Floods and landslides batter Nepal while the country battles the second wave of the pandemic

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Kathmandu: Landslides and floods triggered by monsoon rains have battered various hilly and mountainous districts across Nepal.

A total of  21 people have lost their lives, nearly two dozen people are missing and more than 19 people have been severely injured by the disasters across the country from April 14 till June 20, according to data maintained by the Natural Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA).

The authority has estimated the loss worth Rs 56.24 million due to recent natural calamities from mid April. The actual cost of loss could be even more and the details of damage and loss are yet to be collected.

The disasters come at a time when the country is already reeling under a deadly second wave of Covid-19, which has left 8,675 people dead, and around 650,000 people infected.

As the country’s health system is already stretched to a breaking point, there is doubt whether the government will be able to respond quickly to the recent calamities triggered by the monsoon. 

Experts warn that the situation will only get worse in the days to come and the people living in disaster-prone areas will be in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Casualties triggered by monsoon 

Some mountainous districts have been hit hard by massive landslides and flash floods triggered by the deadly monsoon. Sindhupalchok has been hit the worst.

Similarly, Manang and Lamjung,  districts that lie in the Annapurna Circuit west of Kathmandu, have also been affected by the latest disasters.

Metrologists have warned that there is no sign of weakening the monsoon that may trigger more disasters in other districts of the country. 

As the country’s health system is already stretched to a breaking point, there is doubt whether the government will be able to respond quickly to the recent calamities triggered by the monsoon. 

The District Administration Office in Dolakha has requested the locals living around the Tamakoshi River to stay alert, given the risk of flood due to the blockage of the river by landslides.

The water level in rivers across the country has already crossed the danger mark.

Last year, Nepal witnessed 500 major landslides, killing nearly 300, with 70 missing, and leaving hundreds of families homeless. This year could be worse.

Multiple hazards

The disasters come at a time when the country is grappling with the second wave of the pandemic. Even though the cases have declined of late, the country is not out of the woods yet, with the virus reaching even the remote villages across the country.

Moreover, there is a high risk of transmission of other water-borne diseases, with people settling in a closed space for shelter. 

According to Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division (EDCD), lack of proper accommodation, sanitation and safe drinking water can further deteriorate the “already collapsed” public health system.

“The unmanaged crowd in temporary settlements and open defecation are major threats to public health during calamities. This risks the spread of waterborne diseases and Covid 19 infection,” said Dr Marasini, adding there are little chances that all the people and rescue officials will follow proper health protocols during disasters.

Over the years, Nepal has seen a change in the pattern of weather, according to environmentalist Bhusan Tuladhar. “The extended dry season in Nepal resulted in massive forest fires across the country. And now, heavy rainfall at the start of the monsoon season has hit the country hard,” he said.

“The country has witnessed massive rainfall in high mountainous regions, and landslides in those areas have blocked rivers. The blocked rivers later burst and entered the settlements,” he said.

Questions over preparedness 

Nepal witnesses natural calamities during monsoon every year. Questions regarding the country’s preparedness come to the forefront every other monsoon season. 

The best way to minimize damage is to devise preparedness plans, which our country lacks, experts say.

Floos and landslide

Experts also point to the fact that while old institutions are dismantled and new ones are not in place as a major lapse on the preparedness part. For example,  arrangements such as Rapid Response Teams were at local levels to promptly respond to disasters at local level until a few years ago. “Apart from this, Disaster Preparedness Plans used to be developed,” said Marasini, adding that even hospitals used to have their own plans, and there used to be a buffer stock of medicines.

He said there is no effective mechanism in place at present. “In remote places, there are no well-equipped hospitals,” he said. “Where there are well-equipped hospitals and health posts, there are no doctors and staff.”