Monsoon mayhem in Nepal over the last 7 days have caused floods, landslides, and displacement in both hills and Tarai region of Nepal. It has taken toll of scores of human lives out of which as the latest report goes 67 have died and 30 disappeared. At least 43 people are reported to have been injured. The natural disaster that Nepal faces every year is not new for Nepalese people. Flood, landslides and caving in of lands take place every year. Still, the government looks slow in reacting to such natural disasters and get into an ugly blame game by accusing India. Can’t we search a solution that reduces if not end the destruction of human life and property in Nepal particularly in the Tarai region of Nepal? Khabarhub had a very productive talk with Arun Kumar Subedi, Geopolitics expert of Nepal for soul-searching within us. Excerpts:
Isn’t it that India’s built dams on its part has led to the inundation of Tarai region of Nepal this monsoon?
Tarai region of Nepal, in any case, will get inundated because India is not the only reason as we think here for flooding the region. Nepal’s topography has upper hand than that of India’s because it is located at higher elevation while India is located below Nepal at a relatively lower elevation. River water flows from Nepal to India not the other way round and India has every right to build dams to protect the life and property of her own citizens. The direct effect of India’s built dams is seen in the flooding of Rautahat district, somewhat Rapti is also affected. But, it is not true in other regions of Tarai. Now, we can go berserk accusing India for the inundation in Bardibaas. Even swelling of Tyangla River is also to be attributed to India. Isn’t that Koshi dam was kept closed that flooded Tyangla? It is hilarious to hear from people of higher echelons throwing bricks on India and speaking foul of the southern neighbor only to hide their own weaknesses. We in Nepal are suffering from only one disease that is abuse India and become anti-Indian to prove our Nepali nationalism. It is regressive thinking and reactionary approach where we stop being proactive and progressive in our outlook and long-term vision. It is so sad that every issue in Nepal needs to be played against India to prove that a person is a bigger nationalist than others. In the latest series of things, this monsoon has now given an opportunity to us to play ‘water-borne nationalism’ by abusing India at all the platforms political, educational or otherwise for whatever happening in Nepal related with rains. It is complete falsehood that India is responsible for all the floods happening in Nepal.
So, what is the real reason for the flood in Tarai?
I have not said that India is not at all the reason for flooding in the Tarai region. Yes, there is some region in Tarai which have got inundated due to high-rise dams built by India on its own territory. But, not the entire Tarai region is under the spell of the flood because of those dams. Government of Nepal has also to do soul-searching as every year same anti-India narrative for natural disaster during monsoon will not work.
Firstly, I have a counter question to ask. Why do other places in Tarai region have been flooded? Hulaki Rajmarg (Hulaki Highway) is the lowest tip of the Tarai region in South and Mahendra Highway runs above it. Thada Rajmarg and North-South Highway connect these twos Hulaki and Mahendra. It is because of these highways, Tarai region has been converted into a rectangular pond. And, there are many more such rectangular ponds in the Tarai region. Roads are higher than the Tarai lands. Underground sewage system on these highways and other roads in Tarai has not been built. The modern technique of clearing water during rains particularly in a monsoon-affected country like us needs to be introduced in all the roads and highways. Only limited apertures have been left open for clearance of rainwater on these roads and there are chances they get blocked in absence of regular supervision by the public works department. If heavy rains do not clear the passage of roads and adjoining areas, the ready ponds appear at several places in the Tarai region during monsoon. These kinds of ‘flash ponds’ which appear only during monsoon further block the clearance of water resulting in inundation of the substantial portion of the land area in the Tarai region of Nepal. This aggravates (not alleviates) the existing problem during monsoon.
Secondly, Nepal is still following the traditional pattern of development work which is not environment-friendly and goes against the parameter of sustainable development. We have dug up all the mountains and hills considered to be our pride — Mahabharat, Chure, Himalaya and other Hills. We never object to and bother about when link roads connecting two houses are put under spade and a bulldozer levels up the land by breaking the mounds around us. This kind of unscientific and non-sustainable development work for erecting physical infrastructure in Nepal has led to a massive level of soil erosion and landslides all across the country. Why I am mentioning soil-erosion and landslides caused by unplanned development in Nepal because rainwater runs with full force causing more inundation in a situation like this. There are areas in Nepal where excavation pits of a depth of hillock and big mounds have been dug up just on the way for constructing the house and settling a hamlet. This is quite unfortunate as nearby rivulets go on flowing at a higher altitude and a bit slower speed in the flow causes flooding in adjacent lands located at a lower altitude. This is why we need to stop digging the areas of higher elevations of hills and mountains.
Thirdly, Climate change is also the reason why Nepal is getting flooded. Other countries such as India, the United States, and China are also the victims of excessive sudden rains and resultant flooding and inundation. June 10 this year saw an extraordinary natural event in Louisiana and Texas of United States where incessant raining for 24 regular hours poured in as heavy a volume of water as it pours in entire month in normal course of raining. Isn’t it climate change is bringing in unpredictable and uncalled for natural event such as excessive rains in short spell of time? Events like these are bound to leave us gasping in surprise and catch us unprepared? Look at the northern Himalayan region, most of the mountain peaks have turned black bereft of snow cover and vegetation. What does it mean for Nepal? Rains in the Himalayas do not get deposited in form of snow on the mountains and flow down in great volume in liquid form to swell the rivers of Nepal causing flood in the southern regions. The fast-losing cover of snow on Himalayan mountains is another major cause of flood in the Tarai region. The snow cover on the Himalayan Mountains is treated as our ‘fixed-deposit’ — a potential savior against natural calamities. The moment this ‘fixed-deposit’ of snow is gone, all of us are doomed to face vagaries of monsoon and other unexpected turns of nature.
What do you suggest how to manage all these particularly advanced preparedness in disaster management?
Monsoon comes every year. It is part of our life — also important for our economy. It is very essential to go for water management with all our intelligence for mitigating the adverse effects of floods caused during monsoon season. Water is our natural resource, hence its intelligent management also brings prosperity to Nepal. Nepal needs to build dams on ravines and gullies in the mountainous and hilly regions of Nepal so that water so conserved is put to multi-purpose use including checking flood, generating hydroelectricity, diverting it for irrigation and others. If we delay more postponing construction of dams, the problem of flooding and inundation will go on exacerbating every year. It is not just Nepal, low-lying countries such as India and Bangladesh will also suffer as we are delaying on this urgently-felt need of building dams. There is no alternative to dams built on ravines and gullies at the present time. We are just wasting our time and future prospect of progress by accusing India all the time inspired by newly found ‘water-borne nationalism’.
We are the people who think that building dams will end the nationalism on water targeted against India. Instead, it is better to purchase 300-400 MW electricity from India and keep the India bashing alive to heat up nationalism in Nepali politics. We are strange people as we buy electricity from India to end load shedding in Kathmandu and we hail ourselves as nationalists. But, we keep India away from our water — a gift of nature and Pashupatinath (also Muktinath) — shared cultural values. We do it because keeping India away from everything in Nepal is now considered as nationalism and we are nationalist — what a narrow understanding of nationalism we have chosen of late. We keep ourselves away from Pashupatinath — the timeless culture of Sanatan Dharma but never hesitate to drink ‘Holy Wine’ because we are nationalists. Water is the gift of nature and we have been failing to utilize it for our own prosperity rather we have unleashed adversity on our own future prospect. What a shame! World laughs at us. It is the failure of the government which is causing death in monsoon flood. It is nothing but a cold-blooded murder.
Do you want to say that Dams built by India on her own territory is not responsible for present flooding in Nepal?
Tarai flooding is also contributed to some extent by India built dams but it is not the only cause of flood here. I have already told you about this. India being a sovereign country has every right to do so for protecting her own citizens. However, the adverse fallout of such dams are visible not only in Rautahat district but also the other parts of Tarai. Both India and Nepal have to work out together in cases like that as people at both sides are equally affected and blame game will only worsen the matter. India has recently built a high-rise structure — not exactly a dam on the land near to the border. This has put the entire Tarai from east to west in danger of flooding. If Government of Nepal had constructively engaged India in the past, the height of this structure would have reduced a bit. However, politicians of Nepal brighten their political future by giving anti-India statements which are more reactive and less constructive. What we need is constructive engagement with India rather than being reactive on everything and keep us away only to stoke anti-India Nepali nationalism. There is a solution to check flood in Nepal. We can build a dam on Bagmati River and in a ravine between Makwanpur and Sindhuli. Such dams not only check flood but also helps in generating electricity in Nepal.
Nepal must work with low-lying countries such as India and Bangladesh. Why have we not engaged both the countries in building dams in Nepal?
Way back in 1972, Bangladesh had proposed to build 7 big dams in Nepal with the financial investment of two countries. Out of these 7 dams was a dam on river Budhi Gandak. Bangladeshi had given some time to think over the proposal but Nepal failed to turn it into concrete action. Dams built on the high elevation land of Nepal will also benefit India and Bangladesh as both the countries are situated at low lying land. Nepal has not approved the proposal in name of nationalism. It is now again being taken up by the present Government with the help of debt taken from China. If the government had brought in both India and Bangladesh in this project, then all the three countries would have also shared the hydroelectricity generated there in dams among them. Opposing India in everything and anything is not nationalism. We must be brought back in our sane senses.
Law of Physics says that water flows from a higher elevation to lower elevation on the land. India is located at a lower elevation. As per the international treaty, low-lying countries have never allowed countries located at a higher elevation to build dams. It is a great fortune for Nepal that India has never opposed dams on Nepal side. Isn’t it generosity? Jamuna river of Bangladesh gives the passage to goods-laden ships from India till Bhutan via Manas River. Nepal has rivers much bigger than Manas. Bhutan is also using the river for nation’s prosperity. Shockingly, Nepal has chosen destructive path by keeping all the natural wealth and resources untouched and untreated only on the impractical plank of nationalism. We have chosen to keep Nepalese citizens all poor in naturally wealthy Nepal. Actually, we are committing sedition in the name of nationalism.
Being located at high elevation topographically Nepal is in a beneficial position, yet Nepal is hesitant to act in her own interest and refused to build dams in her own territory. How do you look at it?
India and Bangladesh are only low-lying countries in the world which have allowed Nepal to build dams in its own territory. Not only this, both India and Bangladesh extended their helping hands to Nepal for building dams here. When Turkey wanted to build the same dam Syria and Iraq being located at lower elevation opposed the move. Similarly, Iraq vehemently opposed the construction of Asad dam built by Syria. At present dam on the Blue Nile is treated as contentious because it will inundate Sudan and Egypt. These examples clearly suggest that countries located at lower elevation never allow a country at a higher elevation to build dams. We in Nepal can build dams and if low-lying countries like India and Bangladesh come forward to build them then we tighten our ribs to sit in all alertness. Building dams successively on rising elevation is not permissible as per internal standards. But, there is an arrangement according to which Nepal can build higher dam than the existing Kosi dam. Nepal on her own decision can do so. Kosi is more beneficial than the Gandak River while rivers like Mahakali and Pancheswar are big gifts of God.