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15 Jan 2020 | News

Disasters beyond boundaries: Experts agree on regional cooperation to build resilience in the Koshi basin

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Water-induced hazards are common in the Koshi basin, and disasters can cross boundaries, as we saw with the late July and early August 2019 floods that affected hundreds of thousands of people across South Asia. With floods across South Asia. Upstream hazards lead to disasters in downstream areas, affecting millions of people, while activities downstream can have impacts upstream. Moreover, extreme weather events have cascading impacts and are expected to increase in frequency and magnitude because of climate change and environmental degradation. Although there have been efforts to improve disaster risk reduction (DRR) in the Koshi basin, policies and practices need to address upstream–downstream linkages of water-induced hazards at the basin scale.

Focusing on these linkages and the transboundary nature of disasters, the Bihar State Disaster Management Authority (BSDMA), with support from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Caritas India, Plan International, and Yuganter, hosted a high-level country consultation on building a resilient Koshi basin in Patna, India from 30 to 31 July 2019. The workshop aimed to develop a shared understanding of disaster risks and improve collaboration at various levels for building resilience in the Koshi basin.

Emphasizing the role of collaboration between diverse stakeholders in the basin, Abhijit Mukherjee, Plan India State Programme Coordinator for Bihar, said, “Collective action across countries, communities, and stakeholders is important for ensuring disaster resilience in the Koshi basin. The consultation is an important forum to plan and work collectively.”

The 2019 monsoon brought torrential rainfall to many parts of India and Nepal, resulting in flash floods and landslides that led to a number of deaths and affected hundreds of thousands. More collaborative practices that reduce risks to such disasters are necessary. For example, the community-based flood early warning system (CBFEWS) in the Ratu River has helped communities in Nepal share information on the rise and fall of water levels with communities living downstream just across the border in India. Commenting on the effectiveness of CBFEWS, Sanjay Pandey, Executive Director at Yuganter, remarked, “The transboundary collaboration between communities of Nepal and Sitamarhi in India during the 2017 flood and in 2019 has shown that telemetry-based early warning systems can be highly effective when coupled with a human interface.”

The country consultation on the Koshi basin discussed how such practices can be supported by relevant policies and practices, incorporated into the broader DRR framework of governments, and upscaled to other tributaries. It also discussed ways to incentivize upstream communities to relay this important and life-saving information to at-risk communities downstream.

Effective cooperation can be achieved by sharing knowledge and fostering practices that address the transboundary scale of disasters, which stakeholders often struggle with. The recently established Koshi DRR Knowledge Hub (KDKH) seeks to facilitate discussion and collaboration among stakeholders in the basin to approach disasters through a comprehensive, transboundary perspective. The KDKH promotes collaboration through transboundary working groups on floods, landslides, sedimentation, and glacial lake outburst floods, which provide a basin-level perspective to decision makers in China, India, and Nepal. Country chapter focal points for the KDKH were identified during the country consultation in Patna. The participants at the consultation also discussed how they could contribute to and benefit from the platform.

“To improve livelihood options in the Koshi basin, we need to build on existing knowledge and develop policies and practices that benefit communities. For this we must work together across borders and disciplines and the KDKH is a platform for such efforts”, said Kanchan Shrestha, Programme Coordinator, Koshi Basin Initiative, ICIMOD.

Over 85 participants agreed to collaborate through the KDKH, where they can share their experiences and learn from stakeholders beyond Nepal. Referring to the possible areas of collaboration discussed at the meeting, Abhishek Kumar, Programme Officer at Caritas India, said, “The programme is aimed at building safer and resilient communities in the Koshi basin by initiating a knowledge hub to inform DRR efforts. This hub will work towards addressing various DRR issues and will also help members in addressing climate change and environment and livelihood issues through engagement with stakeholders at various levels.”

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