Kathmandu, Nepal Kathmandu, Nepal Photo credit: Flickr / Philippe Leroyer
The Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium
by NRRC Secretariat March 2012

Nepal loses an average of two lives a day due to natural disasters. These disasters include floods, landslides, drought, hail, avalanches, glacial lake floods and earthquakes. According to the EM-DAT 2009 database, earthquakes and floods are the biggest hazard in terms of mortality, affected populations and economic losses – and this in a country recovering from conflict, with a rapidly increasing, and increasingly urban, population, poverty and poor economic growth. While flooding poses an annual problem, a mega-earthquake – which could occur at any time – will kill more than 100,000 people just in the Kathmandu Valley, seriously injure another 300,000 and displace up to a million.

Earthquake risk

The border between India and Nepal follows a major fault line between the Indo and Asian plates. The area is highly active, and these plates are moving about 33mm a year. Historically, Nepal experiences a mega-earthquake every 60 years; the most recent significant earthquake was in 1934, which means that the next one is overdue. The 1934 earthquake caused the deaths of approximately 8,000 people and brought down an estimated 60% of houses in Kathmandu. At the time, Kathmandu was a town of about 150,000 residents; today, the city is a sprawling metropolis with a population close to 2.5 million. It is built upon an area of liquefaction, where the ground literally becomes liquefied as it is shaken. Construction work and the position of critical public facilities has not been undertaken with this in mind, meaning that critical infrastructure and key buildings such as schools may be in the most vulnerable locations.

The Kathmandu Valley is the centre of government and commerce in Nepal, and contains the country’s only international airport. Like much of the infrastructure in the Valley, surveys have indicated that the airport is extremely vulnerable to an earthquake. This, combined with the likely blockage of the three main access routes into the Valley through landslides and collapsed bridges, suggests that it may be some time (potentially weeks) before outside assistance arrives. Emergency services in Nepal itself are sorely lacking: the country has just three working fire engines, and no medium or heavy urban search and rescue capacity.

Humanitarian agencies are likely to face many of the same challenges that confronted them following the Haiti earthquake in 2010. Almost every essential service is inadequate; many Nepalis rely on tankered water or wells and there are electricity cuts of up to 18 hours a day in winter. The water, sewerage and communications systems are all likely to fail after an earthquake, and accommodation and services for the million people likely to be displaced will be limited. As in Haiti (where up to 40% of civil servants died) we can expect significant losses amongst essential service providers and in key government ministries. In every emergency the first responders are local and national. In Nepal this period of self-reliance is likely to be prolonged. This means that Nepal must be as resilient as possible, with enhanced capacity to provide that self-reliance. The government of Nepal, the international community and national NGOs are working to do this through the unique collective mechanism of the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium (NRRC).

The Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium

The Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium (NRRC) was conceived in 2009 and formally launched in 2011. It has been driven by key individuals within the government and in key agencies and donors. The NRRC seeks to mitigate the potential effects of known risks, as well as preventing new risks from arising. This work has to be undertaken within the context of reconciliation, the preparation and agreement of a new constitution (and uncertainty about what this will mean for local government structures) and local elections at some point in the future. Unlike other countries in the region, Nepal has no National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), though one is planned.

nrrc-box1Under the NRRC, government and non-government actors work together to address agreed priorities in the National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management. The Strategy is based on the commitments made by the government with regard to the Hyogo Framework for Action.

The NRRC is led by the government with the engagement of a range of ministries, some of which humanitarian agencies are accustomed to working with, such as Education and Health, and others that humanitarians are less familiar with, such as Planning and Finance. Commitment across government is essential to ensure that sustainable and comprehensive risk reduction is embedded in government development plans and within all donor budgets.

The government works with international and national partners through the Steering Committee of the NRRC. This currently includes the development arms of the UN system, OCHA, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the International Federation of the Red Cross/Crescent (IFRC), the US, UK and Australian governments and the European Community. The UN/International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) has been involved from the outset, and continues to offer support.

A recent Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) preparedness study points to the strengths of this consortium model, with its multi-stakeholder approach involving development and humanitarian actors and funding.+Analysis of Financing Mechanisms and Funding Streams To Enhance Emergency Preparedness, Synthesis Report, Development Initiatives, October 2011. The authors of the study are also positive about the level of engagement with international finance institutions (IFIs), the strong leadership at senior levels and across relevant ministries and the holistic approach that combines DRR policy development with programme implementation.

The NRRC’s $150 million budget was about 45% funded at the end of 2011. This means that, for example, in 2012, funding is available to retrofit over 250 schools, as against the 15 which were scheduled to be retrofitted by the Ministry of Education in the Nepal financial year 2011–12. As this funding has largely been earmarked this means that there are critical funding gaps which are impeding progress on certain issues, such as the establishment of seismically resistant warehouses in strategic locations and the preparation of pre-identified open spaces for IDPs. Although we will continue to fundraise to cover these gaps, our focus in 2012 will be ensuring implementation and raising awareness of risk at both national and local level in Nepal.

Flagship programmes

The NRRC has an ambitious workplan to address critical points of vulnerability at scale, while working to prevent new risks. The breadth of the task resulted in the creation of five Flagship programmes to address the priorities within the National Strategy. Appropriate international organisations, working with the relevant ministries, lead these programmes. This is not work that the humanitarian community can, or should, attempt to undertake alone. Resourcing and expertise from the government and development actors is essential for success and sustainability. Increased awareness and demand from the public will also be a critical factor. The Flagship programmes are ambitious in scale and scope. The objectives are both operational and policy oriented. They include retrofitting 900 school buildings and a dozen large hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley, community preparedness in 1,000 of Nepal’s 4,000 Village Development Committees, equipping an urban search and rescue force and capacity-building for the planned National Disaster Management Authority. Other work is under way to improve meteorological forecasting and measures are being taken to reduce flooding in the Koshi River basin. Capacity to ensure appropriate risk-sensitive land use planning in the Valley, and to ensure more effective monitoring and application of building codes, is being developed at both national and local government levels.

reddick fig 1While the work of the NRRC is Nepal-wide, responding to all risks, there is a particular focus on the earthquake risk in the Kathmandu Valley given the potential magnitude of an earthquake disaster and the developmental consequences. A critical part of this work is supporting the government’s capacity to coordinate and direct incoming international assistance, and to reject offers which, while well meaning, will be duplicative or will fail to add significant value.

Given the ambitious nature of the workplan, in terms of the range and scale of activities envisaged and the number of government ministries, local authorities, agencies, implementers and donors involved, effective coordination will be a challenge.

While the NRRC is already being presented by others as a success story, we are cautious about this. Despite what is being achieved on the ground, there are challenges as we attempt to scale up implementation. To cite one of the examples already given, although our objective is to retrofit a total of 900 school buildings over the duration of the programme, and we now have the funding for approximately a third of these, the government retrofitted only 15 schools last year. The implementation challenges are clear, and will be compounded by the need to simultaneously address critical needs in multiple sectors. Having said that, the NRRC has succeeded in bringing together a diverse range of actors under an agreed set of priorities, and has raised significant resources which will contribute to making Nepal more resilient. More significant, however, is the increasing awareness and commitment across government and amongst those at risk as visible implementation takes place.

This commitment needs to be sustained as the challenges of responding in Haiti fade across the humanitarian sector, and potentially in the minds of donors as well. We also need to find ways to address some of the continuing challenges involved in planning effective civil–military engagement to ensure that we know in advance what contributions we can expect from the national army and police and from incoming militaries. We need to use science and technology to support preparedness and risk awareness, while testing our assumptions about how this might transform programming and address practical difficulties. Particularly in an urban context, this needs to lead to more realistic programme planning and an awareness of what working at scale will require in terms of partnerships with the private sector and new and traditional media. We are already talking to individuals working in other countries about the replicability of the NRRC, and seeking to learn from them about how work can be done to the scale required.