Ms. Noda is UNDP Country Director, Nepal.
02 Dec 2013
GLOF risk reduction effort should focus on innovating affordable community-led measures
The Hindu Kush Himalayan region in Asia is home to over 200 million people. In addition over a billion people downstream depend on the rivers and waterways that are fed by these glaciers. As the impacts of climate change become apparent, glaciers in these mountain ranges appear increasingly vulnerable to changing climactic conditions.
Loss of glaciers means loss of critical storehouse of freshwater for future generations. It also means an increase in the glacial related disasters, such as glacial lake outbursts floods (GLOFs). Thousands of glacial lakes have already been formed behind the thinning and unstable ice dams. The sudden collapse of such dams can cause catastrophic floods that destroy lives, forests, property, farms and infrastructure. The devastating power of GLOFs can reach hundreds of kilometers downstream uprooting communities and infrastructure in their wake.
Even large scale international assistance may not be adequate to address the enormous scope of the challenge. There are over 20,000 glacial lakes in the Himalayas and in Nepal alone 3 are considered to be in potentially dangerous state, according to a 2009 study by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). As the global temperature rise many more glacial lakes would join the danger list. This calls for broad partnership to develop affordable and easily replicable solutions to the glacial lakes and accompanying challenges.
Catastrophic event like a GLOF can reverse many decades of development gains and can cause serious setbacks in socio-economic progress. The ensuing flood from glacial lake outburst in Dig Tsho Lake in Nepal in 1985 is a dramatic reminder of the tragedy in the making.
With discussion on impact of climate change gaining prominence, the focus, of late, has been rightly on the receding glaciers and the threat from GLOF. But the challenge so far has been the ability to identify and develop scientifically sound, affordable and cost-effective options for GLOF risk reduction.
Most mountain communities are not technologically sophisticated and installing expensive technology raises serious questions about maintenance and sustainability.
Reducing threat from GLOFs is an expensive undertaking at the moment. But it need not be that way. Encouraging innovation that leads to affordable and quickly replicable models should be the focus. This would require collaboration and partnership between knowledge organizations, scientific institutions and development partners to develop simple and effective technology that is easy to install to reduce water from glacial lakes and is more cost effective to maintain. Educating the communities on installing low-tech community based early warning system should also be a priority.
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- "It's first and foremost a tragedy. And one should not forget this. But yes, as we move on and try to rebuild Nepal, I think it does provide an opportunity to make Nepal more resilient. With the wise use of human intelligence and our adaptation capacity, we can and should rebuild by applying the principles of building back better," says our Country Director Renaud Meyer in an interview with the Business 360 Magazine. Read more from Business 360 Magazine http://biz360.com.np/ Renaud Meyer, Country Director for United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Nepal observes the recent great earthquake both as a hindrance and as a potential boost to national development. Following the April 25 earthquake, he managed to visit several nooks and corners of the country to discover that the " reality of the earthquake was the districts mostly affected by the earthquake are not the poorest districts." According to him, one of the concerns that his office shared with the government and other stakeholders was that even though the poorest districts that were not much affected by the earthquake should not stop receiving support from the government and the international development partners and that the earthquake and reconstruction should not distract from continuing the support to those districts, rather need to ensure equity for those districts in the long term development process. He also seeks the attention and assistance for all those districts, both affected and not affected. "And if you translate this politically, this is very interesting because in the political economy of Nepal, the districts that are affected have social profiles that are different from the poorest districts," he observes, "So you have to look at it both from the political and social perspective to make sure that nobody loses in the relief and recovery process." Ashok Thapa from Business 360° met up with Meyer and talked with him about several aspects in terms of impact of the great earthquake, road to recover, role of key stakeholders in Nepal's development course and many other issues. Extracts: Nepal's already tattering economy was most to suffer from the recent great earthquake. This is supposed to pose challenge on country's ambitious plans like graduating to the status of developing nation by 2022 and raising people's income level. What is your take on it? Graduation - you have two ways to look at it. The first is a quantitative approach to graduation under which you look at the criteria and you fulfill the criteria at the aggregate level of the country. In March this year, there was a meeting at the UN that concluded that for the first time Nepal has quantitatively graduated. So this is good news for the country. Now what we are saying is that we have to be a bit careful and more refined. What we want to look at is quality of graduation, meaning that even if two out of three criteria have been met statistically, what does it mean for the Nepali people? I believe that if you only adopt a quantitative approach to graduation, you are raising people's expectations too much because in the ordinary life of a Nepali citizen it does not change much. So in addition to looking at the graduation issue one has to look also whether the government and the country as a whole can meet the desires and aspirations of the people, when it comes to their well being , the country’s development, provision of basic services for the citizens and there, Nepal still has room to progress. Similarly, it is important to adopt a long term approach for the analysis of the impact of the earthquake. But it's always an easy short cut fr everyone to look at the instant effect. You will come up with a price tag of what is the cost of the earthquake on Nepal. But we need to look at the long term impact and this is what we need to address. The Post Disaster Need Assessment (PDNA) is a good and necessary start but it should not overshadow the need for the country to adopt a long term recovery framework. It should not focus on simply putting Nepal and its people back to the situation before April 25 but ensure lessons are learned and a more resilient Nepal can come out of this reconstruction process. Do you mean to say economy has nothing to do with Nepal's graduation process and earthquake has not hit it so hard toward the graduation process? Three criteria are used to measure the LDCgraduation: level of human assets, economic vulnerability and income. So Nepal statistically again, has met the first two criteria. On the income, the country is still struggling a bit. But let’s not forget that Nepal is not expected to graduate tomorrow but only in 2022. The earthquake clearly has an impact on the economy . But will it derail the country from its development path completely? Absolutely not. I think there is sound and robust dynamic in Nepal towards development. And if you look at the progress of Nepal in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the country is doing good. It has made storng and sustainable progress, may be not on all the MDGs but on most of them. So I think we can and we should be optimistic and positive about the development dynamic of the country. Clearly the earthquake and the tragedy it goes with is a challenge. But again it does not derail the country completely. Tourism has been hit hard by the earthquake. Do you see any chances of revival? Yes absolutely. I also believe it will come much faster than people would expect. Clearly the heritage sites have been severely affected, especially in Kathmandu valley with major UNESCO heritage sites badly affected. But when one travels in the capital city between the the airport, Government offices and other neighborhoods, we already see the city recovering economically, busy streets and heavy traffic. It is difficult to believe that less than two months ago the city was hit by a strong magnitude earthquake. In the rural districts, the situation is very different Many villages have been completely flattened by the earthquake. But Kathmandu city has proven to be very resilient. So, if the damage to the heritage sites is very sad given the qualities of those heritages, lets not forget Nepal has much more to offer. You have the mountains, even the Kathmandu valley itself is very beautiful, stunning. Yet, I think the tourism industry needs strong attention and should be a priority of the government and the international community in the reconstruction and recovery process. We are working very closely with our UNESCO colleagues. We have archeological and heritage missions that have been here to assess what needs to be consolidated and what needs to be rebuilt very quickly. But I think Nepal benefits globally from a very positive image, among the tourists and among the tourism industry. So I am very optimistic. Moreover, the tourism sector offers many jobs and is very important for livelihoods. This is an angle that we want to promote. We need to think of a promotion campaignthat will send the message to the rest of the world that after the earthquake, it is more important than ever to show solidarity with Nepali people by coming here as a tourist so that the money spent here locally, very quickly will also boost the local economy . There are experts who believe the earthquake has provided with us a wonderful opportunity to rebrand and rebuild ourselves. Do you think in the same line? Yes, but I do not think it is appropriate to equate primarily earthquake with opportunity. First of all, an earthquake is a tragedy. People tend to forget very quickly that close to 9,000 people lost their lives, hundreds of thousand people lost their houses and livelihood. So, it's first and foremost a tragedy. And one should not forget this. But yes as we move on and try to rebuild Nepal, I think it does provide an opportunity to make Nepal more resilient. After all, one cannot change the geographic location of Nepal and the country lies in a very vulnerable zone when it comes to seismic activities,With the wise use of human intelligence and our adaptation capacity, we can and should rebuild by applying the principles of building back better. And this is very important and this is why it is important that all actors of government and international community alike not rush to reconstruction because if we rush people will rebuild the same way as they had in the past and the next time there is an earthquake, it will lead to the same negative impact. It is reassuring to see a large consensus around this issue and approach. And this gives us an opportunity to really think long term construction under safer building codes and making sure that new buildings comply with those codes. Building codes are in place in Nepal and people who have complied with them, their houses are not a pile of rubble today. So the issue is about political will and enforcement of those guidelines in the reconstruction process. Despite development partners putting in their bigger efforts to help Nepal during the crisis, there were few incongruities as to how to distribute the relief support. Do you have any comments? Well no country is ever enough prepared to face a natural event of the magnitude that has hit Nepal. So it's normal that the response struggled to establish itself at the levels required by the tragedy the earthquake brought to the country. But what is important is that all actors we were able to quickly organise themselves, establish a good relationship and coordination between the government and the international community on providing the assistance. We all have recognised that the government has a leading role to play and they have to coordinate the assistance. There has been a tremendous outpour of support for Nepal and which again demonstrates how positive is the image of Nepal in the global community. Everybody including the government has welcomed that. But this assistance needs to be coordinated. When you have only one airport with one runway, it's obviously going to createchallenges. But over the weeks following the tragedy, we have seen continuous improvement that has enabled the much needed assistance to reach even the most isolated and hard to reach affected districts.The PDNA is a very important tool for reconstruction and we have all had a very positive experience in terms of cooperation between the government and the international community. We have seen a very strong leadership by the National Planning Commission (NPC) and great collaborative spirit from all the ministries that worked very well with the international teams. And I am also hoping that at the International Donor Conference, the international partners of Nepal will be able to come up with more support for Nepal. Still majority of Nepalis consider the future to be gloomy and the country to be heading towards being a failure state. Do you have any words to convince them? Yes, I do. One has to understand that the whole country, affected districts or non affected ones had to go through a very difficult time with the earthquake. Therefore it is quite normal that people would be pessimistic, they have suffered a lot and the psychological consequences of the earthquake especially of all the aftershocks which are completely unpredictable have a negative impact on people's attitude and optimism. Yet I don't think the people of Nepal should be negative. And I am not sure they are. When I travel to the affected districts, and meet with the victims, people who lost their homes and dear ones, what amazes me is their resilience, their capacity to adapt and capacity to go back to their fields and work and continue with the normal pace of life. They care about their community. They show very strong community solidarity. People are helping and supporting each others. Moreover, I am hoping that the attitude of the government and the international partners is a good reason for them to think that something better is coming to Nepal and everybody has a role to play in it and I think the people in the rural areas are clearly in the front line in this attitude. I think there are a lot of positive messages out there. They are able to think positive together and work together. Everybody has a role to play, right? Then what might be the role of government other key stakeholders to help Nepal stand back in its former position? Any suggestions? Well the government has a leading role, clearly. It has to come up with a vision for Nepal which includes those aspects of resilience and building back better. And it has to share that vision and make sure that it consults with all the actors of society so that the vision won't be the vision of the few but of the country at large. This really is an important role of the government. When it comes to the private sector, the sector as an engine of growth and stimulant to the national economy should not think that today is the time for market share and competition. But it's time to think about how to build a robust economy, how to create as many jobs as possible to employ people, give them a livelihood. We then have a positive cycle. When people have income, they are able to spend. If they spend it will create demand and if there is demand, the economy will start growing strong again . Civil society also has an important role to play by keeping everybody accountable and this is also a very positive contribution Media again has its own role and it should stay focused on positive stories as much as possible. [Read more from Business 360 Magazine http://biz360.com.np/] Yesterday AT 01:46 AM
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