Dinanath Bhandari

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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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