Communities bear the brunt of most natural disasters in Nepal, which cost not only lives and property but also sets back development gains. These same communities are also at the forefront of disaster risk reduction and response.
Community-based disaster risk reduction is a practical approach that supports community efforts to increase their own disaster resiliency and allows them to better withstand the impacts of disasters. Reducing the community’s vulnerability is also a cost effective way of mitigating risks that threaten lives and livelihoods across Nepal. For instance, when disaster strikes, the community and those from neighbouring areas are the first responders, so providing training and assembling taskforces enables communities to undertake light search and rescue, first aid and initiate relief measures to save lives.
Empowering communities to increase their resilience to natural disasters requires a sustained effort, tailored to the specific hazards in each area, and must be scaled up across the country to reach as many communities as possible. Nepal has over 3500 village district committees (VDCs), each facing a range of risks to natural disasters, risks that are increasing due to climate change, improper land use, rapid population growth and urbanisation. Each VDC is unique, varying in size, density (including rural and urban settings) and landscapes that span mountainous, hill and flat Terai regions. The vulnerability of each community varies according to its geographical characteristics, topography, population, quality of infrastructure, access to services, existing economic opportunities and the level of social cohesion and social capital.
For example, a rural community at risk of flash flooding requires a different approach to an urban community at risk of a major earthquake.
There is also great diversity within each VDC and even within smaller communities, with multiple languages, ethnicities and religious groups represented. Such diversity in composition and capacity requires a customised strategy for disaster risk reduction.
With the adoption of the HFA, the Government of Nepal (GoN) has committed to disaster risk reduction at the national and local levels. Based on this framework, the government’s National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management (NSDRM) acknowledges the role of the community in disaster risk management and prioritizes local level implementation capacity.
In order to support communities becoming more disaster resilient, the GoN has been promoting community-based disaster risk management. This has been recognised in the Local Self-Governance Act (1999), which emphasizes a number of risk reduction measures to be designed and implemented at the local level. The Local Disaster Risk Management Planning (LDRMP) guidelines (2011) were also approved by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development and describe the process for developing a disaster management plan at the VDC level in consultation with community members. However these initiatives face a number of challenges, including limited institutional structures, lack of trained personnel in disaster risk reduction and insufficient budget allocation.
In addition to government mechanisms, an important contribution is being made by a large number of capable and empowered community-based organisations (CBOs), NGOs and other agencies, such as the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS). These organisations are helping at-risk communities to understand their vulnerabilities. They work with the community to undertake mitigation and adaptation actions, to act on hazard analysis and early warnings, and to plan and prepare for their eventual need to react to disaster events as first responders. Depending on the implementing organisation, many of these activities use different approaches, thematic emphases and target different stakeholders. This makes it difficult to track and evaluate overall progress towards creating nation-wide disaster-resilient communities and reinforces the need for Flagship 4 as a mechanism for building consensus and ensuring good coordination and information sharing.