Learnings from August 14, 2014 Karnali River floods in Nepal

Monday, October 5, 2015

The PERC report “Urgent case for recovery: what we can learn from the August 2014 Karnali River floods in Nepal” is an attempt to analyze the Karnali floods of August 2014 and identify opportunities for improving flood risk and disaster management in Nepal.

Focusing on the disaster management landscape as a whole, including disaster risk reduction, preparedness, response and recovery, the flood events, impacts, response and recovery to understand what happened, what could have been done differently, and opportunities for action, the post event review was conducted by ISET International, ISET-Nepal,Practical Action Nepal and Zurich examined two rivers, Karnali and Babai river in Kailali and Bardiya districts.

Monsoon arriving later than normal in 2014 in western Nepal, high intense rainfall was received in the foothills of Karnali and Babai River on 14th and 15th of August, 2014. The analysis suggested that the extreme floods that strike Karnali River in 2014 could be one of the very rare events with minimal probability to occur in any given year.

The major flood in the Karnali River in mid-August 2014 caused the loss of 222 peoples and affected 120,000 others, damaging infrastructure and property. Babai River bank communities in Bardiya suffered greater losses than the communities along the bank of Karnali in Bardiya and Kailali. The former situation was due to problems that arose in communicating warnings, people’s perception of their flood risk, the presence of embankments on the western side of the Karnali River that shunted floodwaters into land and communities in Bardiya on the eastern side of the Karnali, and a major embankment breach upstream of the Babai Bridge. Loss of life in Kailali and Bardiya districts, however, was minimal, particularly considering the scale of the event. The destruction of physical infrastructure led to setback of economy and hugely affected the recovery process.

Based on the research and learnings from flood in the area in 2014, some recommendations were made through the PERC report for improving flood resilience which includes:

  • Relevant Disaster management and infrastructure planning should be prepared based on the needs and demand and active participation from local community, stakeholders which allows for the development of local innovations and solutions. Planning also needs to address not only what is expected to happen, but also the unexpected.
  • Flood protection systems (embankments) need to be designed considering sedimentation rates, the possibility of safe failure giving the space to the river, and accounting for the increasing trend in rainfall intensities that has been observed over the past two decades. All the infrastructural system needs to have built-in redundancy continue to work during and after extreme events of flood.
  • The EWS in the area should be further strengthened by addressing single points of failure (e.g., battery backups, gauge-reader backup), improving communications protocols, and increasing local awareness of risk which than can be replicated throughout the country. Early warning can be further strengthened by linking upstream and downstream communities as an alternative way to transfer information in the lack of warning systems.
  • Disaster management allocations need to be more consistent and substantial for disaster preparedness, livelihoods development and support and resilient recovery. The disaster management efforts should be collaborative and coordinated among all the sectors and between the organization and government stakeholders.
  • To better conduct relief efforts and distribution, the gap in the availability of disaster data has to be addressed. Hazard maps should be created in order to create better understanding of the risks of vulnerable population which allows private and public sectors to take risks into consideration during planning and development.
  • Along with meeting the daily needs of the household, the social recovery programs should initiate household to begin recovery by themselves. Such programs could include making it simpler for households and small businesses to access loans. These programs could also provide short-term employment opportunities (i.e., repairing and rebuilding damaged infrastructure) and offer livelihood and skills-based trainings that take into account the market for the skill, the raw materials needed, and whether those materials are locally available.

The 2014 Karnali floods, however being small in compared to 2013 Uttarakhand floods, 2010 Indus flood, and 2008 Koshi floods, they all share common flood drivers, social vulnerabilities and way infrastructure amplified hazards. Collaborative trans-boundary planning and knowledge/information transfer across the country helps to reduce the potential hazard followed by the strategies made without adequate knowledge of basin dynamics in one country. This also provides an opportunity to develop international, cross-boundary collaboration around learning, planning and management.

Both the developed and developing nation possess similar social and institutional barriers-perception of risk, regulatory process and systemic discrimination to achieve resilience better planning and regulatory processes and more equitable policies are needed.

The genesis of Karnali flood suggests that the nation needs to improve their resilience to potential hazards. The research strongly indicates that the management system for the disaster in Nepal has to be strengthened and the recommendation made by the report needs to be adopted.

Read the report here.

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