As well as working with communities on mitigation measures, such as building spurs and dykes, and helping increase their capacity to predict and warn of flood, the programme has aimed at building community capacities to deal with floods when they inevitably occur.
As part of this the programme has linked communities closer to District government and worked with the local authorities to encourage them to be more responsive. In the long run however the focus of the programme has been to make the communities themselves as self-sufficient as possible and to not rely on outside assistance. To achieve this, the communities have been supported in a number of ways.
Identifying the risks
In each community CBDM (Community Based Disaster Management) planning took place, the initial part of which concentrated on identifying the risks the communities faced, cataloging the history of local disasters and identifying those people and places which were most vulnerable. Following this, assets within the communities were looked at, ranging from the identification of safe places for evacuation to those individuals who might have specific skills such as training in first aid.
Following this a list and action plan was drawn up outlining the communities priorities. These plans covered issues such as locations for future physical defense work in the form of retaining walls or spurs, the marking of safe evacuation routes, identifying key individuals responsible for contacting the local authorities in cases of emergency and nominating selected individuals for specific roles such as monitoring river levels, operating early warning systems or being responsible for rescue operations.
Search and rescue
In most locations boats are used for fishing, but these are long, narrow, traditional craft, of a 'pirogue' type, carved from the trunk of a single tree. While maneuverable and ideal for fishing they are not sufficiently stable during times of flood, nor suitable for rescue activities, where bigger craft are necessary.
As such each community was funded to provided up to four vessels which they manufactured themselves using locally available materials. In each community a separate management plan has been established for the boats which cover where they should be located, who is responsible for their maintenance and upkeep and, crucially, who is responsible for crewing them when people need rescuing or ferrying from areas of land surrounded and cut-off by inundation.
Safety and training
As well as supplying resources Practical Action has ensured that full training has been carried out so that those responsible for assisting others are at as little risk themselves as possible. As an example life jackets have been distributed in all communities.
Safe evacuation and movement
Within settlements, even where total evacuation is not necessary, annual inundation occurs, making previously dry areas either impassible or unsafe for passage. As a result Practical Action, in discussion with communities, identified key locations for the upgrading of temporary bridges and culverts so that they can provide safe passage even during the worst floods. They will also provide other spin-off benefits.
Basanta Bahadur Kumal is 57 and lives in Laukhari which is a small community of about 300 people situated where 2 rivers meet - the Rapti and the Narayani. During the monsoon the land around the community floods, so that they are completely cut off from the main settlement of Meguali for up to 3-4 months of the year. Their community becomes an island.
"Until now we have not been able to grow vegetables for the market because there was no way of transporting it at the monsoon time. Because of this bridge we can really start to plan how we can raise more money by growing and selling things - knowing that there will always be a way to sell them.
"I am definitely, definitely less scared of the flood waters than I used to be. I know we still have to plan carefully - but we have a bridge so we will not be cut off for months every year which I am really so happy about. We can get to the neighbouring village even when the waters are high."
Provision for the most at risk
In all communities flood at some point is inevitable. As such shelters have been constructed for use during these periods of temporary evacuation. In each location the opportunity has been taken to locate these shelters in existing school facilities, to act as additional class space, so that they can provide community benefits all year round.
The opportunity was also taken to use these buildings as models, demonstrating a range of ideas new to buildings in the communities, such as improved ventilation, bigger windows to improve natural lighting, separate changing rooms for women, improved and gender segregated water and sanitation facilities and features such as disability ramps so access is ensured for all. These are only small features but will ensure a more livable environment for those unfortunate enough to have to evacuate their own homes.
Testing the plans
All plans remain plans until they are tested. As such in all locations 'mock drills' took place, pre-monsoon, in June 2007.
These mock drills tested not only physical assets, such as the siren early warning systems, but the community plans themselves. They also offered the opportunity for leaders in the communities to further reinforce messages to remain vigilant and informed in the periods of highest risk (normally June to September, annually).
Mock drills were also used as opportunities to engage the local media, to keep them informed about local plans and to further make them aware of the important role they can play.