Understanding the environment
A defining feature of the Terai is that it possesses a population made up predominantly of recent migrants from hill regions of Nepal and from across the boarder with India. While traditional groups such as Tharu and Bote exist in large numbers they are less involved in settled agriculture and the knowledge they posses, about the history of the region and its climatic conditions, are not well known outside their own communities. As a result severe floods and erosion experienced in recent years have been a new experience for many.
An important issue for communities therefore is to understand the relationship between the weather and river conditions, as while river conditions are affected by rainfall patterns many miles upstream, local conditions are a major contributory factor. Flooding is not just caused by water moving downstream, but by local inundation which is a product of the intensity of rainfall, not simply its quantity.
Flooding is also caused by geological changes and results from changes brought about by human activity in a previously little populated area. The influence of land clearance and intensive, settled cultivation is particularly marked.
These interrelated factors need understanding if communities are to affectively respond to flood.
Where nature and man collide
The building of the Mahendra highway was one of the most major infrastructural achievements in Nepal, linking both east and west for the first time, through a roadway spanning the country. On the Lothar river however, in eastern Chitwan, the construction of a major bridge has resulted in obstruction of flow, accumulation of boulders and deposits, and raising of the river bed. This has exacerbated an already difficult situation and resulted in increased vulnerability to flood for adjacent communities. By failing to fully understand local conditions an intervention intended to improve peoples lives has actually contributed to increased risk and vulnerability.
Altering the landscape
This view, from the early warning tower in Meghouli, looks across open fields and the Rapti River to the Chitwan National Park beyond. The removal of all tress along the inhabited northern bank is in contrast to the uncultivated margins and forest beyond.
When the river rises annually it has only one choice, to cut into the unprotected northern bank, where human activity has left it vulnerable to erosion. In contrast the river line of the forested southern bank is almost totally static year round, irrespective of conditions, the mature forest growth being immune to even the most destructive of floods.
It is an irony that the preservation of the environment within the park contributes to the denudation of that beyond its boundaries.
Learning to read the signs
To start a process whereby communities can build up a record of weather and climatic conditions in their areas Practical Action, in conjunction with the Nepal Government Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, has carried out ToT (Training of Trainers) for school teachers in six selected secondary schools.
Schools were selected so that the greatest number of people could be involved in the gathering and recording of data and so the process could link into different parts of the school curriculum, including science and geography lessons.
As well as temperature, government approved equipment has also been installed to record humidity and rainfall in each school, with guidance been given by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology on the correct setting up of weather stations and use and handling of equipment.
Recording and dissemination
As well as recording the data schools are being encouraged to pass this information on to the district government and local media so that more accurate local reports can be made on conditions and better local forecasting developed.
Official meteorological stations exist in Chitwan and Nawalparasi but conditions vary widely in districts which encompass both plains and hills and as such more stations like this are needed.
In the near future, once the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology have been able to confirm the accuracy of recording, it is hoped the school stations will be formally registered and included within the national reporting system, so that students can contribute to an improved national weather forecasting system.
Watching the rivers
Outside of the school meteorological stations, flood gauges have been installed in all communities so the level of the river can be observed and recorded accurately. These gauges will help those officially charged with watching for floods measure the speeds and rates of rise and over time will enable communities to record the heights of specific flood years or monsoons. By marking these events on the gauges they will gradually build up a history and record of the relationship between specific river heights and flood consequences.guidelines have been produced for use in schools when standard meteorological and weather monitoring equipment is used,