Author : Hari Bansh Jha

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Aug 19, 2017
India, Nepal need to plan a joint strategy to tackle floods Recent floods caused by incessant rains have wreaked havoc in different parts of Nepal, particularly in the low land of the Terai region. Floods and landslides have taken the tool to 123 lives.<1> Nearly 35 persons are still missing and about 100,000 families have been displaced. Altogether 2,847 houses have been completely destroyed. Of Nepal’s 28 million populations, 6 million people in Terai are directly affected by the floods.<2> With this region bordering northern Indian States of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, impacts of the Nepal floods across the border in India is also immeasurable. As many as 6.5 million people in 12 districts of north Bihar, including in Kisanganj, Araria, Purnea and Katihar, have been severely affected due to the floods in Nepal. About 78 people in Bihar have lost their lives since the monsoon started. Besides, monsoon floods have also caused havoc in 22 out of 75 districts of Uttar Pradesh where 33 people died due to monsoon rains.<3> Preliminary estimates suggest that 135 major irrigation projects, including Bagmati Irrigation Project, Narayani Irrigation System and Nepal Gandak West Canal, Koshi Pump Irrigation Project, Sunsari Morang Irrigation Project, Chandra Nahar Irrigation Project and Kamala Irrigation Project have been severely damaged on account of the floods. <4> Property worth billions of rupees has been destroyed. Nearly 80 per cent of the arable land in the Terai region has been submerged in water.<5> Planted crops worth over NRs. 8 billion was swept away.<6> Because the telephone lines and signal towers have been disrupted due to the floods, many of the villages have lost contact with other parts of the country. Today, millions of people in Terai have neither access to electricity nor drinking water and food. The government of Nepal claims that 26,700 people are engaged in rescue operations, which include 8,300 trained security personnel, 5,600 personnel from the Nepal Police, 1,700 personnel from the Armed Police Force and 1,000 personnel from the Nepal Army.<7> As claimed by the government, those people have already started distributing aid and relief materials like food, water, clothes, utensils, makeshift shelters, tarps and medicines among the affected families. For this purpose, 13 helicopters along with motorboats, rubber boats and other equipment have been dispatched to the affected areas. Moreover, the government has decided to provide NRs. 15,000<8> to flood survivors as an immediate relief measure. The decision has also been made to provide NRs. 200,000 as compensation to the families of those who lost their lives in the floods.<9> In order to ensure proper coordination in the distribution of relief materials, the Ministry of Home Affairs in Nepal has prohibited individuals and organizations from collecting funds for distributing relief materials to the flood victims. The concerned units have been asked to deposit the donations only in the accounts of Prime Minister's Disaster Relief Fund as per ‘One Door Policy’ of the Government of Nepal, which could be spent for the flood victims.<10> However, the reports coming from several flood affected districts suggest that people are not getting rescue and relief support as claimed by the government. Most of the flood victims are compelled to take shelter in public places like the schools and are on empty stomachs. Therefore, Shyam Chandra Jha of Nepali Congress stated, "I feel ashamed that the government led by my party has failed to distribute relief to victims."<11> In certain regions of Terai such as in Tilathi in Saptari district, the flood affected victims are so fed up with the government that they even refused to accept any support from the government in the form of relief materials. They feel that the government has done little for them.<12> What they want is a permanent solution to the flooding crisis and not the lollypop like relief materials. The locals of Tilathi feel that their problems would be over once an embankment was made to tame the waters from Khado and Jitta rivers.<13> There is a common perception in Nepal that the flooding problem in the Terai region is due to the construction of roads, dams and embankments across the border in India. There are 18 such structures next to the border. Such dams and embankments as the Kalkalwa embankment, Laxmanpur dam, Mahali Sagar dam, Rasiawal Khurdlotan dam across the border in India that have been built breaching the international law have obstructed the natural flow of river water from Nepal and thus caused floods and inundation of the lands.<14> Such high profile person as Nepal’s Minister for Energy, Mahendra Bahadur Shahi, recently stated that India constructed 1,620 kilometres of highways near to Nepal-India border along the no-man's land, which are 10 ft high and 60 ft wide.<15> He added, "The highways made by elevating the land next to the Nepal-India border have restricted the natural flow of water, leaving Nepal's Terai plains submerged during the rainy season." <16> Even the Koshi and Gandaki dams that are within the Nepalese territory, as built by India, are said to have submerged certain areas of Terai.<17> Other factors that have aggravated the flood situation in the Terai are man-made, but that hardly come into the picture. Over encroachment of Chure or Sivalik region of the Himalayas apart from the massive depletion of forest, sand and gravel mining in the region has worsened the flood havoc during the monsoon season in the Terai. Because of landslide and soil erosion in the region, there is heavy siltation in the rivers, which caused the river beds to rise. Earlier the forests used to suck much of the flood water, but now in its absence flash flood causes so much of devastations in the Terai region and also across the border in north India. In fact, the intensity of the disaster caused by floods has increased in the recent years. Environmental experts believe that such havoc is more likely to aggravate in future if no action is taken to check the encroachment of the Chure region, which is the lifeline of the people in Nepal’s Terai region and also for people in northern India. Chure range of the Himalayas is the youngest hills covering almost 13 per cent of the total land area of Nepal.<18> This region is threatened due to the surge in activities like the mining of the sand, gravel, stone and heavy construction of physical infrastructural facilities like the roads, dams and embankments. Though some efforts have been made in Nepal in the recent years to protect the Chure region in 29 districts of Terai and inner Terai under the President Chure Tarai Madhes Conservation Programme, the encroachment in the region is yet to be stopped.<19> It is for this reason that the rivers passing through this region now bring merely silt rather than manure affecting production and productivity of agricultural land. As a result, the Terai region along with the regions across the border in northern India is likely to turn into desert and bear the brunt of more floods if the encroachment of the Chure range continues unabated. Ironically, India did not make any response in regard to the floods in the Terai though its impact on the life of the people is more severe than an earthquake. During the earthquake in Nepal on April 25, 2015, India went out of the way in support of the victims in the hill and mountain regions of the country. But this time when the Madheshi people living right across the Indian border in the Terai are experiencing worst forms of disaster and many of them are struggling for their life, there is no such response from India. On the contrary, China which has very little to do with the Madheshi people has rather tried to exploit the situation caused by the conspicuous absence of India in the flood affected areas. During his recent tour to Nepal, the Vice-Premier of State Council of the People's Republic of China Wang Yang made an announcement to donate one million US dollar as an emergency fund to Nepal in support of the flood victims.<20> Now many people in the flood affected regions of the Terai are worried about the possible outbreak of communicable water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis E. So it is absolutely necessary to provide clean water to the flood victims or at least chlorine tablets to them to kill germs in available drinking water. Also, it is necessary to bring coordination between the various wings, including the government and its security agencies, NGOs, civil society and political parties to provide temporary shelters to the flood affected families, apart from daily meals such as packaged food. In view of the fact that Nepal's major political parties have hundreds of thousands of volunteers, they can do commendable service to the flood victims at this time of crisis. The government could also make a plan to deploy medical doctors and epidemiologists to the affected areas to save the precious lives of the victims of cholera, dysentery and other diseases. Also, it is necessary to protect the victims from mosquitoes so that they are not further victimized by diseases like malaria and dengue. As the government has taken the responsibility to provide rescue and relief services through its own apparatus, it has added responsibility to see that there is the adequate distribution of relief materials among the affected population. The government is also expected to construct houses for those who have become homeless in the same way as it has been doing in the case of earthquake victims. But what is feared is that the government does not have adequate capacity to distribute relief materials and provide rehabilitation to the flood affected the population in the entire Terai region and that too at a time the roads are cut-off from one place to the other at most of the locations. In such a situation, the idea of ‘one window system’ for the distribution of relief materials seems to be impractical. In certain quarters, there is a feeling that the system of ‘one door policy’ is intended to devoid the Madheshi people from receiving support in the form of relief materials from outside. When there was earthquake, there had been no such policy. Hence, the provision could be made whereby the donors are allowed to provide support to the flood victims by simply informing the local government bodies about it. Because of the geographical proximity and same destiny, Nepal and India have been facing common problems from the Nepalese rivers. As such, neither of these countries can so easily escape devastations to be caused by the floods or possible desertification if the encroachment of the Chure range of the Himalayas continues. Now the time has come for the two countries to make a joint strategy to prevent the growing menace of floods and desertification by making the best use of flood water through river interlinking project. Besides, the two countries could also jointly work for the environmental preservation of Chure range and other parts of the country through massive forestation programme. Such strategy could also address irritants like the inundation problem in Nepal during the monsoon season on account of the roads, dams and embankments constructed across the border in India. Also, India should maintain the same zeal in addressing the plight of the flood affected victims of Terai as it exhibited in the case of earthquake victims in the mountains and hills through rescue, relief and rehabilitation schemes. It is time to act rather than for blame game to sort out the flooding problem on a permanent basis.
<1> 160 Nepali rupees is equivalent to 100 Indian rupees. <2> Mandal, Chandan Kumar, "Tilathi villagers not to accept govt relief," the Kathmandu Post, August 16, 2017. <3> PTI, "Death toll in Nepal flddos climbs to 91," The Tiems of India, August 15, 2017. <4> Associated Press, “Flooding maroons people in Indian states, eases in Nepal,”The Himalayan Times, August 17, 2017. <5> Republica, "Damage to irrigation amounts to Rs. 2.42 billion," My Republica, August 17, 2017. <6> Republica, "Floods, landslides toll clumbs to 111," My Republica, August 16, 2017. <7> Dhungana, Sujan, “Floods swept away crops worth Rs 8bn,” The Himalayan Times, August 17, 2017. <8> Republica, no. 5. <9> Republica, "Govt decides to provide Rs 200,000 each to families of those killed in flood," My Republica, August 16, 2017. <10> THT Online, "Govt bars NGOs, individuals from collecting funds," The Himalayan Times, August 16, 2017. <11> Himalayan News Service, "Flood victims await relief, rehabilitation," The Himalayan Times, August 16, 2017. <12> Mandal, Chandra Kumar, "Tilathi villagers not to accept govt relief," The Kathmandu Post, August 16, 2017. <13> Ibid. <14> Upadhya, Nagendra, "Khanal says Indian dams causing Nepal floods," My Republica, August 16, 2017. <15> Ibid. <16> Panegi, Rudra, "Indian roads next to border caused tarai floods: Minister," My Republica, August 14, 2017. <17>Republica, "Indian dams caused flood havoc in Nepal: Bhim Rawal," My Republica, August 16, 2017. <18> Republica, "Experts blame Chure exploitation for tarai flood severity," My Republica, August 17, 2017. <19> Ibid. <20> Post Reporter, "Chinese govt to provide one million Us dollar as emergency fund," The Kathmandu Post, Ausut 16, 2017.
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Hari Bansh Jha

Hari Bansh Jha

Hari Bansh Jha is a Visiting Fellow at ORF. Formerly a professor of economics at Nepal's Tribhuvan University, Hari Bansh’s areas of interest include, Nepal-China-India strategic ...

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