-sustainability that will develop and protect infrastructure and equip Nepali institutions, organisations and communities to be better able to deal with natural disasters and threats – investment that goes beyond immediate humanitarian aid, and helps Nepal to escape the resultant longer term negative social and economic effects of natural disasters.
Catastrophes such as the floods are primed to reinforce social and economic inequalities, particularly as it is some of the poorest areas in Nepal that are worst affected. For example, five of the affected districts were badly impacted by the 2015 earthquake, and four of the currently food-affected districts are still recovering from severe flooding in 2014. These districts, Banke, Bardiya, Dang and Surkhet are examples of how this kind of emergency can create an immediate increase in malnutrition rates, particularly when malnutrition is already an issue – following the 2014 floods, the already concerning high malnutrition rate in these districts increased by 15-20%.
Those people most able to receive help and recover effectively will be those already benefiting from investment and greater wealth. The poorest and most deprived communities will suffer the most harm, particularly if the predicted food shortages after the floods actually materialise. We in Kidasha work with some of the most vulnerable children and families in Nepal, including street and working children and more recently those forced to migrate to the cities having lost their homes and livelihoods in natural disasters. As such, we see first-hand the threat that exists and the harm that natural disasters inflict on the very poorest.
Humanitarian aid is absolutely crucial after crises such as these floods and the work that is being done is absolutely invaluable. But to ensure that this aid has the greatest possible impact, it must be followed up with meaningful and thoughtful investment into infrastructure, institutions and communities.
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