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Trends in Human Life and Economic Losses from Landslides and Floods in Nepal

Hari K. Shrestha Nepal Engineering College It is a well known fact that Nepal faces a variety of natural and human activity induced disasters every year. In terms of human life and economic losses, the landslides and floods are the biggest natural disasters in Nepal. Systematic data collection on the effects of disasters is a relatively recent phenomenon in Nepal. The Ministry of Home Affairs started compiling data on losses due to various types of disasters since the last two decades. Based on the available data, it seems that the number of natural disasters like landslides and floods has increased in the last two decades due to various reasons. The climate change effect is one of the reasons added on top of other existing natural reasons of disasters in Nepal. Agencies in Disaster Mitigation The Department of Water Induced Disaster Prevention (DWIDP) is responsible for various activities to reduce damages from water induced disasters like landslides and floods. The Japanese Government funded Disaster Prevention Technical Center (DPTC), which is the predecessor of DWIDP, initiated various activities like river training, slope stabilization, and public awareness generation as part of its disaster mitigation programs. Currently DWIDP is being assisted by Disaster Management Support Project (DMSP), which is another Japanese government funded program. DMSP has started creating a database of losses from water induced disasters in Nepal. The Disaster Unit of the United Nations Development Programme has conducted various activities in Nepal to generate public awareness and for application of DisInventar, which is a comprehensive database of the effects of various types of disasters. The Department of Narcotics Control and Disaster Management (DNCDM) under the Ministry of Home Affairs along with the Central Natural Disaster Relief Committee (CNDRC) coordinate relief activities with the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), Nepal Police, Royal Nepal Army, and hospitals. The regional, district and local units of CNDRC, the District Administration Office, the Village Development Committee and the district office of NRCS located in the disaster affected area play an important role in the field level coordination of rescue and relief activities. Nepal Police and Royal Nepal Army mainly conduct rescue operations. Nepal Red Cross Society conducts emergency relief operation, runs relief camps, and provides relief materials to the disaster victims. DNCDM and NRCS conduct training programs on rescue and relief operations also. Trends in Disaster Effects
1400 A quick glance at the raw data of human life and 1200 economic loss seems to show that not much progress has been achieved in reducing the losses from 1000 landslides and floods in the last two decades, despite 800 the increase in technical know how and enormous 600 money spent on disaster mitigation measures. Figure 1 Average Loss: 324 per year 400 shows that in average, slightly more than 300 Nepalese die each year from landslides and floods. A 200 10-years average of the number of people dead from 0 landslides and floods (Figure 2) does not impart much positive messages. Although there is a declining trend, the number of people dead continuously hovers above Fig. 1 Human Life loss in last two decades from landslides and floods in Nepal 300. In fact, Figure 2 shows that after a declining trend from 1993 to 2000, the number of people dead started rising at the latter part of the graph. A sharp drop in 2003 in the 10-years average value, in Figure 2, resulted because the value of 1993 has no effect on calculation of value for that year.

Annual Human Life Loss from Lanaslides and Floods

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The records of economic loss from landslides and floods portray equally gloomy pictures. Figure 3 indicates that in average Nepal is losing about 816 million rupees every year. A poor country like Nepal which has to rely on almost 60% of its annual budget on foreign aid and loans can ill afford such a major loss of resources. Figure 3 also indicates that the frequency of years with economic losses approaching 1000 million rupees is increasing at the latter part of the graph. The result of this rise in frequency can be seen in the following figure. Figure 4, which is a 10-years running average of the economic losses from landslides and floods in Nepal, in fact indicates a very disturbing trend of a gradual rise in economic loss with the passing of each year. As in Fig. 2, the sharp decline in the 10-years average value of 2003 resulted because the value of 1993 has no effect in the value average value of that year. From figures 1 to 4, it seems that all the works of disaster mitigation activities of various governmental and non-governmental organizations in Nepal in the last two decades have gone in vain. Or, is it? Figures 1 through 4 are the graphical presentation of the raw data of the number of people dead and the economic loss, without any standardization. The base lines of the data have changed in the last two decades. The population of Nepal has increased tremendously in the last twenty years. The population of 2002 in Nepal is 50% more than the population in 1982. A loss of 300 people out of 15 million populations is not the same as a loss of the same number of people out of 25 million. The economic activities of Nepal in 2002, in terms of the total annual budget, are 900% more than the economic activities of 1982. The average market price of 1982 is much lower than in 2003; if adjusted for the current market price, the cost of disaster events in 1980s will be higher and hence will show a different trend in economic loss. Figures 1 through 4 however ignore these changes. Consideration of the changes in the base lines of the data paints completely different pictures. When the number of persons dead from landslides and floods, compared to the number of persons living at that time is plotted against time, the linear regression shows an unmistakable declining trend (Figure 5). In a study conducted from the data from 1990 to 1998, Nepal ranked third (35), behind Bangladesh (135) and Afghanistan (62) in the annual number of persons dead from various disasters per million living people in mountainous Asian countries (N. Khanal, M. Chaudhari and T. Li, Risk, Vulnerability and Sustainable Development in Mountainous Areas of

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10 Years Running Average of People Dead

Declining trend resulted mostly due to very big number in 1993


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Fig. 2 10-years running average of people dead from landslides and floods in Nepal
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Annual Economic Loss (in million Rs.)

Average Loss: 788 million per year

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Fig. 3 Annual Economic loss from landslides and floods in Nepal

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10 Years Running Average of Economic Loss

(in million rupees)

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Increasing trend despite very big loss in 1993. Big drop in 2003 due to lack of effect from 1993.
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Fig 4 10-years running average of economic loss from landslides and floods in Nepal

Number of People Dead (per million living people) from Landslides and Floods
80 60 40 20 0

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Fig. 5 Declining trend of ratio of human life loss from landslides and floods in Nepal

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Asia, Asia High Summit, 2002).

The total annual budget of Nepal in 1983 was about 30 9187 million rupees. In the same year the total 25 20 economical loss from landslides and floods in Nepal 15 was 2400 million rupees, a whopping 26% of the 10 5 budget. The highest ever recorded economic loss 0 from landslides and floods in Nepal is in 1993, when the total loss amounted to 4904 million. However, Year that was less than 16% of that years total annual budget. An economic loss of 2400 million rupees in Fig. 6 Declining trend of ratio of economic loss 2004 budget would be roughly about 2.3% of the from landslides and floods in Nepal budget. The linear regression line in Figure 6 indicates that there is a definite declining trend in the ratio of economic losses from landslides and floods compared to the economic activities of the nation.
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Ecomonic Loss from Landslides and Floods (as percentage of total annual national budget)

Based on various information sources, the average inflation rate in Nepal is 8.3% in 1970-1979, 9% in 1980-1989, 8.6% in 1990-1999 and 3.2% in 2000-2003. When the annual economical losses from landslides and floods are adjusted for the consumer price index of 2003, different trends in annual economical losses emerge, compared to Figure 4. The Figures 7a and 7b show that there are clear and
Five Years Running Average of Economic Loss (in 2003 market price, adjusted for inflation)
(in million rupees)

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10 Years Running Average of Economic Loss (in 2003 market price, adjusted for inflation)

(in milion Rupees)

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(a) (b) Fig. 7 Declining trends in economic loss, when adjusted for average annual inflation rate consistent declining trends in the average annual economical losses in Nepal from landslides and floods. The rate of decline is higher in Figure 7a than is Figure 7b because of the lingering effect of the 1993 disaster in Figure 7b.

The declining trends shown in figures 5, 6 and 7 can be interpreted as accomplishments of various organizations involved in pre- and post- disaster mitigation activities in Nepal. Cause of Declining Trend of Losses The declining trends in the ratio of human life and economic loss will result if (a) there is a reduction in the number of landslide and flooding events, (b) there is reduction in disaster data collection, and (c) the population density and economic activities decline in the landslide prone areas. The basic natural causes of landslides and floods in Nepal, namely the earthquakes, weak geology, steep topography and intense monsoonal rainfalls, have not changed very much in the last two decades, and are not going to change significantly any time soon. Out of these natural causes, rainfall pattern is one factor that can change relatively rapidly. A check of last 15 years data of 24-hours maximum precipitation, which is one of the leading causes of landslides and floods in Nepal, of some meteorological stations located in the hilly areas indicated a rising trend in the frequency of high intensity rainfall events (Figure 8). Human activities such as deforestation, rock and sand mining that initiate soil erosion, gully formation and eventually trigger landslides are on the rise along with rapid population increase and consequent growing demand for food and settlement areas. More infrastructures, like roads, communication towers, transmission lines, schools and houses, are being built in mountainous terrains of Nepal in the last two

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decades. Very little consideration for slope stability is given during infrastructure development. Obviously the numbers of landslide and floods disaster events in Nepal are increasing.
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y = 1.6738x + 90.31

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y = 1.6576x + 89.61

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y = 2.6059x + 120.4

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(a)
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(b)
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y = 1.7074x + 170.18

y = 1.1515x + 127.53

Figures 7(a) to 7(e) show 24-hrs. max. precipitation in the stations given below. Index No St. Name District
1038 0809 0902 0804 0815 Dhunibesi Gorkha Rampur Pokhara Khairenitar Dhading Gorkha Chitawan Kaski Tanahun

(d)

(e)

Fig. 8 Rising Trend in High Intensity Rainfall CNDRC has significantly improved its disaster data collection mechanism in the last two decades. The relatively better access to remote areas, compared to two decades ago, ensures that the declining trends of ratio of human life and economic loss with time are not due to reduction in data collection.

The Ministry of Population and Environment data indicates that the population density (persons per square kilometer) has increased in the landslide prone areas of Nepal in the last two decades, from 25 to 33 in the mountain areas and from 117 to 167 in the hilly areas. With the rise in population density there has been consequent rise in economic activities. The rapid rise in the number of micro-hydro projects in hilly areas of Nepal increased economic activities. So, the declining trends in ratio of human life and economic loss are not due to lessened population density or lowering of economic activities in the hilly terrains. So, what is the cause of the declining trend in the ratio of human life and economic loss in Nepal in the last twenty years? Let us look at the three possible reasons. The first possible reason may be called a Bad Case Scenario; if the number of disaster events and the consequent losses remain relatively constant and the population and budget gradually increases with time, the declining trend as shown in figures 5 and 6 will result without any improvements in disaster mitigation activities. The second possible reason is the Worst Case Scenario; if the rate of disastrous landslides and floods events and the consequent damages are increasing, but the rate of increase in population and budget figure is even higher, then we will still see the declining trends as shown in figures 5, 6 and 7. If this is indeed the case, then all the disaster mitigation attempts in Nepal can be considered a total failure. The third possible reason is a Good Case Scenario. In this case, the continuous efforts of DPTC, DWIDP, DMSP, CNDRC, NRCS, UNDP, the mass media and other organizations (non-governmental, academic, social) in enhancing public awareness are silently making an effect. Inclusion of information on landslides and other types of disasters in school textbooks, however limited, are affecting the way people react to disasters. People living in vulnerable areas are getting the lessons. As people become more aware of the potential risk of disaster, they make provision for escaping from its consequence, which results in declining trends shown in figures 2, 5, 6 and 7 above. A gradual increase in 10-years average of economic loss (Figure 4) resulted from the fact that no adjustment was made on the data for the average annual inflation rate in Nepal. When the adjustment was made, the results clearly indicated that there is a definite declining trend in the annual economical loss as well. In fact, in a developing country like Nepal, a gradual increase in economical losses from landslides and floods is to be expected as more and more developmental activities are being carried out in geologically unstable areas. The declining trends in both the ratio of people dead and economical losses despite significant increases in

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(c)

population density and economic activities in landslide prone areas can be considered at least a partial success in disaster mitigation activities. Undoubtedly, experts may argue on the significance and the reason of the declining trends shown above. The volume of data is insufficient to make strong statements on the trends, and a few major disasters in the near future, if they are to occur, may change the trends. However, based on the observation of the available data, the author believes that we are obaserving the Good Case Scenario. Future data may prove, or disprove, the statement. Not a Time to Relax Letting the guards down, however, would be a disaster. It is not a time to relax yet. An annual loss of more than 300 human lives from landslides and floods is an unacceptable standard. A resource constrained country like Nepal can ill afford an annual loss of around 800 million rupees. The performance of line agencies and other organizations involved in disaster mitigation must be improved. Increase in the rate of the declining trend of proportion of human life and economic loss cannot be expected without better efforts from all the concerned parties because various natural and human factors are progressing that can tip the balance and reverse the declining trends in the ratio of human life and economic losses. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorologys study show that there is rising trend in the average air temperature of Nepal. The effect of global climate change seems to be contributing to this rising trend in temperature. An increase of a few degrees of air temperature can spell a major disaster from rapid snow melt and glacier regression in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal. As indicated in the National Action Plan on Disaster Management in Nepal-1996 (NAP), well coordinated and continuous efforts should be made towards pre- and post-disaster activities to prevent the declining trend from reversing. Implementation of NAPs programs would be a major step in the right direction. The importance of public awareness enhancement (PAE) in reducing the effects of disasters cannot be over emphasized. The concerned governmental, non-governmental, academic and social organizations should make concerted effort for PAE. Thousands of lower secondary and high schools spread across Nepal can play crucial role in PAE efforts. The mass media like radio, television and newspapers should be made a regular part of PAE to accelerate the declining trend of ratio of human life and economic loss.

The author is an Associate Professor at Nepal Engineering College, Changunarayan VDC-9, Bhaktapur, Nepal. This paper is based on a presentation made during Second International Seminar on Disaster Mitigation in Nepal, Kathmandu, in November 2004. Published in DWIDP Bulletin 2005-2006, an annual publication of DWIDP

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