Natural Disasters

‘Every flood in Nepal causes deluge in India’

Narayan Gyawali, program director with Lutheran World Relief that’s working in Nepal, speaks to Down To Earth about trans-boundary floods and better approached to deal with it

By Akshit Sangomla
Last Updated: Thursday 18 July 2019

Photo: Getty ImagesFloods have ravaged both Nepal and Bihar killing more than 100 people in the neighbouring country and around 70 in the northern part of the Indian state. There is always a blame game in such a situation since Bihar shares its northern border with the country, from which a slew of Himalayan rivers run down south.

Down To Earth spoke to Narayan Gyawali, program director with US-based non-profit Lutheran World Relief, in Nepal, on trans-boundary floods between India and Nepal and how they can be managed. Excerpts:

How frequent are trans-boundary floods between India and Nepal?

Every flood in Nepal causes flooding in India too. In the recent past — in 2008, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019 — major floods have been witnessed in both Nepal and India. Major trans-boundary rivers, namely Kosi, Narayani, Karnali, Rapti, Mahaklai, cause floods in Terai plains and the Indian territory downstream due to heavy rainfall upstream.

Will such floods become more common in the future and, if yes, why?

In the last 10 years, flooding has been more recurrent. The 2008, 2017 and 2019 floods are historical. The 2008 floods breached the Kosi embankment for the first time after construction. The 2017 one was a flood with a return period of 70 years and the one occurring now is the biggest flood in 30 years.

What add to the problem are trends like high-intensity rainfall (more than 300 millimetre in 24 hours on July12, 2019), climate change impact, watershed degradation upstream, deforestation, physical obstructing the natural flow of rivers.

Do India and Nepal have a trans-boundary flood management programme?

Nepal and India have a Water and Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) to deal with trans-boundary water issues. There are some other committees too between Nepal and India like Nepal-India Joint Committee on Inundation and Flood Management, Nepal-India Joint Committee on Water Resources.

However, the meetings and decisions are made at the governmental level, which don’t seem to bring any changes to issues at local or trans-boundary level. The meetings are formal and no concrete action plan or implementation has been observed.

Lutheran World Relief, through its Trans-boundary Flood Resilience Project, has formed the Trans-boundary Citizen Forum in three river basins (Kosi, Kamala and Narayani) representing the communities and stakeholders from Nepal and India.

The forum regularly conducts meetings to share information on the issues, advocacy needs, coordination on DRR and Early Warning System. It has been crucial in sharing upstream and downstream flood information.

In the recent floods, the Indian communities Lutheran World Relief was working with got was warned 10 hours before, but others had to wait for 48 hours more to get any information from the government.

The forum has established linkages and coordinates with upstream and downstream communities in Nepal and India. However, such influential local institutions have not yet been recognised by either nations. 

How did the programme work in the current flooding situation?

In the floods of July 2019, Trans-boundary Community Based Early Warning System was found to be very effective. The task forces and the forum in Nepal and India were constantly in contact and shared flood information. The information and social community institutions helped in effectively responding to the flood.

The community evacuated to a safe place before the flood both in Nepal and India, minimising losses of life and property. The project communities in Nepal and India do not have any human casualties and have faced lesser damage to assets in comparison to others in the river basin. 

What are the major challenges in getting a trans-boundary flood management programme?

The trans-boundary rivers are regulated by a barrage constructed at the border. The operation of the barrage during high water level is also a factor to increase flood risk both in Nepal and India. As we know in practice, the barrage is regulated by India and there is no mutual plan to regulate flood water.

The management of the water and the barrage needs to involve wider stakeholders including flood vulnerable communities and civil societies.

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