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New possibilities for water-induced disaster management in Koshi basin

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PATNA, INDIA: Top officials and experts from the Koshi region gathered in Patna, Bihar on Thursday for a two-day forum to discuss solutions around water security and water-induced disasters in the Koshi basin. Coming after years of devastating floods in southern Nepal and Bihar, the forum emphasised regional cooperation and collecting evidence-based data that can be translated into policy, read a press release Outpost received on Wednesday.


Representatives from more than 20 institutions included the Bihar State Disaster Management Authority, AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, the Institute of Economic Growth at Delhi University, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Beijing, and the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chengdu, China. It was supported by the Government of Australia, and facilitated by the Koshi Basin Programme, an initiative focused on sustainable water management at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).


Floods and related disasters are a perennial concern in the Koshi basin, where seasonal monsoon rains and glacial melting frequently lead to dangerously-high water levels in the Koshi River. Bihar, where the river merges with the Ganga, is India’s most flood-prone state, with 76% of residents in the northern regions vulnerable to recurring floods. Bihar annually suffers losses of life, property, infrastructure, and agriculture due to floods. According to the Bihar State Disaster Management Authority floods displaced as many as 33,200 people in 2014.


Vijendra Prasad Yadav, Bihar’s Minister of Energy and Commercial Tax, stressed the need for scientific understanding of the basin to complement traditional knowledge, and asked for the Australian government and ICIMOD’s assistance in this regard.


Sri Virendra Prasad Yadav, Hon’ble Minister, Energy and Commercial Tax, Government of Bihar‘There is no lack of money, but what we need most is technical help’, said Yadav.


The opening session of the forum laid down the first strategic improvement in river basin management. Bihar’s Minister for Disaster Management, Professor Chandrashekhar, stated in his inaugural address that a policy was recently passed to incorporate community-based disaster response into local primary and elementary education.


‘Because of the water-related disasters that Bihar continues to face, the importance of this forum is high’, a statement said on behalf of Rajiv Ranjan Singh, Minister of Bihar’s Water Resources Department.


The forum comprised some of the region’s most prominent experts in disaster and water management, and promoted knowledge sharing across fields of expertise. Currently, disaster preparation and response is on an institutional-level and lacks coordinated regional strategy. The forum speakers emphasised the need to overcome this challenge, and link science, policy, and practice across borders. They also recognised the potential water has to act as a larger catalyst for economic development.


‘The future is bright, but it is complex’, said Asit Biswas, a visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. ‘Knowledge generation is not enough, we also need knowledge synthesis, and a way to bring this knowledge into policy discussions’.


Anil Sinha, Vice Chairman of the Bihar State Disaster Management Authority, followed up with Biswas’ comment, and noted that knowledge generation should specifically include evidence-based data, which can be incorporated into the region’s wealth of indigenous knowledge. He highlighted the importance of the knowledge forum in reaching this goal and recommended it become an annual event.


Eklabya Sharma, Director of Programme Operations at ICIMOD highlighted the contributions made by the Koshi Basin Programme.


 ‘While the Koshi basin has been synonymous with disasters in the past, there is immense potential for investment in infrastructure, land, and agricultural productivity measures’, Sharma said. ‘Last monsoon, for the first time, Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology used the Koshi Basin Programme’s regional flood outlook to issue a flood warning.’


Shahriar Wahid, the Koshi Basin Programme’s Coordinator, stated that the programme and its partners from China, Nepal, and India have been working for two years to generate knowledge and help communities in the basin to prepare for disasters and maintain resilient livelihoods. It has created a platform known as the Koshi Basin Information System, which integrates data on climate change, land use, sedimentation, and water-based livelihoods to help individuals understand the changes happening in the basin, as well as the Koshi Flood Outlook, which gives a 48-hour flood warning using data collected from satellite technology and national weather agencies.


Kamal Kishore, Member of the National Disaster Management Authority added to the discussion focused on the potential for a more nuanced understanding of disasters.


‘All floods are not created equal — there are different needs in different places, and we need to understand each locality if we want successful disaster management’, said Kishore. ‘Moreover, NDMA is very ready to translate the discussions of this forum into policy.’


The morning inaugural session was followed in the afternoon by technical sessions on disaster risk reduction, geo-hazards, and livelihoods in the Kosi basin. Topics included the importance of flood forecasting and including a regional flood outlook into river basin management, geo-morphological challenges specific to the Koshi basin, and livelihood and food security. 


Today, the forum will have further technical sessions on disaster risk reduction. Participants are expected to discuss evidence-based tools and strategies, and the potential for converting regional and local knowledge into actionable policy.


The Koshi Basin Programme works on transboundary issues throughout the Koshi basin, and sees flooding in southern Nepal and northern Bihar as closely linked to the ecosystems and climatic changes happening in the Himalayas in Nepal and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. The programme advocates for a basin-wide approach to water security and disaster management.



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