Better to be prepared

  • The planned National Disaster Management Authority must be formed without delay

Nov 18, 2018-

The country received a new Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Act 2017 after almost a decade-long struggle. The passage of the law has revived the attention of the world community that rushed to support Nepal after the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake. This development has opened a plethora of new avenues and opportunities to develop and consolidate the full cycle of disaster risk management with priority attention to issues like safer construction, risk reduction, multi-hazard mapping, community engagement, local government institution development and resilience building. The estimated cost of the post-Gorkha earthquake recovery and reconstruction programme is more than $9 billion while the recovery needs of the 2017 Tarai floods are estimated to cost $700 million.

Disaster impacts in Nepal are not limited to loss of life and economic loss. While data describing the social and development impacts of disasters are inconsistently recorded, the 2015 earthquake and 2017 Tarai floods clearly outline the non-economic impacts of natural disasters. Nepal is one of the least urbanised but most rapidly urbanising countries in Asia. The reclassification of subnational governments in 2014 raised the urban population to nearly 40 percent. The sprawling character of Nepal’s municipalities also makes service delivery—including disaster preparedness and mitigation, response and recovery services—a challenge for municipal authorities.


Proposed institution

The DRM Act 2017 envisions the establishment of an autonomous and independent institution, which may be called the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), to adopt a more holistic and wholesome approach to DRM in Nepal. We must develop and equip this proposed institution with the latest thinking, knowledge, technology and equipment. It must be developed along the lines of recent global protocols like the Sendai Framework 2015, Sustainable Development Goals 2030, New Urban Agenda 2016 and Paris Declaration. We will only suffer if we delay any further in creating this DRM institution. There are many development partners who are interested in investing in this sector, but due to this delay, they are forced to take a ‘wait and see’ position. This situation may not last long and the secured funds may be diverted to another sector or even another priority country. The delay is only complicating the work environment and preventing many interested partners from planning anything big and concrete.

The roles and functions of the proposed NDMA must be formulated based on extensive consultations, international experience and inputs from relevant experts and institutions. The working procedure must promote inclusiveness and coordinated and consistent efforts besides building local resilience. We must develop collaborative and competitive provincial governments which have the capacity to establish and operate independent institutions with minimum support and guidance from the centre. The NDMA should support provincial governments in enacting a more localised DRM Act and establish provincial level NDMAs with the major implementation role given to local governments. The NDMA is a central governmental body with the overall responsibility for coordinating disaster management preparedness, relief and recovery. The functions of NDMAs vary across countries, but they generally include administrative and procedural management, development of policy and legislation, and institutional support and resourcing. At the operational level, NDMAs are responsible for coordinating preparedness, relief and recovery.

According to a review of national DRM conducted by the Asian Development Bank in 2013, there are three models of DRM focal point agencies in Asia Pacific: The focal point is a coordination agency without any implementation role, the focal point is located parallel to other line ministries, or the focal point has been developed from already existing implementing organisations. It is found that the first model is most desirable as it can act as a neutral coordinator with no implementation role. Following the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami, several South Asian countries passed disaster management laws and created NDMAs.

The following are some key lessons on the institutional establishment of NDMAs learnt from South Asian and other countries: Disasters often bring an opportunity to promote institutional or legislative change. National Reconstruction Authority and DRM Act 2017 in Nepal are recent examples. The design of an NDMA and its institutionalisation requires a specific, flexible and political process. The NDMA requires a well-defined legal structure supported by explicit authority and legitimacy to coordinate different agencies and development partners. The NDMA’s institutional structure should support decentralised disaster management; interagency and intersectoral cooperation; linkages with NGOs; and relationships with international donors and others.


Political process

There should be an opportunity for NDMAs to improve and institutionalise systematic learning and capacity building support. The construction of a national, legal and institutional system for DRM is a political process which must mobilise and reconcile the political interests of different stakeholders. A key design principle for institutionalising an effective national DRM system is to establish a key focal agency with the authority and resources to coordinate all bodies for disaster management such as ministries, international donor agencies, NGOs and the private sector.

The location of the NDMA within government will affect its authority and access to adequate capacity and resources. For example, NDMAs located in the prime minister or president’s office are more able to coordinate across line ministries, and facilitate a close working relationship between the policy formulating body and operational implementing agencies.

The NDMA should strengthen coordination with other sectors and stakeholders, especially those related to development planning and climate change adaptation. The linkages between mitigation, preparedness, relief and reconstruction should be strengthened.


Karna is an urban governance and disaster risk reduction expert.

Published: 18-11-2018 07:55

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