Sumit Dugar

70308

Research Associate, Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation

Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org

Posts by Sumit

  • Learning to fail

    Kathmandu 44600, Nepal, Kathmandu
    October 24th, 2017

    Often we celebrate success and seldom talk about failures. In a modern work-space it is difficult to imagine an environment where we confidently and openly talk about failures. In evaluation meetings we focus our energies on ‘best practices’ but less on ‘lessons learnt’. For me, success and failure are impostors, and I believe that the process leading to either or in some cases neither is key.

    Habitually we do not want to try innovative ideas for we fear failure, and now and again the magic associated with naivetés of trying new and untested technologies is treated as a liability; so (hush hush) these things are off limits as we are super engrossed in conducting evaluations and finishing reports in an ever evolving professional work-space. Getting things right at the first go might be valid from a project management perspective, but is that realistic when we talk about trying to change the world and inspire others by demonstrating something unique or niche.

    When we tried piloting simple low cost water level sensors in the foothills of the Karnali basin, West Nepal, we failed spectacularly. The rationale of trying the technology was not to replace the existing monitoring system but to test if these affordable water level sensors can provide redundancy to the current systems which are rather expensive to operate. First, we tried with acoustic sensors and realized that its capability was limited for large rivers and there was a spider nest in one of the equipment when we tried extracting the data. I was lucky not to get bitten. Nevertheless, three months later we tried again with LiDAR sensors, only to realize that the battery connection was weak and there was no data, yet again after few months we changed the sensor specification and are now nervously hoping that it would record some data.

    Piloting low cost water level sensors in lower Karnali River, West Nepal

    Whilst these sensors worked perfectly fine in laboratory conditions, we were appalled to see irregular field behaviour. Ah! The fallacies of being too research oriented and mechanistic – but the spark generated by the excitement of trying something innovative and trusting ones instinct was unparalleled. Perhaps one can conclude that the senor technologies did not adapt well in mountainous environment. Despite trying multiple times, are we ready to give in to criticism or failures? Nah! We are ready to fail again, not because we have the funding to fail but we are keen to look into the technical issues on why the sensors did not record data and what can be improved? The possibility of the sensors working well with real time data transmission and solar panels excites us. The sheer joy of ‘trying again’ is pure bliss! We are un(cautiously) confident that this technology might work one day and has the potential to change the spectrum of early warning and environmental observations. However, perseverance is critical, and not being deterred is crucial.

    International development is evolving in radical ways and while these changes are happening subtly, it surely does demand that we evolve from normative ways of thinking and styles of working. Yet we still fancy being on the safe side and avoid talking calculated risks. Having failed many times in the past, we are not scared of failing any more rather we are eagerly awaiting for the next opportunity to fail, and Failing is Fun when you have colleagues and supervisors that support you in the process. When we start celebrating failures as equally as success that is when magic happens.

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  • What if preparedness action was informed by forecasts?

    Kathmandu 44600, Nepal, Kathmandu
    January 9th, 2017

    Imagine if we had forecast information that a flood disaster was likely to strike a particular location and we could anticipate the rain coming but were unable to do anything in that small window of opportunity. It would make sense if we were able to take early action and help vulnerable communities prepare before a disaster event based upon the available forecast information. Forecast based Financing (FbF) is a niche concept in the humanitarian sector that allows us to take actions based upon the best science ahead of time when it is not too late to respond.

    FbF combines disaster management and climate research where scientific weather forecasts are used to anticipate possible impacts in high risk areas and predefined plans automatically mobilizes resources before a disaster event.

     

     

    Current preparedness plans are often normative and based upon the average level of risks though there is a huge potential to scale up humanitarian actions when science indicates the increased level of risks regarding impending hazards. So far the policy directives have increasingly spurred investment in improving preparedness, enhancing existing early warning systems and response initiatives. But it has clearly overlooked much needed linkages between early warning and early actions for improved preparedness and response.

    FbF triggers early action based on forecasts, bridging the gaps between preparedness, disaster risk reduction and emergency response. Likewise, FbF also supports the Sendai Framework’s emphasis on the paradigm shift towards risk management and mobilizing investments to avoid new risks.

     

    Practical Action Consulting (PAC) is currently providing Technical Assistance (TA) to the World Food Programme (WFP) Nepal  in reviewing climate risks and flood early warning systems of Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Surkhet, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts  in Western  Nepal. The engagement will seek to develop dynamic Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) where thresholds triggers flood preparedness actions in the aforementioned districts.

    With contributions from Madhab Uprety – DRR Consultant at PAC

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  • Flood Dynamics in the Karnali Basin, West Nepal

    July 6th, 2016

    The Karnali is a trans-boundary river that originates from the Himalayas and flows along the steep and hilly terrain of West Nepal. The Karnali drains into the Terai plains from a narrow gorge at Chisapani where the river splits into the Geruwa and Karnali rivers, creating an inland delta before converging as the Ghagra in India (Zurich 2015). The river carries snow fed flows and has significant discharge even during the dry seasons. Based upon historical discharge records, 80% of the total flow occurs during the monsoon season with maximum flow events mostly occurring during the months of June through September (Dixit, 2009).

    The geomorphological origins of the Karnali bifurcation along with river shifting is not well understood, which is probably dictated by tectonics and attributed to the process of mountain building in the Himalayas (Sinha et al, 2014). Despite being one of the largest rivers of Nepal, there exists dearth of research on river morphology of the Karnali mega-fan (Zurich, 2015), and even less is known regarding the sediment dynamics and its impact on flooding at a basin scale. However, what is known is that the Karnali River floods the Terai plains every few years, and the frequency has increased in the past decade with major floods occurring in 2008, 2009, 2013 and 2014.

    Understanding the catchment response for rivers in Nepal is highly complex owing to the dynamic geomorphology upstream coupled with topographic and geological constraints (Nepal et al. 2014). Moreover, it is challenging to comprehend the catchment response during high intensity and short duration precipitation events that trigger flash floods downstream (Shrestha et al, 2008).  Floods are also dependent upon river morpho-dynamics and local slope conditions and generally follow non-linear pathways (Sinha et al, 2014).

    It is critical to understand non-linear pathways to flooding in large river basins such as Karnali, where myriad of engineering structures such irrigation canals and hydropower plants are currently being planned to divert water flows. With the changing climate, magnitude and frequency of floods are expected to increase in the near future (NCVST, 2009), altering the dynamics and carrying capacity of the rivers that would most likely impact the future flood conditions, which cannot be discounted for the Karnali River.

    LANDSAT Imagery indicating the relative locations of the Karnali and Babai rivers as they drain from the hills, along with both bifurcation point from Chisapani and re-joining of the Karnali River in the Indian floodplains

    LANDSAT Imagery indicating the relative locations of the Karnali and Babai rivers as they drain from the hills, along with both bifurcation point from Chisapani and re-joining of the Karnali River in the Indian floodplains

    Note: This post first appeared in the Flood Resilience Portal

    http://www.floodresilience.net/blogs/flood-dynamics-in-the-karnali-basin,-west-nepal

    References:

    1. Dixit, A. (2009). Kosi embankment breach in Nepal: Need for a paradigm shift in responding to floods. Economic and Political Weekly, 70-78.
    2. Gautam, D. K., & Dulal, K. (2013). Determination of threshold runoff for flood early warning in Nepalese Rivers. IDRiM Journal, 3(1), 126-136.
    3. Nepal, S., Flügel, W. A., & Shrestha, A. B. (2014). Upstream-downstream linkages of hydrological processes in the Himalayan region. Ecological Processes, 3(1), 1-16.
    4. NCVST. (2009). Vulnerability through the Eyes of Vulnerable: Climate Change Induced  Uncertainties and Nepal’s Development Predicaments. Kathmandu: Institute of Social and  Environmental Transition-Nepal (ISET-N), Nepal Climate Vulnerability Study Team (NCVST).
    5. Shrestha, A. B., Shah, S. H., & Karim, R. (2008). Resource manual on flash flood risk management. Internat. Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, ICIMOD. http://lib.icimod.org/record/7891.
    6. Sinha, R.; Kale, V.S.;Chakraborty, T. (2014), Tropical rivers of south and southeast Asia: Landscape evolution, morpho-dynamics and hazards, Geomorphology 227, 1–4.
    7. Zurich Insurance (2015). Risk Nexus: Urgent case for recovery: what we can learn from the August 2014 Karnali River floods in Nepal.

     

     

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  • Learning from 2014 Karnali River Floods in West Nepal

    August 5th, 2015

    As part of Zurich’s flood resilience program, the post event review capability (PERC) provides research and independent reviews of large flood events. It seeks to answer questions related to aspects of flood resilience, flood risk management and catastrophe intervention. It looks at what has worked well (identifying best practices) and opportunities for further improvements.

    The Karnali region in Nepal experienced major flooding in August 2014, causing 222 deaths and severely affecting more than 120,000 people. The challenge now is to recover, build resilience and to prevent similar damages and loss during future disasters.

    Urgent Case for Recovery: What we can learn from the August 2014 Karnali River Floods in Nepal is a post event review evaluating flood events, impacts, response and recovery to understand what happened, what could have been done differently, and opportunities for building flood resilience in Nepal. The post event review conducted by ISET International, ISET-Nepal, Practical Action Nepal and Zurich examines two rivers and two districts in the area affected by the floods -the Karnali and Babai Rivers in Kailali and Bardiya districts in West Nepal.

    While the early warning systems saved many lives, these lives have been irrevocably changed with the widespread loss of livelihoods, property, and critical infrastructure. The challenge now is to prevent such damages and loss from future disasters and develop local resilience. A common misconception is that building resilience is an expensive, resource heavy process. However, critical gaps in the disaster management system can be fixed with inexpensive and simple solutions.

    Problems seen in the 2014 floods – such as unwieldy response procedures and lack of information – hamper response to all disasters, including the recent earthquakes. Decision-making processes should be improved, more reliable data gathered, and aid needs to get to those people who need it most. In the end, it comes down to finding ways to become ‘resilient’ to disasters. Resiliency means risk mitigation and preparation, not just picking up the pieces and starting again after every new catastrophe. This is also the focus of Zurich’s flood resilience alliance program.

    Schematic of Karnali and Babai Basin

    Schematic of Karnali and Babai Basin

    Focusing on the disaster management landscape as a whole, including disaster risk reduction, preparedness, response and recovery, this post event review evaluates the flood events, impacts, response and recovery to understand what happened, what could have been done differently, opportunities for action, and identify opportunities for improving flood risk and disaster management as a whole in Nepal.

    The bigger picture that emerges from the 2014 floods in Nepal can be applied more universally: long-term thinking and addressing chronic problems that increase hazards should be part of the picture to get beyond relief efforts. Much work is still needed to save individuals, families and entire communities from the devastation of floods.

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