October 13, 2020
By Dharam Raj Uprety, Bikram Rana and Krity Shrestha
Improving governance is one of the key priorities of Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction as well as the DRRM strategy and action plan of Nepal 2018-2030. Rightly, the theme for 2020 International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDR) is “It’s all about Governance”. Strengthening disaster risk governance at national and local levels is extremely important for an effective and efficient management of disaster risk as well as achieving the targets of the Framework. As we observe the IDDR in the midst of COVID 19 pandemic, it is urgent that we think about addressing multi hazard risk. Nepal has taken some proactive steps to improve overall governance of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) and mainstream it into development planning process. However, there is a long way to go so that the needs of disaster vulnerable communities can be addressed. Ongoing reforms in implementing federalism provides opportunity for Nepal to institutionalise DRRM friendly governance and address existing challenges.
Nepal’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Act 2017 has outlined the roles and responsibilities of federal, provincial, and local governments to reduce disaster risks and manage the impacts. Ministry of Home Affaires (MoHA) is the focal agency for this but it primarily works on disaster response. Emergency Operation Centers are provisioned at federal, provincial and local level which as their name suggest, are focused on emergency response. National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA) has been formed with key mandate to disaster preparedness, prevention and mitigation.
Photo: FRMC results sharing at Simreni community.
Several other institutions including the Ministry of Federal Affairs, and General Administration (MoFAGA) have stake in disaster preparedness. The Local government operation Act 2017, mandates provincial and local governments to oversee the disaster risk reduction and management aspects through Provincial level DRRM committee and local level committees in Palikas as well as at ward level.
Agencies such as the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) and NDRRMA, are responsible for risk analysis, and risk information and early warning dissemination in regards to hydro meteorological hazards and potential disasters.
Furthermore, a range of donors, international and national non-governmental organizations support government’s initiatives to reduce disaster risks and building resilience.
The DRR institutions at large, seem to work in silos. There are coordination challenges at both vertical (Federal – Provincial – Local governments) and horizontal (inter agency) levels. As an example, the NDRRMA has no mechanism yet to establish direct connections with provincial and local governments. It has to rely largely with other agencies for obtaining risk information e.g. hydro-met hazard with DHM, information on disaster impacts from the district administration offices. But it doesn’t have mandate to provide direct guidance to local and provincial disaster risk management committees.
The DHM is providing risk information to wider audiences through different communication channels, however, it’s reach to vulnerable and marginalized sections of society is still limited. The information provided is not sufficient for communities to understand it and act upon. Further, the communication is one way; and there are no systems for obtaining and responding to feedback to improve the dissemination and communication system. DHM basin offices do not have clear linkages with local and provincial governments to strengthen and sustain early warning system and reach to the end users. Context specific information to plan and implement risk informed and climate smart development is still to evolve.
Further down the line, municipality and local governments lack capacity to understand the unfolding risks in their proximity, and lack integrated plans, resources and mechanism to address those risks. The situation at Provincial governments level is similar.
As evident from above description, a number of institutions and policies exist in the country but right information and resources for their implementation are limited. The mechanism to monitor and report the effectiveness of implemented actions is very weak.
The pandemic has provided us with the opportunity to rethink our DRRM paradigm and also highlighted challenges that exist in our DRRM system. It has exposed the limitation of focusing on one hazard at a time. When it comes to effective resilience building, multi hazard response and management to tackle multiple crises happening at the same time is required. The discussion at this front has just begun. We are now understanding its importance, not only in Nepal but globally.
Practical Action’s work to improve local disaster governance
Practical Action Nepal through Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance is working to disaster preparedness and response in three municipalities in south-western Nepal – Geruwa, Tikapur, and Rajapur – by leveraging the data and knowledge produced through the Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FRMC) process. Furthermore, for strengthening of EWS work Practical Action is implementing “Strengthening end to end (E2E) flood Early Warning System (EWS) and Preparedness for Effective Disaster Reduction and Resilience in Nepal in major river basins, and supporting to local and provincial government.
In our engagement with the local governments, communities are the entry points for identifying their resilience needs and generating the political capital necessary to influence the local government planning process. This is a crucial component of good governance. We have aligned the FRMC process with the local government planning calendar; where in the community priorities are identified through participatory discussions so that the needs of women, men, and minority groups within the community are included. These are then shared with local community leaders which in turn taken up by the hamlet level committees and are negotiated at the ward and municipal planning processes, leading to increase DRR finance at local level.
With COVID 19, Practical Action in Nepal and at global level has taken to new ways of working with the communities and stakeholders. We have capacitated and prioritized CDMCs to lead COVID awareness at community level and supported the local municipalities for COVID prevention by tweaking our programs.
Key takeaway for strengthening of DRR governance
Drawing from the experience of Practical Action supporting resilience building in Nepal, we urge concerned stakeholders to prioritise the following 4 action areas in order to strengthen disaster governance at all level:
1.Prioritize risk informed early action and investment in planning process: Government agencies tend to prioritise infrastructure development, yet there is no acknowledgement that these gains can be reversed by disasters. We need better response at a time when climate change is driving more frequent and deadly disasters, however, there is a clear business case for shifting towards making investments in disaster prevention and preparedness. It is important that we focus on ex ante action with a multi hazard perspective.
2.Make Community Voice Central to Decision Making: The marginalized and most vulnerable are often left out in decision making and at best the representation is symbolic. Disasters are the direct result of decisions made without fully considering the realities of those who will be hit hardest. Our governance system requires transformation so that the institutional processes work with the most marginalised and vulnerable communities to identify and incorporate their needs. Furthermore, the community resilience building activities should build based on local knowledge and needs.
3.Strengthen inter-agency and inter-stakeholder collaboration: The implementation of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act based on the federal spirit is still evolving. It requires stronger inter-agency and inter-stakeholder collaboration. Multi-stakeholder collaboration is easier said than done. Nonetheless, Nepal has an opportunity to define the function and mandates of key agencies working in disaster risk reduction as well as clarify responsibilities and identify ways to resources required for implementation of risk reduction and management programs at the local level.
4.Capacity building of local and provincial government: There is a strong need to capacitate and make all 753 Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Committee (LDMC) responsible and accountable to save lives and livelihoods from disasters. These LDMCs need to be equipped with and connected to real time early warning system. Similarly, provincial government should also work to build its capacity when it comes to understanding DRR and establishing its role to support local governments in preparedness as well as collaborate with federal government. It is also crucial that governments understand and start discourse on addressing multi hazard risk and focus on ex ante actions.