Nepal: Flash flood tests disaster preparedness
Nepal is one of the world’s 20 most disaster-prone countries. It faces the threat of devastating floods, landslides, windstorms, hailstorms, fires, glacial lake floods, avalanches and earthquakes. Preparedness is vital in a country where natural disasters claimed more than 27,000 lives and affected more than 5 million people between 1971 and 2007.
The valleys below the Himalayas in north-western Nepal are particularly vulnerable. The Annapurna range, where the Seti River originates, is extremely prone to avalanches between March and mid-June.
At the beginning of May, a flash flood along the Seti killed about 40 people and left 30 missing. Houses, farms, trucks and trailers were swept away when the river, flooded with snow, ice and mud from an avalanche, burst through a snow blockage and sent water gushing through villages along its banks, affecting millions of people downstream. The flooding came with little warning on a Saturday (5 May), which is the day when villagers traditionally wash clothes, bathe in the Seti, and picnic with family and friends along the river.
Preparedness measures by humanitarian agencies and the national disaster agency allowed emergency response operations to begin immediately, despite the area’s remoteness. The Nepal Security Forces began search-and-rescue efforts. The District Disaster Relief Committee led the response operation in coordination with the security forces, the Nepal Red Cross Society and other humanitarian agencies.
In the last six years, OCHA has worked with Government authorities to develop Nepal’s national disaster response contingency plan. It has also worked closely with the district authorities and local communities to develop district preparedness strategies to ensure readiness-and-response plans are in place before a disaster strikes.
“Our investment in disaster response is paying off,” said OCHA’s Disaster Response Adviser in Nepal, Andrew Martin. “While we cannot mitigate the number of disasters that occur in Nepal each year, we can make sure that when they happen we all work together to save lives and reduce suffering.”
Four days after the flash flood, a damage assessment was completed. In total, 20 houses, two temples, one community building and three suspension bridges were swept away by the water and debris. Two water-supply systems, which provide more than 80 per cent of water to the Pokhara valley, were damaged. This raised major health and sanitation concerns.
Reporting by OCHA Asia and the Pacific