An issue of sustainability
For any project the issue of long term sustainability is crucial, particularly when there is no formal income generation component within it. However maximizing the chances of sustaining a programme long term goes far beyond the issue of simply financing it. Sustainability encompasses training and skills development, increasing managerial and negotiating capacity and strengthening a programme or community's links with other organizations and institutions which can assist it. The project has addressed these issues in a number of ways.
1. Innovative ways of raising funds
Early warning towers don't run themselves, boats need maintenance, dykes and spurs need routine repair and community members need mobilizing each year, pre-monsoon, through public awareness activities. All these require money. With no income generation component within the project, worries were voiced early on by community members, that perhaps they wouldn't be able sustain all the activities they wanted to. As the programme has progressed however a number of interesting initiatives have developed.
Paddling into the black
In 5 out of Practical Actions 6 operational sites communities have built boats to be used for search and rescue operations in times of flood. During the annual Bikram Baba Mela (a local religious festival) in Jagatpur, people were requesting rides up and down and across the river and as demand was outstripping supply it was requested that the rescue boats be utilised. Charging only 5 Nepli Rupees (approximately 4 pence or â‚¬0.05 per trip) the users committee were able to earn over 27,000 Rupees in just three days, with the entire festival period lasting 15 days. An income opportunity they had never even considered.
The community are estimating that the total amount raised, once money has been deducted for the paying of boat handlers and other incidental costs, will be in excess of 100,000 Rupees (about £750/â‚¬1,100).
To put this in to perspective this will be enough money to pay for two full time tower 'watchers' for the entire period when there is threat of flood, for at least two years. As this is an annual event, long-term not only will the community be able to cover costs, but accumulate funds to carryout other disaster mitigation activities.
Local tourist options
In a similar move the communities in Meghouli and Pithauli are exploring the possibilities of tapping local (i.e. Nepali) tourist opportunities. The UNDP, through the Chitwan District Development Committee, are operating a "Tourism for Rural Poverty Alleviation" programme as part of which they are exploring the possibilities of ferrying tourists from the main bridge and bus terminal in Narayanghat, downstream, to a religious site at Triveni. They will be running a trial soon, to look at the feasibility and profitability, both of which look good.
Communities are also already using their boats to ferry international tourist across the river to the Royal Chitwan National Park. While this isn't an option in all locations with security greatly improved in Nepal, tourist numbers have been steadily increasing.
It should be noted the use of 'rescue' boats for such activities will not hamper their availability for the primary purpose as 1. the boats will not be on the water during the flood periods when they are needed for rescue purposes (it being too dangerous then for tourist activities) 2. boats don't wear out through use ! Indeed their regular use makes their handlers more confident (an important issue as their design differs from the long narrow 'pirogues' fishermen are used to handling) and makes community members more aware of their existence, there availability and those skilled in using them.
All of the early warning towers look out on the Rapti and Narayani rivers and across them to the Royal Chitwan National Park, as does a previous tower built by Practical Action in Bhandara during 2002. This existing tower has been regularly used by tourists.
Communities are now discussing options as to how best to manage this resource. While for securities sake they might like to keep towers locked during times of non-use, this will put off tourists who are unlikely to go looking for those who have the keys. If they are left open will donation boxes be safe or binoculars (supplied by the programme) left for tourist use ? These are issues the communities have yet to resolve. What ever their decision towers will undoubtedly be used for animal spotting purposes. As such communities are keen to maximize the fundraising opportunities.
Using traditional practices
In many areas traditional systems operate whereby families contribute labour for collective activities based on the amount of land they hold. "Bighauti". Under this system, where families fail to, or choose not to carryout their obligations, they can pay a fine instead. In a similar way communities have decided that those with the most land (and hence most assets to lose) should make annual donations to a fund to maintain the tower and early warning systems. As this is based on an existing and generally accepted practice there has been general agreement with the idea.
A variation on this has system has come about as a result of a Practical Action/Action Aid exchange visit, when community members from Kolhuwa visited the Action Aid "Bhakari" project around the Hadi Khola (Hadi river). Here Bhakari (cylindrical bamboo mat storage vessels, used for maize, rice, wheat, etc) are used to store crops contributed by the community as a donation. Seeing this, the community in Kolhuwa have decided to set up their own crop storage system whereby rather than donating money to a maintenance fund community members will donate a quantity of their crop. These donations will be stored in secure 'kitchen' facilities, built as part of the community shelters constructed under the DIPECHO programme, for sale when money is needed.
2. Increasing self reliance, management capacity and participation
Sustainability is not just about money but the ability to obtain assets, support and assistance through other means. By learning skills previously only obtainable from outside and by forging links with other actors in the disaster mitigation field communities are now able to draw on resources beyond the bounds of their own communities.
Seeking external assistance
By linking communities to the local District authorities and bodies such as the Department of Water Induced Disaster Prevention (DWIDP) the project has helped communities demonstrate their competence and commitment and given an opportunity for different stakeholders to interact where previously there was seen to be little necessity. Impressed by the levels of commitment shown wire and pre-woven "gabion" boxes for flood protection work have been donated to the value of several thousand pounds. As the cost of wire and wire cages can represent up to 50 % of the cost of a dyke or spur, being able to call on this resource in the future has made the likelihood of communities being able to carryout further work without outside financial assistance much greater.
A sense of identity
Having a focal point helps generate a sense of identity and can give an organization, committee or club a life beyond the initial activities it was set up to achieve. By providing community labour for the construction of school rooms to be used as shelters during periods of flood the schools themselves have been convinced of the project implementation committees commitment and value. As a result rooms in the new buildings are being offered as meeting points and offices for the committees beyond the end of the project. Through having this meeting point and recognized centre for future activities committees are now fully committed to continuing activities and further expanding their scope and purpose.
In Kolhuwa the committees have gone one stage further by approaching local tractor providers, generally richer people in the community and some of whom have been involved in the programme through the transport of rocks for the construction of dykes and spurs, to support them further. As a result they have been able to convince them to donate tables, chairs, cupboards sand other office supplies.
Learning new practical skills
The project has introduced new technical skills into communities such as the ability to weave gabion wire into boxes. No longer reliant on outside contractors or government employees this has greatly increased the likelihood of independent activity in the future.
In a similar way, having technical support on hand over the last year, communities have become aware of new ideas and considerations in carrying out activities, such as the incorporation of no-extra-cost disability-friendly features in building construction.
Management skills development
As well as technical skills, the project has given communities the opportunity to develop skills in book keeping, inter-community communication and consultation, tendering and transparency, and negotiating skills. Few of these have been formally taught, but have been developed through an interactive process within communities where individuals with a natural flair or aptitude have come forward.
The involvement of women in particular has become more pronounced over the course of the project with people having no previous experience of representation or decision making becoming actively involved. These skills and experiences will enable communities to better engage and organize for future activities, be these related to disaster mitigation and the threat of flood, or any issue within the community which requires collective action and engagement with organisations or individuals from outside of the community.
Acknowledgement of the ability and willingness of women to carryout non-traditional roles and the consideration of the opinions and knowledge of the elderly have been two major achievements of the project.
In Parsauni the construction of a bridge and check-dams has meant down stream communities are better protected and local movement is now easier and safer during periods of flood. However, by constructing channels around the bridge the opportunity for excess water to be taken off for irrigation purposes has been realized which has generated a lot of interest among adjacent farmers. By collectively managing how this water is channeled and shared the community are further appreciating the benefits of collective activity and the fact that it can have positive spin-offs beyond those originally anticipated. It is hoped this type of cooperation will be explored further as farmers realise by working collectively they can achieve positive benefits which could never to achieved individually. These types of activity will not only protect communities, but strengthen them.