Nepal experiences natural disasters each year. Between 1971 and 2007, more than 50,000 people were reported injured, 3,000 people missing and more than five million people affected by natural disasters in Nepal (UNISDR 2009). Of 16 countries listed globally as being at ‘extreme risk from climate change over the next 30 years’, Nepal ranks fourth. The Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery at the UNDP ranks Nepal as the eleventh most at-risk country in terms of earthquakes and the thirtieth most at-risk for floods.
Natural hazards common to Nepal include earthquakes, floods, landslides and dam breaks, debris flow, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), avalanches, forest fires, drought and hailstorms. The frequency of natural disasters is increasing, and it is anticipated that global climate change will further exacerbate the vulnerability of Nepalese people.
Virtually the entire population of Nepal is at risk of natural hazards and/or the affects of global warming and climate change. However, specific subpopulations suffer significant consequences because they are either vulnerable to regularly occurring localized disasters that keep them trapped in poverty and food insecurity, or to an irregular large-scale disaster with the probable consequence of eroding development gains. The subpopulations were identified by Climate Change Vulnerability Mapping by Ministry of Environment in 2010.
Three subpopulations were identified as most vulnerable to natural disasters by overlaying likelihood of one or more hazards and heightened vulnerability to hazards:
• populations at risk due to earthquakes
• populations at risk due to flooding, landslides and GLOFs and
• populations at risk due to drought or erratic weather conditions.
Earthquakes are potentially the greatest threat, as most of Nepal lies in a high-risk seismic zone. In case of a high magnitude earthquake, 60 percent of all buildings are likely to be heavily damaged, and school and health infrastructure severely impacted. Up to 900,000 people may become homeless in the Kathmandu valley and 40,000 may lose their life, with another 95,000 injured. Such a disaster would significantly set back development progress made over the past few decades.
Floods and landslides occur every year. Overall 3.5 million people have been affected in Nepal by floods between ¬1971 and 2007. Most of them (2.4 million) were located in the Central Region and generally in the Tarai, in close proximity to riverbanks and floodplains. Landslides affect sloped areas throughout the country, especially districts in the Hills and Mountains.
Drought and erratic weather conditions are perhaps the most underreported disaster in Nepal, despite affecting most of the population. Poor farming households are most at risk, particularly those living in the Mid- and Far-Western Hills and Mountains and some districts in the Eastern Tarai.
Common causes for the populations at risk of disasters include a lack of adequate natural disaster management policy and implementation of policy, including insufficient community sensitization to the risk of disasters. Furthermore, there are other non-geographic factors that heighten vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change. Nepal’s most discriminated against religious, caste and ethnic groups, for example, are generally the most vulnerable members of society when a natural hazard occurs. They have the least land and often live in marginal or flood-prone areas. Socially discriminated against groups such as Dalits are also in a weakened position to access pubic services following natural disasters. The impact of natural disasters is found to be unequal across genders in terms of workload, decision-making power, financial status, and roles and responsibilities.
Attention on natural disasters and climate change has increased noticeably in recent years. The National Adaptation Programme of Action has helped raise awareness on climate change, and initiatives conducted by a number of government and development partners have increased response to natural disasters and particularly earthquakes.
In an effort to shift focus from the traditional relief and response approach to a more proactive and comprehensive approach, and with the Natural Calamity Relief Act 1982 as its main tool, the government designed the National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management in 2009, aligning with the Hyogo Framework of Action. The government’s Three-Year Interim Plan 2008/09–2010/11 also considered certain aspects of natural disaster management. In 2009, the government launched the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium as part of a long-term Disaster Risk Reduction Action Plan with support from various development partners including the UN.
The Ministry of Home Affairs is the apex government organization responsible for disaster management and coordination, with assistance from the police and army. Several other ministries including Local Development, Physical Planning and Works, Environment, and Finance as well as the National Planning Commission have been working on disaster preparedness, management and relief.
>UNDP supported the government to prepare the first National Plan of Action on Disaster Management in 1996 and the National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management in 2008. Many other organizations including the Nepal Red Cross Society have been involved in supporting food-insecure communities and disaster risk management. WFP in partnership with the Ministry of Local Development currently provide the largest social safety net in the country for households affected by drought, erratic weather or other factors that result in food insecurity.