Using Data to Plan for Natural Disasters – the Koshi Basin Information System

The cost of natural disasters is incredibly far reaching - as clearly demonstrated by the 2015 Nepal earthquake. In addition to the loss of over 9000 lives, it resulted in a decline in several development indicators, including GDP and Per Capita Income, pushing our country backwards in the path of development. The Post Disaster Need Assessment Report released by the National Planning Commission last year estimated that, as a result of the earthquake, an additional 2.5-3.5 percent of Nepal’s population is likely to be pushed below the poverty line, further increasing the 21 percent of population who are already living below the poverty threshold. To reduce the negative impact from natural disasters and environmental hazards we need to build our understanding of their threat so we can better devise contingency plans and policies to cope with the aftermath. Having accurate data and information is key to our resilience.

The Koshi Basin Information System (KBIS) is an interesting example of an effort to improve access to information on one area of potential natural disaster in Nepal. KBIS is a web-based information portal developed by ICIMOD that provides information on flood management and risk mitigation in the Koshi River Basin area. The system integrates data from a range of sources, for example combining satellite data on rain and snow cover with data on water levels collected by national agencies through hydro-meteorological stations. This enables real-time monitoring of changes taking place in the basin area.

The real-time data hosted in the system has been used by experts to create flood maps in Koshi Flood Outlook – a web application which predicts the areas that are most vulnerable to flooding. 

Working of the Koshi Flood Outlook System (Photo Courtesy: ICIMOD)

According to ICIMOD, since its launch in 2014 the system has been able to provide important information to those working to reduce the risk of disasters in the basin area. The data has been used in a number of ways, for example:

  • The government’s Nepal Hydrology and Meteorology Department has used the data to improve national flood forecasts
  • Dam and infrastructure managers have used the flood outlook to improve their operations
  • Planners have been able to, by using the data, identify communities vulnerable to flooding. This has helped inform their policies and plans.
  • Local authorities have been able to alert and prepare communities for floods.

The Koshi Basin spans Nepal, India and China and the KBIS has played an important role in bringing together various stakeholders working in water management from across borders to share information on water resources, land resources, hydro-meteorology, socio-economics, agricultural production, water-induced disasters, and climate. The cross-institutional sharing and use of information means KBIS is helping to pave the way for stronger regional policies, promising greater resilience for the inhabitants of the basin area.

Integrated information systems such as the KBIS enable easier access, sharing and use of data and information for decision makers, helping them to create better disaster management mechanisms based on solid evidence. Access to this data and information is essential not only for building strategies for reducing risk and improving disaster response, but also for providing post-disaster support for recovery and regeneration of sustainable livelihoods.

In the current context of Nepal, where the earthquake reconstruction has been delayed by several months, an information system like KBIS that can collect, integrate and store real-time data could support the country’s earthquake reconstruction efforts. By publishing this kind of data in formats that allow easy access and use by a range of external actors, efforts to halt and reverse the rise in poverty following last year’s earthquake can be informed and supported.