Lessons from Nepal’s 2015 Earthquake – Part IV

David James Molden
Eklabya Sharma
Gopilal Acharya

Build strong  knowledge base

Countries in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, like Nepal, are highly susceptible to geo-hazards posing grave risk to settlements and infrastructures. This is where knowledge and specialized institutions can play a critical role by providing geo-information to the governments and other actors with satellite-based data and analyses to inform rescue and relief. Similarly, an inventory of landslides, landslide flood dams, avalanches, and GLOFS, their categorization according to associated risks, and susceptibility zoning is essential for the relocation of inhabitants, resettlement, and construction. In the long-term, risk identification, hazard zoning, and proper land use planning are recommended.

A robust and dynamic knowledge base should be created taking into account: seismic activities in the Himalayan Arc, hazard mapping, risk identification and mitigation measures, and resilience knowledge about mountain people. The knowledge base should be linked to end-to-end information flow systems for response, and critical information should be available at the lowest administrative units like VDCs in Nepal or Gewogs in Bhutan. The knowledge base must also feature pre-disaster information focusing on: livelihood framework for short-, medium-, and long-term interventions; geo-hazards assessment and mitigation framework; environmental security framework; and earthquake safety building codes and enforcement systems should exist.

Post-disaster trauma and vulnerable groups

About 4.1 million people within 75 km and 1.4 million within 50 km radius were exposed to intense ground shaking in the Nepal earthquake (UNISDR, 2015). The disaster claimed lives, displaced people, wiped out homes, damaged infrastructures, and crippled people’s lives. Many people witnessed the death of their loved ones, friends, and neighbors. They saw damage and destruction first-hand. The psychosocial consequences of the earthquake was felt at various levels – individual, family, and community levels.

There is a need to create system for post-disaster crisis and trauma counseling as longer-term recovery and rehabilitation are considered. This must not only take into account obvious physical injuries but also psychological impacts. Studies have shown that psychological problems among earthquake survivors do decline over time, however, a small segment could continue to experience persistent trauma. Therefore, it is important this segment of people receive continuous care and treatment until they recover fully. Marginalized and vulnerable groups like women and children might require extra effort in post-disaster care as they are most likely to be victims, yet are least likely to have easy access to these facilities.

Of the total deaths of 8,773 people, 55% were female (NPC, 2015). In the village of Barpak, the epicenter of the earthquake, 70% of deaths constituted women. It was reported that women, children, senior citizens, and minorities were the most vulnerable segments, and women alone constituted the single largest disadvantaged group to be adversely affected across key sectors (NPC, 2015). Women need special focus, given that there were media reports of sharp increase in flesh trade and trafficking after the earthquake.

Build resilience: livelihood recovery

Livelihood recovery should be the top priority in the reconstruction and recovery process after a major disaster. Livelihood recovery requires a comprehensive strategic plan that involves efficient multi-organizational coordination with clear communication, defined roles and responsibilities for the different actors, and strong governance (ICIMOD, 2015b). The plan must take into account the biophysical and socio-economic characteristics of earthquake-affected regions. A livelihood recovery strategy should ensure the long-term sustainability and resilience of livelihoods to future disasters. It must be people-centered, participatory, pro-poor, gender inclusive, transparent and accountable, environmentally sustainable, and recognize mountain specificities. It requires engaging and coordinating diverse stakeholders, strengthening the skills and capacity of affected people, tapping the potentials of internal and external job markets, facilitating structural transformation from low to high productive sectors, ensuring gender equity and social inclusion, promoting community empowerment, and integrating ecosystem and biodiversity conservation into the livelihood recovery process. For Nepal, revitalizing farming and tourism sector, and revitalizing micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises were critical in the revitalization of livelihoods.

Livelihood recovery interventions usually include three overlapping phases of livelihood provisioning (relief-based operations), livelihood protection (restoration to pre-disaster conditions), and livelihood promotion, in terms of improving the pre-existing conditions by reducing the structural vulnerability of the whole livelihood system (ICIMOD, 2015b). However, the success of a post-disaster recovery programme will depend very much on how well an enabling policy and institutional environment is created beyond reconstruction. It is important to explore innovative recovery models by encouraging private sector participation to maximize synergies. For example, construction materials could be sourced locally instead of importing them at a higher price from abroad. The focus must be to develop an institutional framework to allow better disaster mitigation and risk management for future natural disasters through knowledge gathering, sharing, and dissemination, and by developing innovative tools to engage community participation for reconstruction efforts talking into considerations socio-cultural, environmental, and economic aspects in the mountain environment.

The emphasis must also be on learning vital lessons from similar experiences elsewhere and adopting good practices and innovative options for post-disaster livelihood recovery. Synergies must be created to harmonize multiple initiatives from multiple agencies, and the government must create enabling support mechanisms and ensure adequate resources. In the long-term, the focus must be on building resilience. Experiences show that building community resilience to shocks is more cost effective than humanitarian response. A stronger livelihood base for people is the essential building block of resilience. For Disaster Risk Reduction this can be conceptualized around three pillars: capacity building for better risk assessment, and for forecasting and communicating early warning messages to the last mile; institution building for good risk governance at regional, national, river basin, and community levels; and the choice of appropriate technologies for developing information systems for forecasting and early warning, and technologies for improving infrastructure safety to make them climate resilient.

Contributed by David Molden, Eklabya Sharma, Gopilal Acharya

David Molden (PhD) is the Director General of Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD); Eklabya Sharma (PhD) is ICIMOD’s Director of Programme Operations; Gopilal Acharya (formerly ICIMOD’s Communications Specialist) is a Thimphu-based independent consultant.

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