Kathmandu: A recent UNESCAP disaster risk-focused report has identified transboundary river basins in South Asia as disaster hotspots. One such area in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region is the Koshi basin. Covering approximately 75,000 km2 across the borders of China, India, and Nepal, the Koshi basin directly supports over 40 million people and hosts a rich biodiversity. It is, however, also highly prone to disasters – glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), landslides, and floods, among others – that are transboundary in scale and have trans-border implications. There is also a gap between research, policies and its implementation on disaster risk reduction. As climate change is expected exacerbate extreme weather events in the region developing plans and policies with the future outlook become critical. Thus collaboration between upstream and downstream communities as well as different sectors for evidence based planning for disaster risk reduction is needed for the Koshi Basin.
Against this backdrop, a two-day country level consultation, titled “Koshi Disaster Risk Reduction Knowledge Hub (KDKH) Nepal country consultation: Building a resilient Koshi basin”, was organized on 23–24 September 2019 in Kathmandu to bring together representatives from the government, public, private, and development sectors in Nepal and discuss strategies to improve disaster risk reduction (DRR) within the Koshi basin. The KDKH aims to strengthen a basin perspective while creating space for interaction between researchers, policy makers, and practitioners for informed policy making. This KDKH country consultation in Kathmandu marked an important milestone by bringing forth Nepal’s perspectives on DRR-related challenges, issues, and good practices in the basin that can contribute to improved transboundary collaboration.
The country consultation discussed the formation of a country-level chapter that will form working groups on topics such as GLOFs, floods, landslides, and sedimentation, and community-based disaster risk management. Under the leadership of the government and with support from public, private, and development partners, a technical working group will work on the country chapter’s structure. “The National Planning Commission supports the formation of the country chapter for the KDKH,” asserted Dil Bahadur Gurung, Member, National Planning Commission.
Speaking during the country consultation, Shambu Regmi, Chief of the National Operation Emergency Center at the Ministry of Home Affairs, highlighted the Disaster Risk Reduction National Strategic Plan of Action (2018–2030), which has defined priority actions for comprehensively understanding disaster risks and improving collaboration. Ram G Kharbuja, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, spoke about leveraging the KDKH to expand DRR across the Koshi basin: “The KDKH can play an important role in contributing to trust building among countries within the basin, as well as utilizing diplomatic channels in the region by leveraging ICIMOD.”
The KDKH’s seven working groups presented on ongoing initiatives on floods, landslides, sedimentation, and other areas and identified priorities areas for future action in the Koshi basin. Biju Shrestha, Joint Secretary, National Planning Commission, noted that such working groups reduce gaps between research and policy making and implementation. “The development plan and DRR must go in hand-in-hand. The KDKH can function as a think tank that can support development in the Koshi basin, in partnership with stakeholders in Nepal and its neighbours,” added Badri Dhungana, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Forests and Environment.
In a session on identifying priorities of the Government of Nepal with respect to DRR, Krishna Hari Pushkar, Secretary, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Law, Province 2, pointed out that technical publications are readily accessible to the Ministry but that the KDKH could work with them to apply this information into action. Federal–provincial–local level representatives spoke about a host of challenges, ranging from greater communication among ministries to access of relevant information for at-risk communities. “The Koshi basin has unique challenges in the upstream and downstream, so solutions need to be tailor made,” remarked Laxman Adhikari, Ward Chairperson, Khumbu. Commenting on the remoteness of the region, Adhikari said that along with area-specific DRR plans, benefit sharing from DRR is also essential. In his view, motivating communities to be part of the DRR process is essential in making any risk reduction planning a success.
Chairing the session on the possible operational structure of the KDKH’s country chapters to support the priorities of the working groups, Kiran Rupakhetee, Joint Secretary, National Planning Commission, noted that an effective structure is required to provide useful knowledge for decision making at different levels. Addressing the event, Ayshanie Medagangoda Labe, Resident Representative, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), emphasized the need for collaboration and trust among all partners to build a resilient Koshi and region as a whole. Highlighting a UNDP and ICIMOD study (under review) which identifies 42 potentially dangerous glacial lakes in the Koshi basin, Labe stated UNDP’s commitment towards GLOF risk reduction and enhancing the livelihoods of vulnerable downstream communities.
The Nepal country consultation was organized by the Koshi Basin Initiative (KBI) at ICIMOD, in collaboration with the National Planning Commission. It was supported by the Central Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (CDHM), Tribhuvan University; Disaster Preparedness Network – Nepal (DpNet-Nepal); the International Water Management Institute (IWMI); Lutheran World Relief (LWR); UNDP; and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). A similar national stakeholder event was held in Bihar, India, in July 2019. Each country chapter is expected to share its progress and discuss challenges during the Annual KDKH Dialogue, scheduled to be held in December 2019 in Kathmandu.