Dinanath Bhandari

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  • Coping disasters beyond the border : Nepal-India cross-border flood early warning system

    September 12th, 2017

    Written by: Dinanath Bhandari, Buddhi Kumal, Lok Narayan Pokhrel and Kamal Tripathi


    Saving lives from flood disasters beyond the border is possible through early warning systems. It is demonstrated successfully in three river basins between India and Nepal. Bilateral cooperation at government level could make greater changes.

    While many governments are sharing information on cyclones and are helping in taking preventive measures, south Asian countries are yet to root their efforts in working together to save their people. However, civil society collaboration between Nepal and India has saved lives and assets from flooding. The governments in both countries can do better if they realize the importance of cross-border flood early warning systems. There are already evidences from good practice on the ground inspiring authorities to upscale efforts.

    Different countries, changed names but the pain is the same

    People living along the banks of Karnali (Ghagra in India) and Babai (Saryu in India) share the same exposure to floods. Both have lost relatives, assets and face drudgery brought about by the floods. Nepalese communities have less time to escape as they are in the upstream catchment and the flow is fast with less lag time to prepare and respond to particular flood. On the other hand, communities downstream in India didn’t have any information about impending floods until a few years back.

    NDFR Rescue Team Shifting people to safe areas. Photo: PPGVS

    For last few years flood frequency has been getting higher with record floods in West Rapti and Babai Rivers. Babai had devastating flood in 2014, when 32 people lost their lives in Bardiya, Nepal. In India, the flood broke the Saryu barrage dam and 13 people lost their lives. West Rapti has crossed the danger level several times since 2012, up to six times in some years. Loss of lives, assets and livelihoods was an common phenomenon for the people living in flood plains in Nepal and India.

    Changing floods: changing coping strategies

    However, the situation is changing now. In Nepal Practical Action has been working with communities, civil society organizations and relevant government agencies at local to national level to set up and advancement of community centered flood early warning systems in West Rapti (since 2008), Babai (2008) and Karnali (2010). Since 2016 Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) has started sending text messages directly to the people in flood prone areas based on their rainfall and flood forecast in addition to informing related authorities of Home Ministry at center and sub-national level. This has helped to evacuate people at risk to safer places to prevent loss of lives and movable belongings. An institutional mechanism of community disaster management committee (CDMC) has made the EWS operational thanks to efforts of Practical Action together with the DHM and other many institutions for over a decade.

    Community volunteers rescuing people to safe shelters in Bardiya, Nepal Photo: Nepal Flood Resilience Project

    In India in the downstream, Poorvanchal Gramin Vikas Sansthan (PGVS) has established community based flood early warning system in Gonda, Baharaich and Gorakhpur districts since 2012 with technical support from Practical Action along with its long time partners Nepal Red Cross’s Bardia District Chapter, Center for Social Development and Research (CSDR) and Radha Krishna Tharu Jana Sewa Kendra (RKJS). A generous information sharing by the DHM authorities for humanitarian purposes has made this possible. PGVS has been working together with Nepali NGOs and Red Cross to improve collaboration for information sharing to saving lives in the downstream. Following Nepal’s alert, warning and danger level of floods in the flood forecasting stations in Kusum (West Rapti), Chepang (Babai) and Chisapani (Karnali), calibrations have made to different Indian communities along with lead time calculations. Indian communities receive information via SMS sent by community individuals in Nepal built on informal linkages and watching DHM web pages that display real-time flood and rainfall situation. In the communities, trained volunteers take lead to communicate by hand operated sirens, mega phones and door to door visits.

    The Nepal, India, Bangladesh Floods 2017

    Babai Flood Rating Curve. Source: DHM

    Strong monsoon winds in the second week of August dumped a lot of rainwater in parts of Nepal, India and Bangladesh resulting in huge floods in these countries. Almost every river originating in Nepal enters India. Huge floods in Nepal often cause similar situations for people in parts of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar in India. On 12-13 August 2017, there was an unprecedented flood in the Babai and West Rapti rivers in Nepal which soon crossed the border and reached India in few hours. Real-time river level sensor of the DHM recorded that the highest level of flood of Babai in Chepang flood gauge station was 9.98m on 13 August 2017 and of West Rapti in Kusum flood gauge station was 8.87m on 12 August 2017. Both were the highest level of flooding on record.

    Cross border cooperation saved lives

    In the August 12-13, 2017 floods, information sharing in between upstream and downstream communities demonstrated its significance. Indian communities and the organizations take care of potential rainfall in the upstream and frequently watch the DHM real-time information. Indian communities also call to upstream communities in Bardiya and Banke, hydrology stations in Nepal and request to inform them about the level of flood and rainfall status in the upstream. The network members brought this collaboration to a new height in this year. They used internet applications and social media to exchange flood information [insert cross border SMS or WhatsApp]. This enables communities to get timely information about potential risk of flood and authorities to help communities. People and authorities in Bahraich, Gonda, Shravasti, Balrampur, Siddarthanagar and Gorakhpur received flood information in advance through different media.

    Rating Curve of West Rapti. Source: DHM

    The mechanism proved a success to saving lives of many people in above districts in India. The information was generated in Nepal and shared with members in India. “It helped people to save their lives, movable properties and important belongings”, said Krishna Kumar of PGVS in Bahraich. Once the flood crossed warnings these three rivers in Nepal, members shared information actively. Nepali people relayed flood forecasts and updates from the DHM to their Indian counterparts. The network members made use of social media. These media were also used to inform communities in India. “PGVS sent rainfall and flood risk information using WhatsApp, Facebook and group SMS that helped save lives in this severe flooding”, Kamal Tripathi of PGVS shared. “We sent them to task forces at community level, relevant government officials, media and inter-agency groups and it proved a success”. They reached 2500 key persons instantly through these channels helping over 2,000,000 flood vulnerable people in 6 districts in UP prompting them to evacuate in time.

    The Civil Society Network

    These initiatives taken by civil society organizations have received support from journalists, advocates, and members for chamber of commerce and industries – the business sector in Nepal and India to strengthen the cross border flood EWS. In 2016, they formed Indo Nepal cross border flood early warning network. The network is Co-chaired by Krishna Gautam – President of Nepal Red Cross Society, Bardiya District Chapter and Krishna Kumar Tripathi – Additional Director of PGVS in India as a member secretary to the network. The network aims to demonstrate successful EWS mechanism beyond border to saving lives from floods and influence authorities to collaborate better between two countries. “We are doing this for saving lives, assets and livelihoods from flood disasters”, said Krishna Gautam of Nepal Red Cross Bardiya, “It is based on our humanitarian principles and the collaboration is on humanitarian ground.” According to review in the communities, loss of lives has been brought down to minimum possible in Bahraich, Gonda and Gorakhpur despite unprecedented immense flooding thanks to cross border cooperation. This has demonstrated an example to take up by governments.

    Screen Shot. WhatsApp

    Disasters extend beyond borders warranting cross-border cooperation on prevention, preparedness and response to flooding at all levels to helping each other. There are reasons why governments should invest, collaborate and cooperate with each other in preventing disasters; a shift is required in approaches and practices to address the risks of changing floods. The technology is advancing, access to flood risk information has been possible prompting preventive measures by the communities and authorities beyond the border. Governments should tap the opportunities created by civil societies.

    Find out more…

    Read more about Practical Action’s work in Disaster Risk Reduction and as part of The Zurich Flood Resilience Programme – or about our ongoing programmes in Nepal.

     

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  • Nepal Floods 2017 : lessons in preparedness

    August 27th, 2017

    After a disaster, people talk about build back better. The flood disaster in the second week of August in Nepal told us to do better preparedness and ‘bring back better’.

    Disasters test our response capacity. The floods have revealed our strength and weaknesses. It was an exam for decade long interventions by numerous agencies on flood preparedness – District Disaster Preparedness Plans, pre-monsoon workshops and so forth that happened every year in every district for many years. The reduced number deaths and losses despite extent of the disaster is one strong indicator of success. This is significant progress in saving lives. However, not a systematic one.

    The flood early warning system is a last mile solution to saving lives. We should not perceive wrongly that it should do all of preparedness. Introduction of rainfall to run-off models have enhanced risk forecasting and monitoring to let authorities know about the potential risk of floods. Localized mass SMS through NCell and NTC have improved communication of flood risk updates to communities, social media are other means connecting people globally. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) confidently issued flood alerts to flood vulnerable communities at least 24 hours before a flood event. It was not imagined few years back. Models have increased lead time of real-time flow (also known as gauge to gauge) based early warning as well by 2-5 hours. These all improved flood risk forecasting. Had authorities taken meaningful response actions in time soon after they got flood risk information; we could have prevented losses significantly. However the recent flood event showed efforts on preparedness are yet to payback and the cost of negligence reduced the gains. The floods in 12-13 August, 2017 are real time test of our long investment on disaster preparedness, not EWS alone.

    15 years on: EWS to saving lives, properties and livelihoods
    Flood EWS is an integrated system of interdependent systems. We have been working with concerned government, non-government agencies and flood prone communities, too many to name, in respective river basins in setting up and advancing the system. Some components of the systems are equipped with modern technologies – risk monitoring and communication. There are institutional set up down to community level built in last 10 year or so. More people are trained and our security personnel are better organized and equipped to respond.

    Since 2002, we in Practical Action have reached flood prone communities in major (9) river basins and have worked in national mechanism of government for EWS with the DHM. We worked together with partners, allies, vulnerable communities and their concerned government agencies. In some river basins the EWS has been extended to further downstream communities in India to saving their lives. It has set successful example in Karnali (Ghagra in India), Babai (Saryu in India) and west Rapti. Saving people should be a mission beyond borders. For us these flood events were.

    Nepal floods 2017, a Real –time test of EWS
    In this year flood, some components demonstrated success but ultimate response actions had limitations. The weather and flood risk forecasting happened in time, communication were improved but could not generate actionable advisories for particular communities in time. The human and governance parts of the systems are yet to graduate. It lacked specific risk knowledge to take proper actions in right time. As the result there were differentiated flood response actions. Flood early warning should mean people at risk zone are evacuated before flood reaches their location. It’s all about taking people to safety before hazards come. But many people waited flood to arrive at them after they got alerts and warnings. Is it adequate? EWS is part of DRR and preparedness, not a stand alone system.

    Intense rainfall on from 11 to 12 August resulted into big (worst in record in many river basins) flooding from 11-13. Immediate effects lasted for about a week. Government’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) had issued alerts and warnings of the potential disastrous events in advance from 8th August and they issued alert for rivers in the east.

    Flood alert for the eastern Tarai on 8th August.

    There were normal rainfall on 9th August but the cloud got dense on 10th. The DHM informed the potential intense rainfall and flood. The active monsoon rains since 8th August but much intense from 11th in Tarai, Siwalik and some of the mid-hills generated highest level of flood in second order rivers (Kankai, Bagmati, West Rapti, Riu, Babai) and the third order rivers/rivulets that originate from Siwalik and Tarai. Considering the potential off intense rain and potential cloud burst situation the DHM issued special bulletin in the afternoon of 10th August and informed EOC of the potential risk. By afternoon of the day, they issued special bulletin and sent to authorities through National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC). It was at least 24 hours ahead of flood event on 11 evening.

    More effect was inundation from local rain. In the rivers – Babai, Rapti, Bagmati, Triyuga-Khando, Budhi Ganga, Kankai, Biring (from west to east), it accumulated tributary input and hill catchment rain as well. Flood alerts were issued considering the rainfall in the downstream catchment as well but authorities do not have proper knowledge of rainfall inundation relationship in specific areas. Throughout the event, the DHM sent SMS texts to the communities when flood reached warning in the flood forecasting station of particular river. The SMS were sent in Kankai, Rapti, Riu, East Rapti (Chitwan), Babai.

    However, response actions on the ground were not taken effectively as anticipated. Many people and agencies did not know about the extent of flood in their locality, neither authority were confident of potential consequences. People shifted their goods in the upper stairs, gathered in home but did not leave it. The system was strong in looking at atmosphere but not generating proper actions on the ground. Many deaths could have been prevented if authorities were serious in taking respective decisions and people were forcefully evacuated in time. Following DHM alerts and warnings, DDRCs and security forces informed the flood risk to the communities but they were not actionable instructions. One survivor said, “We got the information in time but where to go?”

    Where there are community based institutions (CDMC, task forces), preparedness on the ground and people had experienced bad flood within last 5 years or so; they were less negligent, moved to safer places nearby. An example is Babai river flood plains in Bardia. They faced flood in 2014 and sustained huge losses. A ware house of Nepal Red Cross in Tikapur municipality in Kailali eased the relief processes’ after the event. However long-distance and timely evacuation did not take place; many response actions were not in time.

    People are moving to shelter, only when they realized it is not safe where they are.

    Government and communities have realized that early warning helped saving lives to a great extent. However, it is also realized that preparedness as a whole was not adequate and people and stakeholders could not take anticipated action after receiving the flood risk information. According to DRR portal of Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) as of 21 August, 157 people died and 29 are missing in these different events from 11 August. About 70 among them are from landslides. Over dozen people died while pulling logs from the flooded river or crossing them without safety measures. As per the records 43433 houses have been reported fully damaged and 100481 people of 20888 families are displaced. Read more on the 2017 Nepal floods.

    What it tells to us.
    The flood events have been real world test of community centered approaches we worked and discussed for last 15 years. It is been success in totality to reduce deaths but there are numerous things to do. There are weaknesses and disconnects in interventions and are issues around sustainability. The government has supported the efforts but is yet to take in their responsibility and accountability. The preparedness was almost limited to stakeholder meetings; not any actions upon. The current deaths are the cost of that negligence. Flood maps need to be updated. Rivers have changed the dimension; we? Current warning and danger levels should be reviewed.

    Nonetheless, appreciating the value of EWS, we need to take opportunity and build disaster preparedness on this success. It shows the private sector should be in the core team for preparedness. The text messages made differences. Once we connect the dots in the system, raising confidence of actors, authorities and communities to become accountable to disaster preventive practices. A long march it is, therefore, to walk together better. The floods will come one day again and they will come worse.

    After a disaster, people talk about build back better. For an integrated approach on disaster prevention and EWS for flood preparedness, it should be also ‘bring back better’.

    Find out more…

    Related information:
    https://twitter.com/DHM_FloodEWS
    Madhukar Upadhyaya http://www.onwardnepal.com/opinion/understanding-nepalfloods2017/
    http://drrportal.gov.np/uploads/document/1071.pdf
    http://news.trust.org/item/20170824050440-npfwh/

    Read the Post-Event Review Capability (PERC) report: Urgent case of recovery: what we can learn from the August 2014 Karnali River floods in Nepal.

    Learn about Practical Action’s work on Early Warning Systems or how we can create resilience in the face of increasing risk. Or more about Practical Action’s work in Disaster Risk Reduction and as part of The Zurich Flood Resilience Programme – or about our ongoing programmes in Nepal

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  • Squatters’ community transforming into flood resilient community

    June 22nd, 2017

    A squatters’ community of over 41 migrated families from different places as landless have been building their flood resilient capacities. They organized together, learned and put their efforts to disaster risk reduction. An end to end flood early warning system set up by Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) and Practical Action in collaboration with agencies of the government of Nepal with funding support from USAID/OFDA breaks down vulnerability to enhance community flood resilience.

    The vulnerability
    Sukumbashi Basti (squatters’ community) in Shiva-Satakshi Municipality used to be one of the most vulnerable communities in the area. The village is in the Kankai River floodplain in the north of east-west highway along the riverbank. The community has about 164 people in 41 households. They migrated from different places and settled in the open land of Kankai riverbank. Most people have to live in daily wage work as agriculture and other labour in the neighbouring cities Birtamod, Damak, Surunga and in the local markets around.

    Sukumbasi Basti at Kankai River bank

    The settlement falls in the alluvial fan of the river and the close proximity has increased the flood vulnerability of the community. The river is perennial but brings flash flood of very high speed during monsoon. On the other hand, they did not have a safe exit to reach the embankment on the outer side which is the only a safer place during flash flood. The community had a trail that too flooded during monsoon resulting village into an island. “The flood water in Kankai River and the heavy rain made lives at risk always during monsoon,” said Mr. Rudra Bahadur Neupane a local resident in the village, “We need to move towards the embankment at any time during night or day when the water level in the river increased.” However, reaching embankment was not easy and safe. Gullies created small flood ways from local rain making difficult to cross them to reach the embankment.

    The flood coping
    Community have encountered floods in the past and have suffered losses. Some of them are already flood victims in their origin from where they migrated here. A thick cloud above hills of Ilam (upstream) always frightened people with risk of flood. The access to safe place was the most difficult and they lived in a flood surrounded island. In the events of big flooding that caused heavy losses of grains and assets, they received relief support from different organisations such as NRCS, District Development Committee (DDC), Federation of Commerce and Industries and community organizations. Since it is very close to foothill they have very less time to prepare for and escape flooding. Therefore, they needed to be alert of the rainfall that would generate flood of damaging strength. The community were yet to organize well and devise strategies and actions. Initially they did not approach organisations, local government bodies and the District Disaster Relief Committee (DDRC) for flood risk reduction. The need to move from traditional relief approach to risk prevention and mitigation was realised although not materialised.

    Getting organised
    The communities had realised the need and importance of access to flood risk information well before the flood would reach their vicinity. This is what an end to end early warning system brings in. The NRCS initiated Kankai end to end flood early warning system project in 2014. The project approached and helped them to organise, identify problems and their root causes, devise solutions and organize resources to bring ideas into action. Initial community consultations were focused to organise communities to build understanding on flood exposure, vulnerability and risk together with community capacities and initiatives. These processes led to formation of disaster management committee, task forces and trainings. Gradually, in-depth discussions carried out to devise how community could reduce disaster risk and transform vulnerability into resilience. The NRCS has not only implemented the project but also linked communities to Red Cross movement and helped community to devise strategies and actions to reduce losses. Building on the trust they have with these agencies, the NRCS have strengthened community unity, linkage and improved confidence that they can reduce impact of the flood.

    Improving access road to escape flood
    The most and urgent action identified by the vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) was the access road to safe locations to escape flood. “There was need to build a safe evacuation route and during the initial meetings and workshops the community always put forward the request to support its construction,” says Badri Bhujel of NRCS.

    The access road before

    The community organised resources and contributed what they could on their own. They widened the foot trail and delineated the route to the embankment. They got two hum pipes from NRCS and constructed a drain across the road in 2015. The community collected cash from each household, approached local government bodies and agencies to support cash and materials to build stronger culvert to improve the evacuation route by building culverts and retaining wall to protect access road from flooding and sufficient spill way for torrents in between village and the embankment.

    They collected stones and locally available materials, NRCS provided cement, they purchased iron rods and other materials from the money they collected, local government sent a technician and finally community built a culvert with retaining walls that now provides a safe passage to the people during floods. The road is wider such that carts and ambulances can pass through.

    The access road after

    Formation of community disaster management committee (CDMC) organised them for disaster risk reduction. “When I participated in the VCA process I realised that the project helps us to identify ways and means to reduce our flood risk. We identified hazards and analysed their causes, driving factors and our vulnerability. On the other hand, we assessed required and available resources and capacity of our community,” Bharat Khaling Rai shared initial experiences of working together. “And the trainings, exposure visits and interaction with other communities and humanitarian actors organised by the project increased our understanding and confidence to mitigate flood risk and increase our coping capacity,” he said.

    Getting DRR into development
    The CDMC actively involved to the local development planning process through then ward citizen forum and influenced the process to include disaster risk reduction measures in development interventions. Now they hope to get some representatives elected to the local government bodies from the community as the election is happening soon. “We are now familiar with the local level planning and we have presented our request to municipality to upgrade our access road,” explained Rudra Nembang Coordinator of flood early warning task force in the CDMC showing their confidence to move forward on their own to approach authorities to access public fund. Development infrastructures are gradually incorporating DRR in design, layout and construction.

    Leading DRR locally and seeking outside support when required
    The community is now organised into CDMC and institutionalized interventions. They have regular CDMC meetings and have established a DRR fund. This fund will be used to provide immediate relief if any family in the community is in disaster situation. The community has a saving of NPR 40,150 (1 USD = NPR 100) in their emergency fund. They hold skills and confidence to construct small mitigation measures. They have tried to strengthen embankment of Kankai River to control river bank erosion and have planted 8,000 vetiver grass culms in 300 m of the riverbank. They contributed labour and purchased plants by raising cash from each household and invested NPR 200,000 (~US$ 2,000) through cash and work. The Lions Club of Kathmandu had supported for 3000 vetiver grass culms. They raised fund for to buy 5000 culms. “They can extract from these clumps and transplant,” said Lok Raj Dhakal showing the growing vetivers along the embankment slope, “They can sell vetiver culms in few years.”

    The community plans to continue efforts to strengthen riverbank through bioengineering. The grass is fed to livestock and has also potential to generate cash by selling. The NRCS has helped to build local leadership capacity and connect to outsiders to access better support following the principles of community led DRR approach for flood resilience.

    Growing vetiver grass along bank

    Community livelihood assets are yet weak and need external support to strengthen to make them robust and resourceful. Livelihood strategies need to improve for better and sustainable income options. Although there is a long way ahead to build community flood resilient and communities have transformed their approaches from seeking relief to prevention of disaster and being ready with capacity to cope with unanticipated ones.

    With Support from Krishna Basaula, Rakesh Shah, Hari Saran Khadka and Badri Bhujel, Jhapa, Nepal.

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  • Bio-dyke protects Bangalipur community

    April 26th, 2017

    Healthy natural capital provides a buffer between flood hazards and communities. In flood emergencies it provides protecting ecosystem services and in normal time it is a livelihood resource. The vegetation growing along the strengthened river bank in Bangalipur, Bardia brings hope to at least 40 households and provides a site for others to ‘see and learn’.

    There are 135 households living in Bangalipur; 40 households in this community are at risk of flood from the Aurahi Khola, a tributary of Karnali River.

    The flood affects the community in three ways: it erodes the bank away and destroys agriculture and settlement; deposits sand and silt which damages harvests and makes it difficult to cultivate crops in the future; and during high flood events, the flood can inundate settlement leaving people homeless. Over the last 15 years the river has eroded three bigha (2.028 hectare) of agriculture land owned by 10 families rendering some of them landless. If this issue is not addressed the remaining 40 vulnerable household will be displaced.

    Working in isolation, communities did not have the capacity to construct any kind of embankment. The Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) brought communities together and a representative body was formed – the community disaster management committee (CDMC) of Bangalipur.

    The committee led a vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) which identified the Aurahi Khola riverside and nearby households as the most vulnerable to flooding. To address this problem the community identified the need to strengthen the embankment and flood defence structures and included it in their disaster risk management plan.
    Although initial community priority was for high investment concrete structure or a pile of stone filled gabion boxes, they agreed on vegetative measures of bio-dyke technology using locally available resources and mobilising communities through the leadership of the CDMC. The project supported the communities in survey and design, cost estimate, funding for materials that needed to be purchased or hired and the communities provided the locally available materials and labour. A written agreement was reached in between the CDMC and the project outlining the objective, roles and scope of work for both sides.

    River bank before constructing bio-dyke

    The bio-dyke building
    A junior engineer was brought in to technically advise and guide the work. Members of the community worked together to smoothen the bank slope between 30-45 degrees. A base foundation was dug out at the bottom of the bank slope. Then, grip walls were built in the foundation of sand bags supported with bamboo poles and systematically interlocked by gabion iron (GI) wire. These tow walls used 12 ft long bamboo poles in two rows running parallel at one metre and each driven into 8 ft deep holes dug by a driller and sand bag piled in between.

    Piling sand bags along the slope to construct the bio-dyke

    At every 20 m intervals along the bank, bamboo spurs (3 m long, 1.5 m wide and about a metre high) were constructed in the same way – filled with sandbags to deflect water flow away and to prevent water directly hitting the embankment. Sand bags were then piled up along the smooth bank slope – they were guided and interlocked with bamboo poles and GI wire. Lastly, the sandbags along the bank slope were covered with top soil in between hedge rows at 1-2 metres. Before the onset of monsoon (the growing season), locally available seedlings were brought from nurseries and transplanted on the slopes. The plants included bamboo, Napier and bushes that establish and extend their root systems rapidly. Bamboos were chosen at the face – the tow wall side. The community put a hedgerow of plants to prevent the slope from grazing and trampling. The community members monitored the area and prevented grazing.

    Opportunity to test
    The bio-dyke aimed to stabilise the 220 m river bank protecting about six bigha (4.056 hectare) land of 10 families. On the 26 July 2016, one of the biggest recorded floods in the river occurred, providing an opportunity for the community to test the strength of their structure. Although the dyke is yet to naturally stabilise to attain its full strength, it defended the flood well without major damage. The flood was 3 m high and rose over the bioengineering structure but there was no bank cutting and the land at the back was well protected. “There’s also less sand and silt brought in our field,” said Namrata who is one of the land owners. The coordinator of CDMC is ‘pleased to see the success’ and said, “We will extend the dyke further.”

    After bio-dyke construction at Bangalipur, Bardia

    The process built capacity within the community on how to build a bio-dyke. One hundred and thirty five community members worked on the process and have learned how it is done, increasing their awareness on the importance of riverbank protection. “We are now confident, we can do it,” one of the CDMC members said. He informed us that they are approaching local government to advocate for funding allocation to extend the embankment but the ongoing restructuring and elections may ‘lead to waiting for another fiscal year’.

    All information of this story were collected by Buddhi Kumal, Lok Pokharel, Narayan Ghimire and Prakash Khadka.

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  • 8 steps to make farmers flood resilient

    February 7th, 2017

    By Buddhiram Kumal  & Dinanath Bhandari

    Building on the strength of the farmers’ field schools (FFS), Nepal Flood Resilience Project has devised the FFS to train and help farmers further to adopt flood resilient technologies, strategies and approaches to transform their vulnerability into resilience. Here’s how we are making farmers flood resilient through this academy for flood resilience.

    1. Organising to learn

    Farmers’ field schools are proven approaches and strategies to help farmers learn and adopt new technologies and skills. The FFS are discussion, practice and demonstration forums promoting learning by doing. Farmers from the community organise into a group and assemble together with a facilitator in regular interval, often weekly or fortnightly based on the need to discuss, learn and practice on growing crops of their choice. It is practised in the farmers’ field as a school to learn throughout the crop cycle, generally for a year and then follow up. Acquiring knowledge and skills is the crucial element of transformation. Farmers’ livelihoods and disaster resilience capacities are affected by the access of people to knowledge and skills on their livelihoods that would prevent, avoid and successfully cope with the impacts of floods they are exposed to.

    2. Empowering women

    In the project area, agriculture technicians have been facilitating each FFS where multiple strategies have been introduced to enhance access of marginal farmers to knowledge, skills and technologies on growing crops in different seasons.  These FFS are particularly focused to flood prone communities in Karnali flood plains in Bardiya and Kailali districts. They are smallholders and utilising the seasonal window-the winter-and non-flooding season is important to complement loss of crops from flood (however not always) and increase income utilising to grow cash crop in the land which potentially remained fallow in the past. So far in last two and half years, the project facilitated 31 FFS each in a community where 621 (Men: 85, women: 536) people – one from each family- participated and learned on technologies and skills to growing usual crops and new crops and varieties that could be sold instantly for cash income. Each field school consisted of 20 to 25 people mostly women. Since male migrate out seasonally in search of work in India or abroad, the agriculture is feminised. Therefore, participation by more number of women in the FFS contributed to enhance production and family income in particular.

    Apart from learning to better grow crops and livestock, the participants discuss on the strategies to prevent losses from the flood and better recover if losses were unavoidable. For example: one group near Tikapur town adopted growing mushroom and selling them into local market during winter which surpassed the loss of crops by flood during summer. The group discusses on the hazards, risks and potential interventions to reduce the risk and successfully overcome the disaster losses. The FFS have become like a Flood Resilience Academy fostering culture of learning, doing and sharing among farmers. The FFS have become instrumental to vulnerable people to change their cultivation practices to produce more yields of usual crops and multi-seasonal production has additional income that creates opportunity and confidence for resilience thinking. Many farmers’ group have developed into a formal institution with agreed group functioning protocols and registered with the respective government institution-District Agriculture Development Office or its Area Service Centre. This provides them better access to government services, information on technologies and practices. The service centres try to reach farmers through such groups.

    3. Academy of practice

    The FFS comprises of theory and practice on the subject matter. The course follows the crop cycle from soil preparation to post harvest and even further to marketing or final consumption/utilisation. A facilitator supports organization of farmers’ into the ‘School’. Farmers learn on concepts and practices and then they practice. For example, if they learn on nursery bed preparation, they prepare a nursery bed. The next week they would discuss on transplanting and would do transplanting in their demonstration plot, and so forth towards the end of crop cycle. Usually the facilitator designs and conducts the classes; however it is ensured that farmers have access to interact with a range of experts relevant to crops and other livelihoods of the farmers. In our case farmers also discussed on problems associated with flooding, health and social issues reflecting on the past to improve future. Demonstration and practice is priority for learning by doing.

    4. Building up confidence on technical knowledge and skill

    Each crop or livestock have different requirement, they are sensitive to a number of hazards and adversities. Therefore, technical knowledge and skills are important to build on confidence. Strategy, therefore, is to help farmers learn and do soil management, seed/breed/variety selection suitable to local climatic conditions, market potential and farmer’s individual preference. Later on, the process goes on to learn and apply growing seeds, transplanting, weeding,  pruning, top dressing- the intercultural operations through harvesting and selling of particular crop, variety or breed. Passing through a cycle of crop, farmers build up skills and confidence potentially becoming able to go for higher yield, greater in scale and more confident to prevent or recover the losses. They also build on confidence to utilise seasonal opportunities and switch to better crops or options.

    5. Improvement and changes in practices

    The strategy is both to improve existing practice and adopt new practices and technologies. Few farmers were engaged in the commercial farming in the past. Farmers have lost crops not only from flood but also from different diseases in crops like rice, wheat, maize etc. But now after a cycle of FFS in the community, the farmers have selecting improved varieties of vegetables (to name: Snow crown, Silver cup and Kathmandu local varieties of cauliflower; Madhuri, Manisha, Himsona and Shreejana varieties of tomatoes) to increase production. They also learned techniques to protect crops and vegetables from diseases and adverse weather effects. Considering the market and value of product, farmers have initiated grading of potatoes to increase the sale of good quality produce at higher prices.

    Vegetable farming in a plastic tunnel at Anantapur, Rajapur Municipality, Bardiya.

    Vegetable farming in a plastic tunnel at Anantapur, Rajapur Municipality, Bardiya.

    6. Enhanced skills, increased production and improved livelihoods

    Farmers’ field schools have been helping farmers to develop systemic thinking. At least 174 (28%) farmers in a FFS were growing mushroom which is new crop for them, 286 farmers have been growing green vegetables as new winter crop to most of them and selling them in local markets. In rainy season some members in the FFS tried planting flood tolerant rice variety Swarna Sub-1 recommended by research but new to them.

    Furthermore, FFS helped to improve community access to agriculture advisory services and weather information. Better access to reliable weather prediction services helps them to plan activities. Some farmers have altered input dates like preparing nursery bed or harvesting produce. The change in time depends upon the weather forecast of that period although not true for every time. FFS also changed farmers understanding on irrigation at vegetables. Farmers irrigate vegetables more efficiently comparing to past. Due to these knowledge and information, farmers are producing more and getting more income.

    7. Leveraging benefits to enhance flood resilience

    The FFS has been helping farmers grow different crops and increase income. Farmers have invested the income on their children’s formal education, health and fulfilling family’s daily needs. Some of them are saving for future. For instance, Mrs. Manju Chaudhary – a member of Navajagaran farmer group at Bangaun of Dhansinghpur Village Development Committee (VDC) is growing vegetables. She learned from FFS and made income NPR 85,000 (approximately $770) in the past two seasons. She has built her new home with a 2 feet 3 inches raised platform to avoid the flood impact, investing NPR 40,000. She has invested NPR 13,000 as a premium for insurance of her son. She has been paying monthly educational fee amounting NPR 1,500 for her two children and also constructed a biogas plant for NPR25,000.

    The FFS outcomes contribute to enhance family’s flood resilience making their economy and livelihood assets robust and resourceful and contributing to many themes that contribute to flood resilience. The learning process helps to find and adopt a number of choices and opportunity to innovate thereby building redundancy and enhancing rapidity to contain losses if any disastrous hazard hit them.

    Mushroom farming at Shantipur, Gola VDC, Bardiya.

    Mushroom farming at Shantipur, Gola VDC, Bardiya.

    8. Fostering flood resilience

    Sustainability of preventing losses of lives, assets and livelihoods is the prime outcome of flood resilience. This comes through a range of themes in at least five different livelihood capitals. The knowledge/skills and technologies gained by each farmer helps to maintain continuity of their household income even during ups and downs which will also influence other choices and decision making. The linkages developed with the local government and government service providers will be continued beyond project periods.  The institutional set up and linkage will help access support to recover the losses faster. These assemblies provide avenue for farmers to discuss with each other and learn together by doing and demonstrating. The approach has been instrumental in the area particularly for women to utilise time window of winter and dry season to grow lucrative crops and overcome the losses by flood during monsoon. Even during the flooding season, farmers have adopted flood tolerant varieties, different species mix and switching to different crops to diversify income sources. The farmers’ field school lasts for a year generally, however, enhanced confidence and learning sharing culture and access to their service providers and market will continue to improve fostering farmers’ resilience to flooding.

    Buddhiram Kumal is Project Officer, Nepal Flood Resilience Project and Dinanath Bhandari is Programme Coordinator, DRR and Climate Change, Practical Action South Asia Regional Office.

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  • The value of going back: livelihoods in the catchments of the ‘mad river’

    Devchuli 33000, Nepal, Devchuli
    October 1st, 2014

    Eight years ago, when we proposed the Strengthening Livelihood Capacities to DRR in Nepal project (2007-2010), the communities knew their local environment was changing, but climate change was only a debated theory.

    Kirtipur is a village situated on ancient colluvial or landslide deposits in the upper reaches of the Deusat stream – further downstream in the Terai it’s known as the ‘Baulaha’ or ‘mad’ river. For those living in Kirtipur, extreme flooding during the rainy season, together with droughts before and after, have been indicators of something going wrong in their environment.

    One of the communities downstream is Bote, whose residents used to rely on traditional fishing and boat ferrying for their livelihood. Fishing and ferrying is no longer an option for the landless community on the riverbank – the river where they used to ferry and fish is now part of a protected area, and new bridges mean boats are no longer needed to cross the river.

    Those families now depend on off-farm labour – either in the nearby towns along the national highway, Narayanghat, or as migrant workers elsewhere. Those that remain, mostly women, rely on risky agricultural activities in the river margins. Floods were common and often destroyed their low-lying crops. The project supported and organised funds from different agencies for building an embankment to protect the land. The community have been able to reclaim their land – but would the ‘Mad River’ let it stay?

    Tapping ecological opportunities to reduce disaster risks

    To improve the chance of controlling the river, longer term solutions needed to be found, but these would be in the upper reaches of the watershed where slash and burn agriculture was changing the landscape.

    To cut a long story short, the issues of mitigating floods and securing food and protecting the environment were discussed with communities all along the watershed. In the hill village of Kirtipur, opportunities to improve agriculture through irrigation were identified. A small dam and modest piping enabled the community to produce food close to home and agree to rehabilitate the hillsides and stop the slash-and-burn agriculture practice. Through the irrigation alone, over 80 families have benefited, growing one more cereal crop and vegetables in winter, and being able to plant and transplant summer crops in time without depending on the rainfall, which has now become more erratic. Groups were formed, including women’s groups to improve vegetable production, and a savings co-operative was born.

    Institutionalisation of good practices for long-term adaptation

    Since the end of the project in 2010, the community has moved onwards and upwards. The former slash-and-burn areas have become community-managed forests and the proceeds from aging or dead trees have been used to build a school and a road which has enabled better access to markets, secondary schools and health services. The new school has enabled them to upgrade their primary school to also include lower secondary. The availability of potable water close to the village has reduced the women’s workload by over three hours a day.

    During the 8th CBA conference, a group of international participants had the privilege of visiting these communities and seeing how a few simple investments – a potable water supply, a simple gravity irrigation system, community organizations, vegetable growing skills, community managed forest has enabled the community to innovate and transform village life, and continue to develop and adapt to climate change. This project was not designed as a community-based adaptation project, but it provides a very good example of how building capacity and empowering disadvantaged groups enables long term adaptation. As one women from the community said to the CBA8 delegates: “We had to get up at 3 in the morning, now we can sleep until 6.” “We might have needed to migrate out otherwise,” added Min Bahadur Soti, a community leader.

    It is the capacity-building activities that empowered the community, gave them confidence and the ability to continue to innovate. The women now have assets and the confidence to manage their own affairs. They have elected leaders and speak up, where before they were silent. The co-operative manager, a chairperson of the community forest and other village leaders now connect with the district authorities and other service providers. The very fact that three years has passed and the co-operative continues to grow, and permanent forest crops are being established on the former slash and burn areas, is evidence that the watershed is being protected. Livelihood projects continue to be born: a testament to the approach, organise build capacity and empower communities and adaptation will follow.

    The journey has to continue

    The community plans to keep up the good practices they have adopted for climate resilience. They would like to implement a forest management plan, extend the irrigation channel further, and improve agricultural practices to keep up with the changing climate, and some of these initiatives will need financial investment and technical assistance.

    The Glacier Trust is funding us for two years to support community-led schemes that will help them become resilient to climate change. These include increasing the gravity flow of irrigation channels, making better use of available water for crop production, restoring vegetation to the hill slopes, promoting agro-forestry, and mitigating the risk of forest fires through better forest management.

    The community have agreed to invest in each initiative and will also organise resources locally. The project fund will support materials and skills that are not available locally, and our local partner NGO – SAHAMATI have shown commitment to make this happen.

    Dinanath Bhandari and Chris Henderson

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