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Urgent Case for Recovery: What We Can Learn from the August 2014 Karnali River Floods in Nepal

Program Locations: Nepal
Project Duration: November 2014–July 2015
Project Lead: Karen MacClune, Chief Executive Officer and Senior Staff Scientist
Project Contact: Karen MacClune

Target/Objectives

This project provides a post-disaster report of the 2014 Karnali floods, focusing on what happened, why it happened, and opportunities for building flood resilience. This report is aimed at government agencies, municipal planners, disaster planners, humanitarian aid organizations and other on-the-ground practitioners.

Project Overview

In mid-August 2014, Western Nepal experienced the worst flood event ever recorded. In 24 hours, nearly 500 mm of rain fell on the plains and foothills, inundating the Karnali and Babai Rivers. A one-in-1,000 year event that exceeded the previous largest flood by nearly a meter, floodwaters rose rapidly in the middle of the night, and took residents by surprise. Local responses to the Karnali flood event were effective amidst a climate of chaotic and poorly-coordinated government and INGO actions. Emerging reports of the response to the April 25th and May 12th, 2015 Earthquakes reveal that many of the shortcomings identified after the Karnali floods are being repeated.

ISET-International collaborated with ISET-Nepal, Practical Action, and Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance to produce a post event review capability (PERC) report reviewing the post-disaster response to the Karnali Floods within the larger context of disaster risk reduction, climate change, and resilience planning. This review offers recommendations for resilient recovery and improving the disaster management landscape in Nepal.

These recommendations are applicable globally. It is becoming increasingly evident that though developed nations have more resources at their disposal than developing nations, both have similar gaps in their resilience. This suggests that there are social and institutional barriers—including perception of risk, regulatory processes, and systemic discrimination—which restrict resilience. In poorer cities and countries, social and institutional changes can be made without great economic input. For wealthier countries, this serves as a reminder that resource and economic capacity is not everything. Money alone cannot prevent a hazard from becoming a disaster. Better planning and regulatory processes, and more equitable policies are needed. While the Karnali floods could have been less devastating in a nation more developed than Nepal, this does not change the fact that nations need to improve their resilience to potential hazards. In an increasingly globalized world, it is important to analyze disasters to learn important lessons on where and how resilience can be built.

See also: Zurich resource page

Core Activities

Professional Staff Involved

Sumit Dugar, Practical Action

Kanchan Mani Dixit, ISET-Nepal

Michelle Fox, Director of Arts + Communications

Karen MacClune, COO + Senior Staff Scientist

Rajani Maharjan, ISET-Nepal

Michael Szoenyi, Zurich Insurance Group

Kanmani Venkateswaran, Research Associate

Shobha Yadav, ISET-Nepal

This project was made possible with the generous funding of: Zurich Insurance Group

Our partner(s) include: ISET-Nepal, Practical Action-Nepal, Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance