The cost in lives and property due to last week’s heavy rains has caught the country unprepared once again. The media which competes to disseminate the coverage on the disaster spews both the unforeseen extents of the disaster and the rampant ineptness of the relief measures. Little is mentioned of the fact that, as in the case of the earthquake disaster, floods and landslides are first and foremost to be tackled locally and the tampering of local structures at the political levels has contributed to the disaster itself. It is the individual who is affected, his or her family and ward and village and the person to cope and the person to reach out to is the local individual, the family and the ward and village. Over two decades of dysfunction at the local level replaced by unrecognizable and enlarged structures of official local levels incapacitated by the novelty of new functions is the actual cause of the ineffective response to the disaster. This country has survived natural disaster by the immediate response of the local level traditionally responding to such natural calamities to which the center need only galvanize the additional inputs of human, humanitarian and physical resources. We have simply disrupted and distorted our local capabilities enhanci8ng the malefic effects of crises at the local level.
Centralizing through decentralization is the bane of a system which asks the locals to look to the center for immediate response. Once again, the security agencies have responded immediately at the local levels whereas the political agencies which monopolize the system have proven virtually inept. Government and opposition parties should have had their local cadre immediately fielded with resources for the relief. Where elections have been held, they must have taken vanguard positions and, where not, there are the all-party mechanisms that have for decades now been beneficiaries of precious resources doled out to them from the centre for decades now. Given our topography and tradition it can only be the local response that gives optimal response, the center only enabling the response effectively. Centralization in the name of decentralization has merely increased the local dependence on the center. The center as usual has been caught unprepared. This dependence on the center is inimical to fundamental principles of decentralization. Demands on the center and dependence are on the increase. It has incapacitated the local levels as well.
A disaster relief policy that has gone wrong at the center is one matter. Central politics, itself, invites the disaster in so many ways. Having abandoned the north-south corridor approach to development for petty political gains, the linkage between the hills and the plains in water management and development has once again been underscored. The ubiquitous ‘dozer culture’ in the fragile hills contracted out for inadequately planned road building contributes as much as the riverside ‘crusher culture’ poached by the politically favored to enhancement of seasonal disaster where expertise is ignored for short term political benefits. The rains don’t bring the silt from the skies nor does excess water spill banks and sweep villages on its own. Everybody knows this is man made in Nepal and the cause is not the lack of expertise but merely for the politically feasible. This is to the extent that our political masters have rendered themselves so weak as to be unable to field our expertise against our southern neighbors’ in water talks that must include embankments on the other side of the border designed merely to retain the waters on our side. It is not for nothing that mass suspicion lurks around the politically poaching possibilities of sudden resource releases on account of the disasters which again invites, as in the post-earthquake days, ‘one door’ approaches to the relief measures.