The consequences of inaction
As the rivers of Nepal sweep down from the mountains the power and speed of their passage is magnified by the restricted passages they must pass through, between steep hillsides and valley walls. This, combined with the gradient of their descent, means they possess great force and carry great quantities of eroded material within their flow. However as they reach the Terai and both the gradient decreases and the restrictions on their lateral movement are removed, the speed of flow reduces and the carried load within the rivers is allowed to fall.
This deposition of material and the change from downward to lateral erosion have serious consequences for those living in the Terai.
The rise of river beds
All along the terai, where rivers from the hills meet the plains, rivers slow and rocks are deposited, raising the beds of rivers and thus reducing the capacity of rivers to hold flood waters within their banks. As the beds further rise, waters more regularly burst their banks and inundate communities. Here at the bridge at Piple both a major dilema and huge potential exists.
Over many years the deposition of rocks has raised the river bed so that flood waters can now scarcely pass under the road bridge. This results in both a threat to the very structure of the bridge itself and an increase in the likelihood of regular flooding due to the restricted flow.
As Piple is within a National Park "buffer zone" however removing the rocks (or any other natural resource from the river) is prohibited. Practical Action is working to obtain removal of this restriction so that not only can rock be removed to reduce the risk of flood, but so the rocks themselves can be used for dyke and spur construction, or sold commercially as building materials.
The failure to respect natural protection features
All along the northern banks of the Rapti and Narayani rivers clearance of land has been allowed with no provision for river bank protection. As such even where banks are level with the rivers erosion can be considerable due to the delicate nature of the alluvial deposit soils and the absence of vegetation to hold them together. Even where flows are gentle land is routinely lost to the river.
The failure to invest in protection infrastructure
Particularly along the Narayani river banks rise progressively higher above the level of the river as it progresses west. Here flood is not so much the threat, but the systematic erosion of huge areas of land. With investment in well located and constructed spurs and dykes this can be limited, if not removed, but with limited resources available and the channeling of funds through commercial contractors rather than community groups, less effective protection is provided than could be achieved.
The economic consequences
Rakesh Kumar & Prem Gurung (CSC) and Gehendra Gurung (Practical Action) standing in the corner remnant of what was once a large field used for the cultivation of rice. Eroded over several years the land has now been abandoned. It is a similar story throughout the Terai.
The human consequences
Buddiram Bote (60) had been living in Kolhuwa, Nawalparasi for the past 25 years:
"Since my two daughters were married and went to their husband's house, I have now three sons, and a wife. I had a small house, and 5 katthas of land on which I used to plant crops like maize, millet, and mustard. Beyond that, I and my family used to go fishing and do daily wage work to keep us going. I had anyhow a manageable life.
"In the floods of 2006 2/3 of my land was cut off and lost to the monsoon floods. Everybody in our cluster was threatened by this disaster. My family was shifted by the VDC representative to open ground, by a school, and my family has now been in a temporary camp for five months. Our only source of income is daily wage work, on other people's farmland, but it is only seasonal. I do not have any idea in my mind as to what to do. My children's life is dark and uncertain. I am waiting for help from the government, as a minimum for a shelter and some land."
There are altogether twenty five households with similar stories to Buddiram in the temporary camp.
Gum Maya Thapa, 30, and her 6-year-old daughter Arita:
"The rain went on for 3 days continuously. We realised our houses were in danger because the cliff was disappearing in front of us. Honestly, I didn't sleep for 3 nights because I was so frightened. But only at the end of the 3 days did we decide we definitely had to leave our homes. We took everything we could with us. Houses fell into the river. After that we didn't have anything to eat for 3 whole days.
"Now I live in this tent - I've been here with my daughter for 6 months now. Life is so different, compared to the past. It's cold under this tent and our houses are so close together so unfortunately my daughter suffers from health problems - she gets diahorrea often.
"I had a big piece of land. There was plenty to eat with the crops I grew - like rice, maize and sugar cane. I could also sell the extra at market and make a good living. Now me and my children have nothing. I go out and work on the land for a daily wage but it's long hours and little money. I have nothing like as much as I used to. I hope the government will help. I don't know what will happen in the future."