Flooding causes massive damage each year in South Asia, but this destruction will not be diminished without more comprehensive disaster preparedness, says a new report
by Oxfam International entitled Sink or Swim: Why Disaster Risk Reduction is central to surviving floods in South Asia
. The report comes halfway through a monsoon season that has already harmed the livelihoods of 20 million people in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India, crumbling homes and schools, sweeping away crops, and crippling the region’s already-weak infrastructure.
Current flood control efforts are often ineffective and can even exacerbate the problem, says the report. For instance, poorly designed and broken culverts and embankments often flood roads and downstream areas. One embankment in Bihar, India caused a flood-prone area to expand from 2.5 to 6.9 million hectares over the course of fifty years.
In the report, Oxfam recommends that governments implement local emergency plans; avoid building additional dams and embankments; equip communities with preparedness capacities such as early warning systems and first-aid skills; provide community assets such as flood shelters, raised homesteads, and motorized boats; and mainstream disaster preparedness into government policy. Furthermore, the report urges donors to increase funding for disaster risk reduction, which is a strong long-term investment.
Governments and NGOs should also note that lower-income groups and women are more vulnerable to disasters—and tailor their programs accordingly. Poorly built houses are easily destroyed, the landless have reduced access to post-flood aid, and women struggle with malnutrition and disease in displacement camps. Reducing disaster risk—especially for the most vulnerable members of the population—is an important step in raising the standard of living in South Asian countries afflicted by flooding.