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Nepal needs better disaster warning systems
  • Nepal needs better disaster warning systems

Copyright: Krish Dulal

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  • Nepal’s disaster warning systems are inadequate

  • Poor regional data sharing blamed

  • South Asia countries could do with joint monitoring

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[KATHMANDU] The floods that hit Nepal in June and July have exposed gaps in its early warning systems (EWS) and highlighted the need for better regional cooperation, especially by its large neighbour to the south, India.  
 
Of the 280 rainfall monitoring centres located across Nepal, 60 have been upgraded over the last five years to provide real-time data. Yet, floods and landslides over the last six weeks have left more than 50 people dead.
 
"We are working on rainfall run-off modelling and hazard mapping to make the existing EWS more effective," says Rajendra Sharma, chief of flood forecasting at the department of hydrology and meteorology (DHM), Kathmandu.
 
Experts partly blame the lack of a regional information sharing system for the yearly loss of life and property. "We did not receive any information from India’s meteorological stations about the magnitude of rainfall and the subsequent flood that unleashed havoc in the Indian state of Uttarakhand that borders Nepal," says Sharma.
 
Uttarakhand received about three-and-a-half times more than normal rainfall in June, but the information was not conveyed to the bordering Nepali town of Darchula. There are no hydrological monitoring stations for flood forecasting and early warning on the Mahakali river that flows from western Nepal into India.
 
"Despite the formation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) disaster management system in 2006, South Asian countries continue to work in isolation," says Jib Raj Pokhrel, director of the Nepal Centre for Disaster Management, Lalitpur.  
 
"The SAARC countries' disaster management policies focus on relief and rescue rather than working collaboratively to prevent and minimise the effects of floods and landslides," Pokhrel told SciDev.Net.  SAARC includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
 
The regional body remained passive through the Uttarakhand flood tragedy in which 5,000 people perished. "We haven’t done anything concrete besides attending annual programmes," Rishi Ram Sharma, director-general of DHM, told SciDev.Net.
 
Meanwhile, the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), in partnership with the World Meteorological Organisation and Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, is working to establish a regional flood information system to share real-time data and strengthen flood forecasting. 
 
"South Asian countries must jointly establish monitoring stations for flood forecasting and trans-boundary basin management to improve lead time and accurate forecasting," says Mandira Shrestha, water resource specialist at ICIMOD. "Or else there’ll be another tragedy like Uttarakhand with ripple effects across borders."

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