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Tag: Disaster Risk Reduction

The Explainer - NIPoRe Blog

Humanitarian Response from India during Nepal’s Earthquake 2015


The devastating earthquake on 25 April 2015, with a magnitude of 7.6 Richter Scale and hundreds of aftershocks, caused a significant impact on the lives of over eight million people across Nepal. The Post Disaster Needs Assessment, 2015, published by the National Planning Commission, reported more than 8,000 deaths and property damage worth approximately USD 7 billion.

Nepal ranks 11th globally in terms of vulnerability to earthquakes. As soon as the news of the Nepal Earthquake broke, there was overwhelming commitment and subsequent support from the neighbouring countries, and India was the first to respond. It was reported that the then Nepali Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, who was in Bangkok, knew of the earthquake through the Indian Prime Minister’s tweet. India dispatched relief materials and rescue teams immediately.

The Indian government initiated Operation Maitri and launched a humanitarian mission, dispatched National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams and special aircraft with rescue and relief materials in Nepal. India released INR 96 crores (around 154 crore Nepali rupees) to Nepal for housing and school sector assistance. Under the post-earthquake reconstruction package, India allocated a grant of USD 250 million, including USD 50 million each for the education, cultural heritage, and health sector and USD 100 million for the housing sector.

When a crisis occurs, Nepal looks up to India. India, our closest neighbor, has always helped Nepal in the difficult hours. During this crisis, India provided immediate responses and timely decision-making. Furthermore, a swift emergency response was possible because of connected borders, friendly ties and institutional relations between the two nations. Close bilateral relations, including fraternal relations between the two countries’ militaries, provided the basis for swift support.

India experienced some hiccups during the support. Despite widespread help, Indian media faced a backlash for their insensitive reporting, which made the hashtag #GoHomeIndianMedia trend on Twitter. 

The India-imposed economic blockade towards the end of the year escalated the humanitarian crisis, though. Moreover, the blockade un-did the goodwill India had garnered from the support. It has left a long-lasting anti-India sentiment among the general populace. 

Disaster response is an additional dimension in Nepal-India relations. Other disasters such as floods affect both countries. They have established common mechanisms to deal with such issues, but their workings are unsatisfactory. It would benefit both countries to strengthen disaster cooperation, for it is less prone to conflict and garners goodwill for each other.

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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.

Research Commentaries

NRC0021 – Cross-border Infrastructure to Address Recurring South Asian Floods

Nirnaya Bhatta


With the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) effectively sidelined politically, a number of mechanisms under its purview that were mandated to address cross-border disasters have also taken a hit. Against such a backdrop, this Research Commentary (RC) brings in focus the recurring flooding that seriously disrupt livelihood in South Asia and has claimed the lives of 2000 people on an average in the past 2 decades every year. This RC underlines that there is no way around cross-border infrastructure, or at least a transnational system of regulations on the rivers, with an emphasis on digital infrastructure that allows for information sharing between concerned government. It provides suggestions on what could be done at both the regional and national level and concludes that meaningful action can be made through cross-border digital infrastructure that keeps at the centre a three-layered mapping-approach (described in detail below).


Rivers have nurtured all major civilizations, but they have also brought immense misery to dwellers living along them during floods. Today, millions of farmers along the Ganges basin keenly welcome the monsoons for irrigation every year. But recurring flooding is an inherent feature of this part of the South Asian landscape, which has claimed 2000 people on an average in the past 2 decades every year.

The magnitude of this recurring disaster is informed by both the number of people it affects and the intensity of the damage it brings (paralyzing an entire region). Even though it is anticipated almost every monsoon, governments have failed to address it in any meaningful manner, giving this crisis the distinction of a typical wicked problem.

The Policy Problem- A recurring flood and lack of cross-border mechanism

In August 2017, South Asia witnessed the worst floods in decades, affecting nearly 45 million people. A reported 16 million in urgent need of basic life support were children. This RC documents a cross-border natural disaster that escalated into a humanitarian crisis largely due to the failure of the respective governments to collaborate and respond effectively. Although, it should be acknowledged that, while the floods are usually anticipated, its magnitude is usually unknown.

Source: Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). As of September 01, 2017 (People affected- in millions)

On September 2, Red Cross announced it was the worst flood facing South Asia in 4 decades, with 1/3rd of Bangladesh submerged. The river and its numerous tributaries that flows from the Himalayas downstream into India and Bangladesh (that has an average elevation of 85 meters above sea level) are forces to reckon with. Further, with destruction of millions of hectares of agricultural lands, while it severely affected food security locally, it also had the potential to disrupt global rice supply chain.

The costs on society

In southern Nepal, northern India, and Bangladesh, the floods inundated thousands of villages, natural habitats, hospitals, and schools. As one of the densest and impoverished regions in the world, people were rendered acutely vulnerable immediately. Evidence suggests that recurring natural disasters perpetuate chronic poverty . Take for instance, the head-count ratio of poverty are consistently found to be higher in flood-prone areas in Bangladesh. The floods pose a serious challenge to development efforts, as they have to operate at the face of immense uncertainty. Sure, the world is increasingly uncertain to natural disasters, but the worst crises such as these occur when governments are inefficient to respond, largely due to absence of necessary infrastructure in place.

Addressing the Crisis

While there is little scope to preventing the floods itself from occurring, the focus of policy can certainly aim to decrease vulnerability of affected population. To be fair, trans-boundary issues are inherently complex, especially when the policy agenda pertains to bringing together massive infrastructural undertaking. With multiple bureaucracies, interest groups, ambiguities in national responsibilities, contradiction between multiple national and international legal frameworks etc. coherent response to trans-national disasters are challenging. The political-economy of water issues is all the more sensitive because rivers not only accrue multitudes of benefits to nations but are also subjected to concerns of national security- associated with food and state stability itself.

  1. Regional Level:
a. To have policies that have a cross-border infrastructure component to them:

Traditionally, disaster management has been under the purview of national governments (Water, Ecosystems and Energy in South Asia Making Cross-Border Collaboration Work- ICIMOD). Against a backdrop of political distrust in the South Asian neighborhood between countries, governments find it difficult to collaborate on any issue.

To break this practice of governments working in solos, there needs to be a shift in how each government perceives the shared-ecosystem and disasters emerging from them. For instance, when the scope of one country’s policy with regard to managing rivers is sharply limited right where its own national territory ends, the shift is approaching these issues for policies could change.

Along these lines, the idea of desecuritization of the South Asian rivers looks promising. Researchers are oftentimes denied data in the name of national security. For example, in India, data on Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra rivers is considered classified information. Working in silos to manage rivers purely along national-territorial lines will only expose one’s own citizens to disasters.

b. Functional apolitical institution for disaster management

The grounds for effective cross-border responses starts well-before the floods occur. Since the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is highly dysfunctional, an apolitical institution exclusively dealing with disaster management could be established. This will open up possibilities for seamless cross-border data and risk sharing mechanisms, early warning systems, and harmonized national and regional planning etc. Clarity of responsibilities pertaining to the management of shared eco-systems will only be achieved through such an institution, which can clearly designate governments their share of duties.

  1. National Level

Polices based on localized socio-economic and demographic data

It is often argued that crisis after natural disasters is engendered by poor housing planning and land use codes, and inefficient early-warning systems. To accurately target the affected population, inputs for national policies must be based on localized socio-economic and demographic data. The WB suggests a three-layered mapping-approach that can precisely inform policy so it is capable of mitigate vulnerabilities of the affected effectively. Hazard, exposure, and vulnerability mapping are useful information for policy makers and individuals affected. This underscores the need for an integrated a robust digital infrastructure where information between governments are shared transparently.

Inspired from World Bank’s risk identification framework (World Bank 2012)

Policy implications

Due to the inherent landscape of the South Asian region, floods have a deterministic element to them. The magnitude of effect of climate change on recent torrential monsoon is debatable, but rapid retreat of the Himalayan glaciers (referred to as the ‘water tower of Asia’ that feeds 1.3 billion people) can be attributed to rising global temperatures, which will bring more floods in the Ganges basin. If policy is primarily geared towards finding ingenious ways to mitigate vulnerabilities of the distressed during disasters, populations are known to be resilient in the long run to improve their own life outcomes. There may not be a better way to mitigate vulnerabilities than cross-border collaboration with digital infrastructure at the heart to promote better data and risk sharing mechanisms, early warning systems, and harmonized national and regional planning. When the problem at hand is cross-border in nature, it is only logical that South Asian governments avoid working in silos.


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