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Flooding Of 2019 In Nepal

Issue July 2019

Flooding Of 2019 In Nepal

Siddhi B Ranjitkar


Flooding has been a recurrent event ever since the mountains have been built in the South Asia. Folks have to live with it forever. Only one thing the folks have to do is let the nature take its own course in other words not to disturb it. However, recently, folks have been encroaching on the natural paths of rivers, rivulets and streams causing those rivers and rivulets and stream reclaim their paths ignoring the human casualties during the monsoon rains. Our ancestors never attempted to block the natural paths of those rivers, rivulets and streams, and never claimed the riverbanks for their houses or towns or any other human-made structures, and let the rivers, rivulets and streams pass comfortably without obstructing their way. So, they never did any harm to the humans at that time until recently when the folks had not obstructed their natural paths.


The continuous rains falling on July 12 and 13 had caused the water in the rivers, rivulets and stream to swell to the maximum and to claim the natural paths to flow back to the Indian Ocean from where the water had come. Most of the houses at the lowlands and on the riverbanks had been inundated because the waters in the rivers, rivulets and streams had not enough space to flow freely. Naturally, damages were done to the houses, and the stores and shops, and the materials in them causing the millions of rupees worth of losses over the period of the two days. Some folks had unfortunately lost their precious human lives.


As a boy in 1950s, I witnessed the floods when the rains continued to pour down for over 11 days in the rainy season of 1954. I saw the water level rose up to the bridge made over the Hahumantay River at the Hanumanghat in Bhaktapur but never heard of the losses of human lives and property in Bhaktapur and in the valley itself. I heard a few buffaloes were swept away in the hills and so on not the losses in the current scale.


At that time, folks believed that River Gods or goddesses by whatever names they called them would become strong at the time of rains and would punish those who encroach on the lands of those goddesses. So, folks never did built any structures on the riverbanks. If anybody were to attempt to build any structure on any riverbank then the locals stopped him or her from doing so, as the civil society (not organized ones) was strong enough to stop any intrusion in the land of the river goddesses. So, the rivers were free to flow even during the heavy rains without causing any troubles to any human-made structures or causing any losses to any property.


Towns, and cities and even villages were mostly built on the high ground. It had been done so with the two main reasons: first, the highlands were not productive for agriculture, and not good for rice plantation, second, such ground kept on almost dry even during the rainy seasons as the water swiftly flowed down after rains. So, the human colonies on the highland remained dry even during the monsoon period.


The tradition of keeping the pathways of rivers, rivulets and streams open was started off breaking up during the Panchayat period. Panchas (elected officials) at the local level and the Maha-panchas (indirectly elected to Rastriya Panchayat) at the higher level monopolized the state administration. They did not care of the voices of the local people. For them it was good enough to keep the king (standing on the shoulders of Maha-panchas) happy to do everything they liked. So, they started off encroaching on the public land.


Panchas at the village Panchayat, and municipal Panchayats had been active to use public lands including the riverbanks gradually to expand the human settlements. Municipal administration let grow the towns and then cities unmanageably, as influential folks built access roads to their residences without having any drainage system, no electricity connection, and no drinking water. Such highly powerful folks forced the State agencies to extend power lines, then build drainage system, and lay the drinking water pipelines.


These high-ranking and powerful guys did not care lowland or highland but they built houses, and then around them came other houses as the power lines, drinking water and drainage system were made available. Municipal officials were often helpless to control such unplanned town expansion.


Then, the Panchas went off and democrats came in; the expansion of the Kathmandu city and surrounding areas expedited. Then, came the people’s war that continued for a decade. The well-to-do folks from the rural areas shifted to the urban areas for saving their lives and whatever assets they could carry with them because the Maoists that launched the people’s war seized their land and residences. Folks from the rural areas shifted to the district towns, regional towns and Kathmandu depending on their assets and their affordability making those urban areas to grow unmanageably.


Since the Panchayat time, the State agencies had attempted to develop the valley towns and cities in a planed manner. They had created the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority (KVDA) encroaching on the rights and the duties of mayors and officials of towns and cities. The officials working for the KVDA believed that the elected mayors and then officials at the municipalities could not handle the large-scale construction work.


Most of the time after the demise of the Panchayat, local elections were not held and the appointed officials ran the municipalities and village councils causing tremendous irregularities in development of towns and villages. That was the time when the riverbanks were used for constructing houses, roads and so on. Thus, most of the towns and cities came to exist in the current state.


In the last year rainy season, Hanumantay River rose up at the bridge built over it along the Kathmandu-Bhaktapur highway to inundate the major structures in the area in Bhaktapur, and the houses built around there without considering the possibility of rising up the river, and it also submerged the agricultural land when the pathways of the River Goddess Hanumantay was blocked by the bridge not large enough to pass the water it carried. This year, the floods had been considerably destructive than it was in the last year. Tens if not hundreds of people had already lost their lives, equal number of people have been missing so far. Billons of rupees worth of losses were estimated at.


The ring road was built, side roads were built, and a number of roads along the rivers, rivulets, and streams were built but not leaving sufficient room for them to flow comfortably during the monsoon rains. The bridges over them were made as short as possible. Consequently, most of the rainwater during the rainy seasons was to squeeze in such narrow passes. So, when the rainwater became more than usual or the rains had been poured down within a short time causing a large volume of water to flow under the short bridges, and narrowed riverbanks, the floods were there to damage whatever on the way.


The lowlands where the rice plants grew in the past in the Kathmandu Valley have been the human colonies today. These lowlands have been full of houses, tall buildings, office buildings, roads, lanes and other human paths. During the rainy seasons, the rainwater accumulated in such lowlands causing again the so-called floods. Even rivers entered in such lowlands adding more water to the already submerged areas.


Previously, these areas were the rice plantation areas. Rice plants grew. During the monsoons, these low lands with rice plants not only absorbed the rainwater but also held even the river water for some time, and then let it flow slowly as the rivers retreated. So, floods were regular happenings in the past, too but never damaged anything because no human structures were there to damage at that time.


The next worst thing the State agencies had done was to put the rainwater in the sewer. Naturally, a large volume of rainwater could not run in the narrow sewer pipes causing again floods of not only the rainwater but also the sewage. It was a disaster from the hygienic point of view. The rainwater drainage system should have been separate one from the regular sewers. That had not happened causing the floods at the inner part of the towns during even short heavy showers.


If some folks were to take a look at how the drinking water system was built and how the rainwater was managed in the ancient towns, they would be amazed. Every neighborhood had a stone-water spout from which clean water flowed for 24 hours a day. To add to such spouts of water, wells were there to supplement water supply or to use the wells when such spouts of water needed maintenance or broken for some time due to something going wrong in the system. Every town had a well-managed rainwater system. The rainwater drainage system was so well done in ancient towns and other human settlement areas that nothing blocked the rainwater flowing down to the streams, rivulets and then to rivers.


Most of the Terai areas go under water during the monsoon because of the dam built on the other side of the border with India. Building such dams submerging the land in the neighboring country goes against the international law but India did not give a fig for the neighbor’s concern.


Again folks living in the lowland suffered and continued to suffer from the floods every year. They would continue to suffer for many years to come if the state agencies did not take immediate measures to mitigate the sufferings from the human-made catastrophe.


All the state agencies currently engaged in urban development needed to merge with the municipalities because those municipalities were the elected ones and they have the people’s mandate and they were held accountable for anything done or not done in the respective municipalities. So, the department of roads, Kathmandu Upatayka Khanepani Limited, the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority, and other concerned agencies should go under the municipalities. Then only, probably, the service delivery would be smooth, as the elected officials would be held accountable for it. Currently, none of the agencies is held accountable to the customers or consumers for the service delivery.


Remedy to the floods in the Kathmandu Valley:


Rainwater drainage system should be made properly to manage the monsoon rains. Large drainage pipes needed to be laid for carrying the maximum possible rainwater at a time flowing to the lowlands, and these pipes should take rainwater directly to the rivers or nearby rivulets or streams depending on whether these rivulets or streams have capacities to carry them otherwise such drainage pipes needed to extend to the river. Thus, the lowland human colonies could be saved from the annual flooding.


It would cost hundreds of billions of rupees but it was required to spend so much of money on protecting the folks already settled in those areas. Then such lowland colonies would remain dry even in the wet seasons. Folks could live comfortably and peacefully without the fear of losing their assets to the floods.


Then, never allow building any settlements or any structures on the lowlands, let them remain as the agricultural land or the forestland or any other land except for the human settlements. That would save the billions of rupees probably spent on the construction, and save the property and human lives from the otherwise recurrent floods and damages thereafter.


Then, build bypasses wherever the bridges were built short of the requirement for the smooth flowing of the river water. Such bypasses would keep safe the buildings, houses, even roads and the human lives, and keep the traffic on such roads going even during the heavy rains.


Remedy to the floods in Terai:


For rescuing the folks living nearby the border, the federal government needed to have direct talks with the Delhi folks, and reach an agreement on keeping the dams opened up for the smooth flow of the monsoon water every year without needing to remind or request India for opening up the dams to keep the water level low on the Nepalese side of the border between Nepal and India.


As the newspaper report has it that the chief district officer in the Bara District had several times requested the local Indian State agency for opening up the dam but did not listen to him. One thing probably, the officer missed was he could have called the federal concerned agency means the home ministry to call the Delhi and make the dam opened up rather than being helpless.


Again a newspaper report stated that the secretary to the home ministry had requested the Indian government to open up the dam to mitigate the inundation of the Nepalese land in Gaur; it did work. The water leveling at Gaur has been going down. However, some folks wrote in the comments on the newspaper “setopati” website stating the dam was broken rather than opened up.


Former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had bullied Nepal in 1950s building a dam just on border between Nepal and India on the Koshi River causing the Nepalese land to flood for irrigating a vast agricultural land on the Indian side of the border. Even today, India building dams and other structures within the “dasa-gaja” area where any structures should not be built on either side of the border between Nepal and India has been causing concerns for the Nepalis.


July 14, 2019

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