Political impasse stalls disaster preparedness bill

Protracted political wrangling in Nepal is preventing a key piece of disaster preparedness legislation from reaching parliament.

Endorsed by the cabinet in October 2009, the National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management (NSDRM) has yet to be made into law.

“The passing of this bill is critical. Without this, the country’s disaster preparedness efforts cannot move forward,” Amod Dixit, executive director of the National Society for Earthquake Technology, told IRIN in Kathmandu.

Nepal is described by the Asia Disaster Preparedness Center as one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world; according to the UN, Nepal is ranked the 11th most at-risk country in terms of earthquakes.

Disaster management currently operates under the 1982 National Calamity Act, which assigns response roles in the aftermath of a disaster to the Central Natural Disaster Relief Committee chaired by the minister of home affairs.

Under the Committee funds and resources for disaster preparedness and mitigation are limited, and while response capacity for small-scale disasters is strong, disaster risk reduction capacity remains a challenge.

“This is something that needs to change. We need to develop a capacity for mega-disasters,” said Rameshwor Dangal, under-secretary in the disaster management section of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA). 

Clear delineation of roles

The need for a new strategy first came to light following the 1993 south-central floods, prompting Nepal’s first national conference on disaster risk management in Kathmandu.

“The message of the conference was clear: There should be a shift from response to preparedness and mitigation,” Dixit said.

Drafted by Dixit in January 2008, the NSDRM endeavours to do just that, providing guidance on improving the policy and legal environment, and prioritizing strategic interventions.

The strategy now awaiting parliamentary approval maps out what needs to be done by stakeholders to reduce risks associated with natural disasters, and calls for the establishment of a National Commission for Disaster Risk Management under the direct authority of the prime minister.

“Without the clear delineation of roles and responsibilities across different ministries, disaster management activities are being held back,” said George Murray, head of the humanitarian support unit at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Kathmandu.

Political instability

Despite its importance, no one knows if and when this key piece of legislation will be passed. Without it, getting policies and stakeholders in place to back it will prove difficult.

“To implement this, we need to get all the stakeholders, including donors, the government, NGOs, the UN and private sector behind it,” MoHA’s Dangal said.

Much of the problem lies in the political uncertainty that has plagued Nepal since the end of the 10-year Maoist conflict (1996-2006), which left over 13,000 dead.

More than four years since the signing of a peace deal between the Maoists and the then royal government, the government is now on its fourth prime minister, can barely agree on a new cabinet, and is struggling to draft a new constitution - seen by many as the country’s number one priority at the moment.

Meanwhile, with reportedly hundreds of bills awaiting parliamentary approval, and experts warning of the next big quake, humanitarian agencies are doing their best to remain optimistic.

“As the new government is in the making, we hope that the act will be presented with priority in parliament,” Umesh Prasad Dhakal, executive director of the Nepal Red Crescent Society, said.

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