The land in the picture below (picture 1) is from the village of Bhardeo in south Lalitpur in central Nepal, which was hit hard by floods and landslides in 1981. The boulder mixed debris brought by the flood buried and destroyed entire farmlands in the valley and pushed the farmers out of their jobs. When this picture was taken in 1988, seven years after the disaster, more than 50 percent of the damaged land was still waiting reclamation. Farmers did not have the capacity to fully reclaim the land and were forced to look for other employment opportunities to feed the families. The state, unfortunately, never had any programme to reclaim the land damaged by floods or debris deposit and bring it back to production, nor did any agency show interest in land reclamation in Nepal. The farmers have been left all along with two options; either rebuild the damaged land and continue farming or abandon it and look for a different job elsewhere.
The second picture (picture 2) is from a village in Bardiya in Midwest Nepal, where the farmland is buried under the silt brought by flood in Babai River in August 2017. The maize plants are all killed and paddy is buriedunderseveral feet of silt deposit. In this case, the land is not badly damaged but the crop of this year is destroyed making the investment made by the farmer a mere waste. Failure of one crop pushes the farmer into a labyrinth of poverty making them poorer. The farmer will have to sow the next crop in the new silt which, depending upon the texture and the nutrient content, may or may not be productive.
When I took the second picture of the damaged land in Bardiya last week, I was riddled with sadness by the fact that, despite witnessing several events of floods and landslides across the country between 1981 and 2017, we haven’t made significant progress when it comes to addressing the issue of damaged or destroyed land which is a result of floods and landslide events. We do not know the extent to which the farmlands have been destroyed and the. subsequent number of families forced to look for other forms of employment.
The official figures of the Ministry of Home Affairs provide rough estimates of the damaged land. The Ministry of Agriculture has also begun providing some estimate about the loss in agriculture. Sadly, there is no information on the number of farmers that have been pushed out of farming. Therefore, the information on the extent of reclamation of the land damaged by previous disasters is not found. And, I believe that hundreds of thousands of hectares are abandoned after each flood and several hundreds of farmers are removed from agriculture across the country.
The state began focusing on emergency responses in a coordinated manner after a major flood event in central Nepal in 1981. Natural Calamity (Relief) Act was promulgated in 1982. Since then, the emergency responses have continued to dominate the disaster issues. The fact is that the flood and landslides were (and still are) rampant and continue to be an impediment in our socioeconomic development, but it has largely hovered around relief and rescue. The national efforts of addressing disasters, presumably including recovery and reconstruction, were reinforced when the UN designated the 1990s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR).
This IDNDR was a global call to create awareness and take concerted actions to reduce loss of life, property damage and social and economic disruption caused by disasters. For the first time, the socioeconomic disruption was mentioned as key aspect in disaster responses. In the same decade, when IDNDR was observed, we witnessed one of the deadliest flood and landslide disaster in 1993. The life in the capital was affected following the collapse of several bridges disrupting the supply of essentials to the city. The event reminded every one of us of the urgency with which we must address the issue.
The IDNDR laid the foundation for Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015), which aimed at sustainably reducing disaster losses by 2015 by building the resilience to disasters. However, the 2017 losses showed that we haven’t done well to build the expected resilience. Now we have a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction called the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. The Sendai Framework sets certain targets including reduction in loss of lives and damage to properties by 2030. These global calls do not mean much and perhaps will have the same result as the Hyogo Framework, unless we are effective in addressing our problems.
One may argue that we have been through a persistent political transition since the 1990s and therefore have not been effective in achieving what was planned. But that argument does not hold ground, because it was during the same period that the country established a very well functioning and effective early warning system, which, many believe, helped reduce loss of lives in 2017 disaster. The fact is that we have remained passive in addressing issues ofdamaged land and displaced farmers. The issue has not received the attention it deserves.
It needs to be told again and again that we don’t have the luxury to expand agricultural land. Moreover, the rapidly expanding urbanization is already turning the limited farmlands we have into settlements around cities and towns. In the hills, we are progressively losing land to landslides and gullies, while in the valleys it is the floods that are destroying farms, often beyond recovery.
Let’s pause for a minute and think, what future will we have when the foundation (the land) of our agriculture that contributes to about a third of the GDP and engages almost two third of the population including the poorest of the poor is continually damaged or diminished by floods and landslides?
With support from Irene