Flash floods and landslides in Nepal

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Nepal has mainly two types of river systems. First type includes big rivers which originate in China and flow downwards forming big catchment in Nepal. Second type comprises small streams and rivulets which originate in lower hills, the Churia, and flow down to Terai, the southern plains.

The August 12th floods that wreaked havoc in the country was mostly caused by the second type of rivers due to cloudbursts in the Churia. In most of the lower hill regions the rainfall within 24 hours was more than 400 mm. Banke district, in the mid-west, received 99.8 mm of rain in an hour. Due to this historic rainfall, the entire Terai plains (17% of the land in the country), except one district in central Terai, has been flooded at the same time.

These heavy flash floods affected 24 districts below the Churia range inundating about one-fourth of the country’s land. Severe affects has been reported in 6 districts ( i.e. Saptari, Siraha, Mahottari, Rautahat, Bankey and Bardia) of central and mid-western development region Meanwhile, landslides in the mid hills also triggered the situation affecting some mid hills and inner Terai districts.

As the terai region is famous for food production in the country, this flash flooding is expected to incur great losses to the agriculture sector. The Ministry of Agriculture, based on rapid assessment, recently reported that flood waters have wiped out NRs. 8.11 billion worth of crops. Private food storage and livestock amounting to billions were swept away by the surging water.

Human settlements including city area of the plains, critical infrastructures including airports and industrial complexes have also been affected severely. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) has declared that 143 people lost their lives, 30 more are missing and 43 are severely injured. According to MoHA, 79812 households have been completely damaged and 144444 households partially damaged in the flooding area. According to Initial Rapid Assessment (IRA), nearly 461,000 people (91,400 families) have been displaced from their homes. Same report mentioned that 80 schools and 10 health posts are completely damaged and 710 schools has sustained damage of varying severity. This has impacted more than 236000 school going children according to the Ministry of Education. Nepal flood security monitoring system estimated that 940000 people in flood affected areas are food insecure of which 300000 people (including children) require urgent food aid.

Terai and Churia region of the country is also famous for its biological hotspots. The Chitwan National Park, the home of the endangered one-horned rhinoceros as well as the world heritage site, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve (home of only wild duffalo available in Nepal), Bardia National Park (home of tigers) and Krishnasar Conservation Area (home of the highly endangered blackbucks) located in this region were highly affected by this floods.

All the roads remained submerged in the area. Biratnagar Airport, the largest airport in the Terai, got completely inundated and some major bridges in mid-west region were damaged. This has completely blocked the transport system in the area. It is reported that more than 50 villages remain inaccessible by road due to partial disturbances.

Most of the government offices, hospitals and market places were also submerged due to which critical situation aroused in the region. This situation was more severe in the rural municipalities which were near the streams flowing from Churia.

Flood effects in Practical Action project sites

The disaster risk reduction (DRR) related project sites of Practical Action fall under the flooded region. The working areas under the USAID funded End to End Early (E2E) Warning Project being implemented in eastern and central Terai got severely flooded. The Z Zurich Foundation funded Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) site being implemented in mid-western Nepal also got partially affected. However, the extent of the floods in NFRP project site was low as the river (i.e., Karnali) does not originate from Churia. The severe downpour submerged the community where NFRP is working; however the flood level as such in the Karnali did not cross the alert level. As both the rivers (i.e., Kankai and Kamala) where E2E project is being implemented originate from the lower hills, most of the communities were submerged.

Effectiveness of Practical Action’s DRR related activities

Biodyke resisted flood currents: The Nepal Flood Resilience Project implemented by Practical Action has supported local communities to construct biodykes in areas where bank erosion is a problem for local households. This has been found effective as it resisted the floods in the Orahi river originating from Churia and flows down to Karnali basin.

Emergency shelters were helpful: The NFRP has also supported local communities of Karnali river basin area to build emergency shelter houses in collaboration with local government and communities. These shelters were found highly effective in those areas to save people’s lives during emergency.

Community task force members worked effectively: Local task force members work very effectively in relief and rescue work at local level. In Karnali, submerging was due to downpour (not from real floods in Karnali), so the task force members (especially, search and rescue, first-aid and shelter management task forces) were found working as per the practice they did during the community flood mock exercises.

Early warning saved lives: The flood early warning system administered by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) was found to be institutionalised in the country. The DHM provided forecasted information in advance to all concerned stakeholders. The DHM also started to produce daily bulletin two times a day which consist of forecast information. The DHM used social media (Facebook and Twitter) regularly to disseminate the alert information. Though detail analysis of the EWS has not been done, stakeholders and people have shared that the EWS has helped them to take earlier action to save lives and movable goods.

Private sector contributed through Mass SMS:  Mass SMS, advocated by Practical Action in the past, has been found a regular practice of the DHM to disseminate alert/warning messages. The mass SMS was circulated in all river systems of the country and has been found very effective in sending messages to large number of people and stakeholders. NCELL, one of the key SMS service providers, alone mentioned that about 6 million SMS were sent by them. Same number of SMS can be expected from another company the NTC. This is a huge contribution made by private sector in saving lives and properties.

Responsive mechanism: Government mechanism of national and local level (e.g., National Emergency Operation Centre – NEOC, District Emergency Operation Centre – DEOC) was found to be active and responsive towards the early warning messages though preparedness in Nepal is still in primary stage. Connectedness of the DHM and NEOC/DEOC has been found more interactive to share alert messages and disseminate it to various subnational/local level authorities. The DEOC also issued formal bulletin based on the DHM information to give alert messages to local level authorities, local government and flood vulnerable communities.  In areas where local government is in place, the information collection and rescue/relief operation is more effective.

Current situation

The floods have receded and local communities who were partially affected have resumed their daily routine. People whose houses were completely damaged have been provided tents and plastics for temporary housing. Some people are taking shelter in public places like schools, temples and community houses. The government has been providing emergency materials to the most affected people. NGOs, INGOs and other humanitarian organizations are providing relief materials in close coordination with the district authorities and local governments. The blocked transport and airport started to operate, though some severely affected roads/bridges are still closed.

Practical Action is also working with Nepal Red Cross Society for providing emergency relief in Siraha and Jhapa districts (E2E project sites). In NFRP site, we have started working with local partner for assessing the effectiveness of our work during last week’s floods. We are also planning to conduct Post Event Response Capability (PERC) study and application of FRM tools for Post Event Survey in flooded area.

  This blog was first published in https://practicalaction.org/blog/news/flash-floods-and-landslides-in-nepal/ 

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