Climate Change

Nepal: A sitting duck for climate disasters

The country’s geography and ever-looming threat of climate change make it very vulnerable

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Monday 15 July 2019
The flooded Kosi Barrage in Bihar's Supaul district, swollen after rains in North Bihar as well as upstream in Nepal. Photo: Krishna Mishra
The flooded Kosi Barrage in Bihar's Supaul district, swollen after rains in North Bihar as well as upstream in Nepal. Photo: Krishna Mishra The flooded Kosi Barrage in Bihar's Supaul district, swollen after rains in North Bihar as well as upstream in Nepal. Photo: Krishna Mishra

As Nepal floods after a relatively scarce monsoon, the disaster is predicting the way the country goes in the future as far as climate change is concerned.

The long term (1981-2010) precipitation trends of Nepal show that the lowland or terai regions are more prone to high-intensity rainfall events as opposed to the highland regions, according to a research paper published in the Journal Climate in January 2017.

This is in contrast with the usual monsoon precipitation patterns which are more intense in the hilly areas as compared to the plains. More sudden rain in the lower areas can add to the regular flooding coming from the upper reaches making floods increase in magnitude and also reach new areas.

The study makes another pertinent point with regard to the increase in dry spells in the country and a decrease in the wet spells. This means that there are long durations of close to no rainfall interspersed with extreme rainfall in short durations.

This was seen in the current season as the country was experiencing very less rainfall before the current intense spell started.

Another study published by the University of Bergen, Norway, in November 2017 shows a significant positive trend in extreme rainfall events in the western part of the country, where the next heavy rainfall is going to occur in the current spell.

This changing rainfall pattern, along with its mountainous character makes Nepal particularly vulnerable to floods, landslides and flash floods.

Global warming induced heavy downpours are only going to make the situation much worse.

“Some of the most sophisticated forecasts with climate change models suggest that as the globe warms, more rains will fall in severe, intermittent storms rather than in the kind of gentle soaking showers that can sustain crops”, says a report in the journal Nature. This is exactly what is being witnessed in Nepal.

Nepal Deluged

Heavy rainfall in 30 of the 77 districts of Nepal has caused heavy flooding, killing 65 people and injuring 38 in the last few days, according to media reports.

The toll might rise further in the coming days. Around 30 people are also reported missing. Almost 10,000 households have also been displaced by the floods. The southern district of Bara has recorded rainfall of 400 mm in the past few days.

Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) of the Federal Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation has already warned people in the southern regions of the country, living close to the rivers, to be aware of the level of water in the rivers and advised them to move to higher ground in the coming days.

Rivers like the Kosi, Baramati, Seti and Tadi are currently flowing below the danger mark but are also burgeoning because of incessant rainfall, according to data from the DHM.

If they cross the danger mark then the intensity of the floods will increase significantly. As many of these rivers flow south into the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the scare of intense floods will spread to India.

North Bihar is already reeling under floods with 18 lakh people in nine districts having been affected and four people killed. The meteorology department has forecasted that the rains will continue for the next few days, especially in the western regions of Nepal which should keep the authorities in both Nepal and India on high alert.

Here are satellite images from the Nepal-Bihar border before and after inaundation   They have been tweeted by Copernicus, The European Union Earth Observation Programme

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