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21 May 2020 | CBFEWS

Preparing for double trouble: Monsoon floods during the pandemic

Neera Shrestha Pradhan, Nishikant Gupta, Kanchan Shrestha & Shailendra Shakya

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Flooding in Bhittamore, India (2019): Response to the pandemic should be prioritized, but we also need to prepare for the approaching monsoon in light of the added risks and challenges at this time. (Photo: Ranjeet Jha, caretaker)

“The Terai region of Nepal is reporting new cases of COVID-19 with each passing day, and the local government and community are focused on containing this devastating pandemic which is impacting the lives and livelihoods of local communities. To make matters worse, the floods will be at our doorsteps in a month or so,” says Mahendra Karki, caretaker of the community based flood early warning system (CBFEWS) in Lalgarh, Ratu River, Nepal.

National and local/provincial governments in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region have prioritized public safety measures such as social distancing and lockdown to deal with this pandemic. These measures have their cascading impacts, and governments are devising strategies to address their fallout, especially with regard to stimulating economic recovery and providing livelihood security to local communities.  However, there is a seasonal disaster lurking around the corner – the annual monsoon floods in the numerous Himalayan rivers and tributaries. This presents additional challenges of managing disaster preparedness and response amid this pandemic.

Preparing for the flood

The pre-monsoon period is usually a time for flood preparedness activities involving local communities – mock drills, stockpiling of food and emergency supplies, ensuring the availability of suitable shelter and sanitation facilities for women and marginalized groups, maintenance of households and flood infrastructure required for generating and disseminating early warning, and reviewing rescue and relief protocols. This is also the time when community based early warning systems (CBFEWS) are maintained to ensure that they function during an event. This year, the critical care and attention demanded by the COVID-19 crisis has put these activities on the back-burner. This presents a grave dilemma: communities find themselves even more vulnerable, especially in a context where social distancing is a prevailing norm. This could impact on evacuation and shelter during a flood event, potentially also creating additional challenges for women and socially marginalized groups. Health facilities, already stretched to deal with the pandemic, could come under further strain as water-borne diseases spread. All this has the potential to create double trouble for the most vulnerable.

A normal monsoon

The South Asian Seasonal Climate Outlook Forum (SASCOF-16) has predicted a normal monsoon for South Asia, which is anticipated to account for around 75-90% of the annual rainfall between June–September this year. Whether or not a normal monsoon will include extreme events has become increasingly difficult to predict, so the potential for seasonal floods or localized flood events cannot be ruled out. Floods result in massive displacement and loss of lives and livelihoods and present a huge challenge for communities and local governments each year. Therefore, while we continue to deal with the pandemic as priority, there is a need to keep in mind the approaching monsoon and to review flood preparedness in light of the added risks and challenges at this time.

Below, we list some measures which could help in flood preparedness and response during the pandemic:

Raise awareness about possible flood events
Infrastructure provisions
Maintenance of flood warning instruments, where present
Update data and communication channels
Institutionalization

Note: The suggested measures have been compiled based on interactions with individuals and partners working on CBFEWS in ICIMOD’s project sites. For more information, please contact neera.pradhan@icimod.org

 

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