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15 Jul 2022 | Koshi Basin Initiative

Stakeholders discuss building resilience to multi-hazard disaster risk in the Upper Koshi Basin

Sharmila Dhungana

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The Koshi River Basin, with its drainage area covering parts of China, India, and Nepal, is highly vulnerable to multiple hazards and climate change impacts. Recognising the need to address the basin’s issues through an interdisciplinary lens, we brought together over 25 stakeholders on 9 March 2022 for a roundtable discussion on ‘Policy and institutional analysis of multi-hazard disaster risk resilience for transboundary cooperation in the Upper Koshi Basin’.

The panel included experts in disaster risk reduction (DRR), foreign policy, trade, and hydropower investment. The discussion primarily revolved around exploring the cooperation framework between Upper Koshi Basin countries, particularly on DRR and disaster risk elements in current investments in the basin.

Key discussions

Impact of disasters on hydropower and trade

Ashish Garg, Vice President, Independent Power Producers Association (IPPAN), noted that hydropower investors are increasingly becoming aware of the impacts of climate change on hydropower development. This was especially felt when a GLOF event in 2016 caused the shutdown of the 45 MW Upper Bhote Koshi hydropower project. Garg stated that such incidents are eye-openers that help prioritise understanding of climate change impacts and related risks during planning and implementation of hydropower projects.

Paras Kharel, Research Director, South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics, and Environment (SAWTEE), highlighted how disasters have a direct impact on trade between China and Nepal, citing the 2015 Nepal earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic as examples when exports from Nepal to China drastically fell, impacting the lives and livelihoods of trade-dependent communities.

Transboundary collaboration on disaster risk reduction and emergency response

Anil Pokhrel, Chief Executive, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA), shared some of the key bilateral measures undertaken by the basin countries to address the issues of transboundary DRR and management. Particularly, a MoU signed between Nepal and China in 2019 lays a strong foundation for cooperation in DRR and emergency response. The MoU highlights nine areas for collaboration, including establishing information platforms and training centres, monitoring natural hazards, implementing DRR projects, and organising cross-learning among government bodies.

Pokhrel also talked about how the collaboration between cross-border countries played out in the 2021 monsoon, when the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu facilitated information exchange with NDRRMA about the possibility of a lake breach in China. While the role of government and national agencies in the relay of early warning information is crucial, the panel emphasised that vulnerable local communities can be primary actors for preparedness and response during disaster events. Thus, it is crucial to sensitise, train, and equip upstream and downstream communities with the knowledge and tools for adaptation and mitigation measures.

Need of risk assessment information

Pokhrel also noted that the NDRRMA hosts the Building Information Platform Against Disaster (BIPAD) portal, developed by pooling all credible digital and spatial data on disasters and disaster risks. The panel members agreed that such data management platforms not only enhance existing knowledge about risks of disasters but also help hydropower investors and policymakers to guide climate-friendly decision making.

Pramod Jaiswal, Research Director, Nepal Institute for International Cooperation and Engagement (NIICE), shared that information, technology, and experience sharing between the basin countries can greatly strengthen transboundary collaboration and aid DRR efforts. Portals such as BIPAD could be leveraged strongly to foster such knowledge exchange between individuals and institutions across boundaries.


Way forward

Knowledge exchange between institutions in the Upper Koshi Basin countries on DRR will be crucial for effective risk minimisation and adaptation. Also, leadership activities from the local level, backed up by the central level, are important for the success of DRR initiatives.

DRR is a multi-stakeholder issue, particularly when it comes to risk knowledge and management, so collaboration among various relevant actors is imperative. The private sector is one of such stakeholders whose role in DRR is increasingly crucial. Investment in technologies such as early warning systems could be an important avenue for involvement of the private sector. Moreover, the hydropower sector taking issues of climate change into close consideration in its activities would be one of the key steps towards tackling multi-hazard risks.


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