25Nov2022

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Category: Blog

BlogThe Explainer - NIPoRe Blog

Reflecting on Nepal-India Flood Risk Management Cooperation

JURIA SATO Bajracharya

Domestic efforts and existing bilateral treaties

Some notable initiatives are underway in Nepal. The Disaster Risk Reduction National Strategic Action Plan (2018-2030) proposes priority actions in the short-term (2018-2020), medium-term (2020-2025), and long-term (2025-2030), assigning responsibilities within federal, provincial, and local governments. In 2019, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority was also established to coordinate, facilitate, and implement disaster risk reduction and management-related functions. Additionally, the Government of Nepal has developed an integrated and comprehensive one-stop Disaster Information Management System known as the Building Information Platform Against Disaster (BIPAD) portal, which is currently being localized.

On the bilateral front, while there have been several broad engagements around river management between Nepal and India, these have been limited. The two countries have often resorted to blaming one another for their shortcomings. There are different mechanisms to deal with flooding [for e.g. the secretary-level Joint Commission on Water Resources (JCWR), the Water and Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) that deals with trans-boundary water issues, and the Joint Committee on Inundation and Flood Management (JCIFM)]. Sadly, these engagements have remained relatively passive. For instance, flood forecasting, which includes the planning and implementation of the Flood Forecasting Master Plan, was discussed consecutively in the JCIFM between 2014-2017, but this was left off the agenda in the 12th JCIFM in 2018. Similarly, the JCWR meetings are to be held once in six months, yet only seven meetings have taken place since its establishment in 2000. Dynamic and iterative engagement is key to addressing this issue, but cooperation on both ends has stalled over the years.

At the regional level, the SAARC Disaster Management Centre (SDMC), a dedicated body for disaster risk management, was established to build the capacities of South Asian nations and implement the Comprehensive Framework on Disaster Management for South Asia. In its power, the SDMC has developed regional guidelines, built a collective emergency response mechanism, and conducted several technical training sessions. However, the volume of such initiatives has decelerated over the past years. Despite having elements of an effective structure in place, emergency responses at the SAARC level have not been deployed in the wake of the multiple calamities in the region. As such, it has not been able to sustain a robust disaster management framework in ways that would enable member countries to build their national capacities and respond through concerted coordination. 

Shifting approach beyond the blame game

India and Nepal have long accused each other of the trans-border floods. Amidst the pandemic in 2020, the state government of Bihar blamed Nepal for obstructing flood preparedness activities. Nepal, on its part, has raised growing concerns over how Indian infrastructure and development activities along the Koshi and Gandaki rivers and along the border have hindered the natural flow of water. Progress is also compounded by the issue’s complex geographical and political nature and discontent among vested interest groups. Highlighting India’s hegemonic status in past water treaties with Nepal, many scholars have argued that treaties like the Koshi agreement (1954) and the Gandak agreement (1959) have deprived Nepal of its fair share of benefits. Decades have passed since these agreements, and any further passive leadership might impede timely action for collective and coordinated flood risk management efforts.

As we mark the 75th year of Nepal-India bilateral ties, leveraging this moment to gear focus towards the protection of lives and livelihood of the hardest hit climate-vulnerable communities – particularly in Bihar and Terai region – is crucial. Such cooperation will help further the bilateral relations and directly impact the lives and livelihood of people on both sides of the border. Formal government-to-government cooperation mechanisms for flood risk management efforts have been in place for decades with limited focus. Civil society actors, non-government organizations, and the private sector could play an increasingly important role in shifting the current narratives of transboundary disaster management negotiations. In the region, initiatives such as the Bangladesh-India Sundarbans Region Cooperative Initiative (BISRCI) have been helping the two governments manage the Sundarbans sustainably since 2011. In Nepal, the Koshi Disaster Risk Reduction Knowledge Hub (KDKH) is working to foster transboundary collaboration on disaster risk reduction and strengthen science, policy, and interlinkages. It has convened dialogue annually since its inception in 2018, bringing together researchers and policymakers to explore ways of collaboration. These initiatives play an important role as enablers in fostering bilateral dialogues and should be leveraged in furthering regional cooperation.

With climate change exacerbating extreme flood events every year, cooperation in disaster risk management will be increasingly critical to better Nepal-India relations. Climate contexts in both India and Nepal are characterized by the uncertainty of monsoon rain patterns, risks of melting Himalayan glaciers, and vulnerable low-lying coastal cities. Furthermore, losses from climate change in GDP per capita for both Nepal and India are projected to be higher than the global average of ~7 percent, with Nepal facing a potential loss of 13 percent and India ten percent in 2100.

Flooding during the monsoon season is a natural phenomenon. Nepal’s Terai region of Nepal and Eastern India face growing hazards from glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) and bishyari floods, a type of flood that occurs due to the breaking of dams caused by landslides falling directly into rivers. Many rivers originate in the Himalayas and flow to the Bay of Bengal. Koshi, Gandaki, and Karnali rivers – the three largest river basins in Nepal – enter India through Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the most populous states in India. Given the number of lakes at risk of bursting across these basins, the strong upstream-downstream flood linkages, the changing patterns of extreme precipitation events, and the cascading impacts on lives and livelihoods, cooperation in disaster risk reduction and management cannot be overlooked.

Vulnerability to flooding Despite increasing risks of devastating flood impacts annually, the momentum around cooperation tends to surface only during the monsoon season when more priority should ideally be directed towards rescue and rehabilitation. Nepal has already witnessed multiple damaging floods over the past decade – notably the Koshi flood of August 2008, one of the most disastrous floods affecting 3.5 million people across both countries. The tragedy exposed the inadequacy of current flood management systems and warned of the changing climate patterns. In recent years, Nepal has witnessed unseasonal heavy rains shortly after the monsoon in October 2021, a month that is crucial for agricultural harvests. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development estimated a loss of NPR 8.26 billion worth of paddy crops across all seven provinces only due to the unseasonal rain and flooding. Recent flooding patterns and climate change in the region indicate flooding is no longer a seasonal concern.

This series of Nepal-India relations blog posts are published on the auspicious occasion of India’s 75th Independence Celebration.

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Indian coronavirus variant raises alarm for Nepal

Disclaimer: The opinion is of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of NIPoRe at an appropriate place.

A new, more infectious, and deadly mutated virus of COVID-19, called B.1.617, emerged in India, and has now spread globally. At a time when the pandemic seemed to be under control in South Asia, this variant has increased exponentially, leading to a collapse of the health system in India and Nepal. As of 12 May 2021, more than 254,225 lives have been lost in India with 23,340,938 new cases. Due to an open and unregulated border system, the rise of infected people is increasing rapidly in the border area creating a threat to Nepal.

The first wave of the coronavirus cases in Nepal were also from across the India border. The movement of migrant workers has affected people on both sides of the border. Nepal’s health ministry has recorded that a total of 413,111 people were infected, and 4084 people had died as of 12 May 2021.The health ministry has already issued a notice that our health systems cannot control the pandemic. According to the health ministry projection, by July 15, the country’s coronavirus tally could reach 6,00,000.

A 15-day prohibitory order has been enforced in the Kathmandu valley effective from 27th April and it has been extended till May 27. The Ministry of Health and Population says it is next to impossible for hospitals to provide beds for coronavirus treatment to all those who need hospitalization. The health system is unlikely to sustain the shocking rise in the number of coronavirus cases in the country. There has been a shortage of oxygen, beds, and ventilators. Doctors are looking after patients in the corridors and in tents. Due to the shortage, many hospitals have refused to admit coronavirus patients.

Given the first wave in Nepal too came from India, there were lessons that Nepal could have learned. What are the lessons that Nepal chose not to learn from the first wave, and is now facing in the second wave?

Lesson 1: As soon as India faced its second wave, the Government of Nepal should have been proactive regarding active contact tracing, mass testing and surveillance, but we did not. The testing needs to be made easily, available, and free of costs to people.

Lesson 2: There is a need for proper coordination between federal, state, and local governments. It is obvious that it is the best time to show the competency of local governments. They have to identify and look after their own vulnerable population particularly pregnant and lactating women, children, senior citizens, migrant workers and persons with disabilities. Relief packages should be distributed in an equitable manner. They must ensure that these facilities provide all basic amenities, including nutritious food, gender-friendly sleeping areas and clean toilets along with the provision of mental health service in the quarantine/ isolation center.

Lesson 3: As our health system has already collapsed, there needs to be a public private partnership and all private health institutions should work closely with the public system. Health desk and covid call center needs to be established.

Lesson 4: As per the research paper published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, in the first 3 months of 2020, nearly 6 000 people around the globe were hospitalized and at least 800 people may have died due to misinformation related to COVID-19. Hence, social media should disseminate correct information and education to the public.

Blog

Going Digital can Save Nepal from Covid Catastrophe: Here’s How

Disclaimer: The opinion is of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of NIPoRe at an appropriate place.

– Anushruti Adhikari

While the new strain of Coronavirus in India was already becoming a heart-wrenching struggle even for the onlookers, stories of increasing Covid infections and deaths, people’s fight for treatment and supplies in the hospital along with toxic black marketing of health essentials have also become the general headlines of Nepal. Communities from across the country are becoming increasingly active in circulating information while placing notices for oxygen or hospital bed requests online. I have become used to the hourly updates of friends who are constantly doing so through whichever platform they can from Whatsapp to Instagram, when seeking physical assistance is impossible.

Taking lessons from India’s current pandemic scenario, Nepal knows better than to sit back and assume that the worst will soon be behind us. Local lockdowns have begun, and while our previous concerns were mostly around economic recovery, the same fear is now layered with the fact that the new strain can be life-threatening at a greater magnitude.

A good number of Nepalis across the country are already finding themselves on either side of request for oxygen cylinders or hospital beds. We may, like our friends in India, have been forced to post Covid information unconventionally on platforms that are used for entertainment purposes rather than life-or-death situations. But since we are a year deep into the pandemic, news and requests should not just be bursting from anywhere that is possible. Reaching out to people virtually is very much possible but there are more systematic and organized ways of doing this, ways that can increase chances of requests being heard and fulfilled.

India’s innovative startups have been doing what they can in response to the frightening spikes in the recent covid cases. From NGOs like Dhoondh which connects blood plasma donors to receivers, to HelpNow, an emergency ambulance service company, the local response has been immensely active which leaves the question: what should Nepal be doing then? Nepal has a cluster of telemedicine companies along with virtual blood banks, who were more or less ready for a crisis even before the pandemic. It is now time to expand these minimum investments and attention towards the social-media drive health tech industry.

These technologies are essential for citizens actively volunteering to fight against Covid, while guiding others who may want to provide help in any way possible from a safe distance. Services can range all the way from securely circulating information on local Covid situations, specific plasma donors, ambulances, oxygen availability, patients in dire need of medications and cash. Funds essential for paying medical bills for the low and low middle-income population can be collected privately and transparently through virtual drives, as similar initiatives have been largely successful in India. These media circles can even poke on the possible insufficiencies that may be clearly visible in treatment facilities.

Finally, most countries in the world are facilitating online Covid Vaccine appointments. As a result of smooth and systematic resource management through virtual platforms citizens have now got their required jabs. As a result, countries like the United States have officially removed the public mask mandate for them. But in the middle of the pandemic, most of us have not gotten even the first dose. Thus, while we may be technically unprepared for the pandemic, we are even less prepared for a post-pandemic situation, an irony that, while comical, cannot be laughed at anymore.
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Nepal’s Ticket to the International Market

Nepal’s Ticket to the International Market

Disclaimer: The opinion is of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of NIPoRe at an appropriate place.

– Anushruti Adhikari

In Nepal, there is more than one way to pay for international goods and services: you could spend hours at a bank standing in a line, you could annoy your distant friend or relative to make a dollar payment on your behalf or hunt down the ones who have fearfully acquired dollar cards so that international payment is slightly convenient. What is legal is not easy, and what is easy may not be documented or legal.

That is why the recent initiative by Nepal Rastra Bank which allows “A” and “B” class banks to issue prepaid dollar cards with a $500 ceiling, be it for the purpose of travel, education, entertainment, online shopping and the like, has already stirred much excitement among Nepali people

This new law will not only influence people to welcome the global e-commerce platform without any reservations, but also possibly change the purchasing behavior in 3 key ways.

Firstly, due to our minimum exposure to some virtual services like virtual telemedicine, online freelancers for hire, virtual fitness trainers, tele-nutritionists, virtual business and economic consultants etc. we don’t even consider them as possible items on our wish list. Our new ticket to these services expands our dimensions beyond just shopping on Amazon or paying a Netflix subscription fee. Global e-commerce has stretched far beyond the common industry giants and their general online market, and with enough dollars, subscription or service of any kind is now imaginable.

In addition, any person who owns a dollar card can now single-handedly make international transactions in a formal, transparent, and legal way. Real international market transactions will now be directly contributing to the formal economy while people’s real market behavior according to their location can be calculated and observed. If the $500 limit is too restrictive for some of the consumers, their needs will soon be clear, thanks to real-time accurate purchasing data.

Finally, online market accessibility may be able to finally discourage us from opting for piracy. Nepali people have had years of market gap where international intangible goods from movies and e-books all the way to high end softwares were always advertised but were never available for legal purchase, which led most of us to opt for piracy. But now thanks to the dollar card, instead of hunting for your favorite series on torrent, you can choose to take up a subscription package on Amazon Prime. You will opt to buy books on Kindle. You’d rather get an authentic Adobe Photoshop Software than ask a friend for a pirated setup.
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