Nepal: A lesson in the risks climate change poses to disaster-prone countries
29 Apr 2015 by Daniel Buckley
As relief assistance rushes to Nepal after the earthquake, those efforts are being hampered by a number of factors.
Weak existing infrastructure means many critical roads have been damaged. Remote mountain villages perched on hillsides require helicopters to distribute aid. Inadequate communications networks complicate the ability to understand and prioritise where relief is most needed.
These are manmade factors. However, there are also climate-related factors that complicate search and rescue teams, impede convoys loaded with food, water and medical supplies, and exacerbate already difficult conditions for the displaced population.
As a Least Developed Country, Nepal suffers through the worst impacts of climate change – droughts, floods, and food insecurity – despite bearing little responsibility for the carbon emissions now affecting our climate.
As a UNDP climate change policy specialist based in New York, I was on mission to Katmandu when the earthquake struck. My mission was to design a project to enable Nepal to access increased climate finance. With such funding, Nepal could better adapt to climate impacts in vulnerable sectors of the economy while putting the country on a low-carbon development path that encourages sustainable livelihoods.
I came to design a climate change project; now I am getting an education in disaster response, and the risks climate change poses to disaster-prone countries.
It is clear to me that responses to climate change must be risk-informed. This devastating tragedy in Nepal has made the development-climate-disaster nexus crystal clear.
The early monsoon this year has soaked people forced out of homes damaged by the earthquake. This increases the likelihood of the spread of contagious diseases in public spaces where many now take shelter.
When I first arrived in Nepal, many remarked on the unusually early rains. A growing body of evidence suggests climate change affects the monsoon’s arrival and intensity. Nepal must now prepare for monsoons that may come too early or too late. Erratic rainfall patterns and amounts may bring above-normal quantities of precipitation that cause deadly floods, endangering lives and crops. Decreased rains in water-stressed regions may force migration to already crowded cities and increase food insecurity.
These are impacts that affect Nepal’s ability to recover from disasters, erasing development gains and increasing vulnerability.
UNDP is on the ground with early recovery efforts but long-term planning, policy measures and capacity building are needed. It is clear that policy makers and the private sector must take disaster risk into account or we may dedicate precious resources for climate change interventions that could be wiped out in a single afternoon, just like last Saturday in Nepal.