[Nepali Times] After the coronavirus, the deluge

जुन 10, 2020

With the monsoon coming, Nepal villages in lockdown brace themselves for annual floods

Nepali Times

June 10, 2020

With the monsoon rains around the corner, Nepal’s flood prone communities which are reeling under lockdowns will soon also have to deal with annual inundation.

The floods may actually make people more vulnerable to COVID-19 as they move to higher ground to escape the rising waters and seek refuge in crowded evacuation shelters which could become breeding grounds for the virus.

Moreover, flood induced impacts such as loss of housing, damage to critical infrastructure including health facilities and exposure to contaminated water all make up a favourable environment for the coronavirus to spread and thrive.

“The monsoon season is an extremely difficult time for our community and it will be very challenging to respond to floods and safely evacuate people as we cannot ensure distancing,” says Laxmi Ghartimagar, Community Disaster Management Committee member in Kailali District.

Yet western Nepal, reeling under the spread of coronavirus among migrant returnees and their families is unprepared for floods which have become more destructive in recent years due to haphazard infrastructure development and extreme weather caused by climate change.

In an assessment conducted by Mercy Corps and Practical Action, members of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, across five districts of the western Tarai, over half of the flood evacuation sites were found not to have hand washing facilities while over 80% lacked quarantine facilities.

The report, Avoiding a perfect storm: COVID-19 and floods in Nepal, surveyed Community Disaster Management Committees (CDMCs) in 46 flood prone communities in Baitadi, Bardia, Dadeldhura, Kailali, and Kanchanpur districts from 5-15 May through phone interviews about their plans to respond to floods and COVID-19.

“COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations, many of whom are already on the front lines of the climate crisis,” says report’s co-author Yoko Okura of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance. “The pandemic makes it infinitely harder for families to cope with the upcoming monsoon season, with communities already reporting challenges in meeting basic needs such as food and water.”

Indeed, the prolonged lockdown has also meant that Nepalis are facing increased economic hardships and food insecurity. In fact, 60% of communities reported food shortages, with marginalised groups such as the Dalit population in dire situation. One in five communities surveyed would be cut off from health services in an event of flood or landslide.

Only 17% of communities have quarantine facilities, and 22% of those are at risk from flooding and landslides. 43% of flood evacuation sites lack hand washing facilities, and 57% do not have hand soap in stock.

Experts say aid agencies and the government should increase funding to build and maintain hand washing facilities in evacuation sites and distribute soap ahead of the monsoon season, as well as construct additional quarantine and isolation centres with adequate drinking water and sanitation facilities to prepare for hundreds of thousands of Nepali migrants returning from overseas in the coming months.

Says Bikram Rana of Practical Action and co-author of the report: “Now more than ever, we must invest in building community resilience to climate chaos shocks like more intense storms that lead to floods, and we must do this alongside helping people fight the COVID-19 pandemic.”

(The article was originally published in Nepali Times on June 10, 2020. The news article can be accessed here.)