Print Edition - 2013-06-18  |  Development

Time for concerted action

- PRAGATI SHAHI, Kathmandu
Time for concerted action

Jun 17, 2013-

In one of the hot and humid May afternoons, Dukhni Ram Mochi along with her family members was busy working in her farmland within shouting distance of her house. She suddenly saw plumes of smoke billowing  from the nearby settlement.

“It was enormous. I had not seen flames of this massive scale in my life before,” says Mochani, one of the hundreds of victims affected by the massive 2011 fire in Aurahi village, Siraha district. She saw her house being reduced to cinders in front of her eyes. There was nothing the helpless 60-year-old woman and her neighbours could do to control the raging fire. Her all family possessions were destroyed in less than two hours.

Like other majority of houses built in tight clusters in several Tarai districts, Mochi’s house was made up of highly inflammable materials like wood, bamboo and straw. Fire incidents are common in the Tarai during the summer due to humid and windy weather conditions and the houses with Kacchi (bamboo and wood) walls and thatched roofs are vulnerable to fire.

According to the District Disaster Relief Committee, Siraha, the Aurahi fire affected 2,063 people from 461 families in the five wards, killed a three-month-old child and injured eight villagers. Just two weeks before the incident, fire had gutted 115 houses and destroyed Shivanagar Tole in the district.

In the recent years, Siraha has witnessed either scanty or no rainfall in monsoon and winter seasons, resulting in droughts most of the time. Besides droughts, heavy rains in the monsoon inundate a huge swath of agricultural land every year. “Out of my seven bigahas of land, three bigahas are covered with silt dumped by flashfloods in the nearby Gagan River,” says Satnay Prasad Yadav, 53, a local from Aurahi. Yadav also lost his six houses and property in the fire.

According to a government report, Siraha along with Sarlahi, Rautahat, Sunsari, Saptari and Dhanusha districts rank among the top 10 districts in terms of biggest damage and destruction caused by natural disasters in the last 37 years. Similarly, the National Adaptation Programme of Action, a government blueprint to help the vulnerable communities from climate change impacts by providing urgent and immediate adaptation measures, lists Siraha as the district highly vulnerable to temperature and rainfall risks.

Little efforts

Due to poor economic conditions, inadequate level of awareness about safe building structures and disaster resilient practices compounded with harsh climatic conditions, most of the Tarai districts are under threats of multiple natural hazards every year, with flashfloods, fire and droughts being common.

Despite multiple natural disasters posing threats, the country lacks approaches to minimise risks, admits Laxmi Dhakal, joint secretary and chief at the Disaster Response Division under the Ministry of Home Affairs. The government bodies along with a large majority of the institutions working in this sector have been working on developing and implementing contingency plans for a specific hazard. Some efforts on disaster preparedness and mitigation have been undertaken by both the government and concerned actors including developmental partners to address the multiple hazards risks, says Dhaka. “These efforts, however, are not enough to rise to the challenge.”

In search of viable solutions

Soon after the Aurahi incident, one of the fire related disastrous disasters in decades, various government, non-government organisations and development partners lend the victims a helping hand by providing relief and launching rehabilitation programmes. Technical support was also extended to build immediate shelter spaces for the victims using bamboo and Corrugated Galvanised Irons sheets. However, inflammable bamboo and roofing materials vulnerable to strong winds and heating effects due to extreme weather conditions have not been considered as a viable solution, says Subarna Yadav, chairperson of Aurahi village. “We are looking for a long-term shelter solution compared to CGI roofing and bamboo to deal with the changing climatic conditions.”

Towards climate resilience

The UN-Habitat in collaboration with several government bodies and local communities implemented a project with an objective to provide better alternative techniques of shelter construction and skills to the fire-affected communities to build back safer home for their well being as well as reducing multiple hazards risks and adapting climate change impacts. A community shelter was built by introducing ‘Compressed Stabilised Earth Block’ (CSEB) technology, an improved form of the traditional earth construction, which is socially accepted since very long. This technology is locally available and affordable as well as construction materials like soil and sand are abundant, says Santosh Shrestha, sustainable housing analyst at the UN-Habitat.

The pilot community shelter consists of two-room disaster and eco-friendly rescue centre at community-level and is built to tame various disasters such as floods, fires, winds and earthquake, he says. Considering the high flood level, the plinth level of a building is raised 75cm above the road level and 1.45 meters from the ground level.

While working on efficient disaster resilient building structures, it is important to consider three components—-life safety, damage prevention and immediate occupancy, according to Shrestha. “It is time to think of multiple disaster scenarios while constructing building structures that should be local-climate friendly.”

Published: 18-06-2013 09:26

User's Feedback

Click here for your comments

Comment via Facebook

Don't have facebook account? Use this form to comment