By Feenzu Sherpa
In Nepal, monsoon season is a blessing for some and a curse for others. While some enjoy good harvest due to rains, others lose family members and are rendered homeless due to monsoon-induced disasters.
The damages caused by recent floods and landslides in several districts, including Sindhupalchowk, Lamjung and Manang, have laid bare the authorities’ reactionary manner of working.
Disasters triggered by monsoon rains have become a regular occurrence for Nepalis so much so that some are even desensitized to the reports of monsoon-related deaths.
Roughly around 75 percent of Nepal is covered by mountains with fragile geological structure as well as tectonically active zones, which makes the country prone to landslides and slope failure.
Many villages and human settlements are situated on previous landslide sites or adjacent to unstable hills which are reactivated time and again.
The floods on June 15, 2021 in various districts inundated hundreds of houses while many people are still missing. Moreover, the devastating monsoon-induced calamities have dealt a fatal blow to the already beaten-down infrastructure of Nepal.
Floods in Manang destroyed several roads, bridges, electricity poles and network towers, leaving hundreds of families disconnected from other parts of the country.
As neighboring villages within the district are located at a minimum of 5-6 hours’ walk, communication and help within the local communities are a bane.
According to Dr Nimananda Rijal, a natural calamity expert and member of the National Reconstruction Authority, unplanned settlement is main the reason for constant damages caused by floods and landslides in Nepal.
“In many areas, human settlements started with people staying near water sources. More people followed this trend with no regular checks from the government. During the process, people have bulldozed hills and blocked natural waterfalls. The same blocked waterfalls can be a major trigger for landslides during heavy rainfall,” Dr Rijal said.
“If people see unchanged water level in flood-risk areas, they think the location is safe to move to. So, in some areas, we can say that people are encroaching upon the path of water bodies rather than water bodies entering into human settlements,” said Rijal.
Dr Rijal added that the government should be accountable, but it hasn’t been able to effectively handle the yearly monsoon-related disasters. “We can’t blame a single government as lack of proactive measures to prevent monsoon-related disasters and losses are age-old problems.”
“Most of the people living near riversides have no other land to shift while some are able to operate their business only in such places. For instance, all highway areas in Nepal have eateries on riversides. People choose eateries facing riversides to enjoy the view.”
While business owners pick riversides to run profitable eateries, the government persistently fails to relocate such settlements to low risk areas.
Shanta Thakali, a resident of Taal village in Manang, said that the recent flood destroyed everything she had achieved till date.
“I am a single mother to a 14-year-old son. I had turned my house near the Upper Manang trekking route into a hotel for tourists. The hotel was running well until it was flooded. I lost my home and business at the same time,” she mourned.
Taal is a small village situated on the banks of Marsyangdi River.
Though the flood swept away Shanta’s house, she said she would reconstruct it and restart her business because that land is her only property.
A natural disaster expert, Jyoti Koirala, agrees that the settlements in high-risk areas need to be timely relocated with proper facilities and compensation.
“The government has been warned about a possible increase in landslides and floods since the massive 2015 earthquake. There are several studies and researches that show rural settlements in Nepal are at risk, but the government is barely concerned about monsoon-induced disasters and destruction of property,” he said.
Besides the loss of life and property, several other factors affect the lives of disaster survivors. Their toilets are washed away by floods and they are forced to defecate in the open, which invites health risks such as diarrhea, typhoid and cholera.
Women are cramped up with men in temporary rescue camps, and are not only robbed off of their privacy but also become vulnerable to sexual harassment as well as abuse.
The risk of COVID-19 spread has also heightened due to people being rendered homeless after floods and landslides.
Dr Kamal Pahari, a public health expert, said that monsoon-related disasters had added to the challenges in controlling COVID-19 spread.
“Natural calamities have added to the already dilapidated state of the nation owing to COVID-19 pandemic. People who lost their houses to floods and landslide, and were on the verge of death, get agitated when we ask them to wear masks and use sanitizers,” Pahari said.