Blogs tagged as disaster risk reduction

  • Enhancing Flood Resilience through Livelihood adaptation


    February 7th, 2018

    “The 2014 flood was worse than the 2009 flood but the loss and damage was less because people had learned from the earlier event.” Dinanath Bhandari

    I am currently visiting the Practical Action Nepal flood resilience project in the western region, which has been supported by the Z Zurich foundation for the last five years. The project is working in 74 flood vulnerable communities adjacent to the Karnali River, located in the Terai plains, the flat lands that connect Nepal to India. The western Terai is one of the poorest regions of the country and has faced migration from the mid-hills by landless farmers looking for space to farm. When they arrived much of the unoccupied land was next to the river, the flood prone area which has fertile soil great for agriculture, as long as you can save yourself and your assets when the monsoon flash floods arrive. It is in this context that the flood project operates, and I’m fortunate enough to be exploring the lessons from phase one with my Nepali colleagues before we start a second phase.

    Mrs Mana Kumari Tharu and her elevated rice store

    The raised grain store

    In the Terai flooding is a matter of life and almost every year a flood event of varying severity occurs. For many of the poorest members of the community this can be a devastating loss as hurriedly harvested rice stored in traditional ground level storage jars are ruined by the flood waters. It only takes moisture reaching the jar for the rice to spoil. One simple measure to avoid this problem is to raise the storage bins off the ground. But the problem is the bins can be very heavy and wooden structures aren’t strong enough to support their weight. So the project has provided 40 of the poorest households with concrete platforms to elevate their rice storage bins. Mrs. Mana Kumari Tharu[1] told me that now when she gets the message to flee to the flood shelter she is less worried about her precious rice. She knows it has a much better chance of surviving. If she can preserve this staple food supply her family will have enough to eat and will not be forced to adopt erosive coping strategies such as selling equipment or livestock. This will also reduce their dependency on relief food aid, something that not all families will be fortunate to avoid, hence ensuring those supplies reach the remote families who need them the most.

    The off farm training

    Youth workshop trainees from Rajapur

    We joined a workshop in which 12 young people between 20 and 35 years old, came together to share their experiences of a series of off farm training courses in which they had enrolled. This gathering was organised 12 months after their training to learn about their experiences and whether they had been successful in their new careers. The 14 young people gathered had been trained in such diverse topics as carpentry, dressmaking, engineering, plumbing and construction. The course was validated by the district education office and each of the graduates received a certificate which greatly enhanced their employment opportunities. All of the participants reported success in finding work and the story of one young graduate Mr. Anil Tharu who went to Kathmandu was particularly interesting. After receiving his certificate he tried to find work locally but was unable, so he ended up paying a middle man to join a construction project in Kathmandu. Initially he had to pay back the travel loan and the finders fee for securing the work. But he quickly realised that there was more work in Kathmandu than there were skilled workers. So he was able to pay back his loan find work on his own and after three months, he has saved enough money to return to Rajapur. He is now employed with a local construction company building houses and earning 30,000 Nepali Rupees (£200) per month.

    Mr. Sita Man Tharu and Mr. Prem Thapa discussing his Banana plantation

    The banana plantation

    Mr. Sita Ram Tharu is a traditional rice farmer who grew up in the Terai region. He was invited as a member of one of the target communities to attend a farmer field school at which a number of different cultivation methods were demonstrated. He said that most of the methods on show didn’t interest him, until they presented banana plantation. He and his wife, who suffers from high blood pressure, found that the annual chores of preparing the rice filed, growing the saplings, dibbing them out, caring for them during the rainy season and finally harvesting and winnowing his crop was getting too much. In addition the rice plants were vulnerable to flash flood events washing the young seedlings out of the ground. So Mr. Tharu replaced his seasonal rice plot with a banana plantation. He purchased the tissue culture produced saplings for 45 Nepali Rupees (30p) each and planted them in this plot. He admitted that the first year the labour was excessive, but now the 90 trees are established the job of wedding the plantation and harvesting the bananas is a lot less stressful than the challenge of producing a rice crop. And he knows that if a flood event does occur his banana trees have a much greater chance of withstanding the water providing him with continued income once the waters recede. The old rice plot used to generate a maximum of 30,000 Nepali Rupees (£200) per year, his banana plot now generates over 200,000 Nepali Rupees (£1,400) per year. When I asked him what he did with the extra money, he said he had put some in the bank in case his wife needed medical treatment for her blood pressure, and the rest he had used to send his son to Kathmandu to study for a master’s degree.

    All these stories demonstrate the transformative power of well targeted interventions and local choice in their uptake and adoption. This wasn’t mass development but locally targeted appropriate development, but I am still wondering if this will be enough to make the people and their communities flood resilient?

    Next steps…

    I am interested to explore with my Nepalese colleagues how these individual successful pieces of the puzzle, could fit together to tackle the underlying resilience challenges facing these people. Floods will undoubtedly continue, and will be supercharged by climate change making the monsoon rains more intense as we saw last year. But what can the individuals, the communities, the local government, private sector, national government and international community do to build the resilience of these people? These three examples are all successes in building resilience, however we still have a long way to go to roll this out across this one river basin let alone the other twenty plus river basins that criss-cross Nepal.

    More to follow….

    Find out more

    Discover more ways to build community flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal by exploring the resources library or sending an inquiry . Or share your own experiences with the Flood Resilience Portal community.

    [1] Tharu is indigenous to the Terai with over 70% of the population sharing this surname

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  • Financial capital and development, where’s the problem?


    February 2nd, 2018

    When Fritz Schumacher wrote “Small is Beautiful” he used the book to highlight two key challenges. The first that traditional development wasn’t working, he highlighted that it was failing to overcome pervasive and underlying challenges and second, that the economic assumptions guiding this development were flawed. He argued eloquently for a new approach to development, an economic development model in which finite resources were recognised and that the aim wasn’t capital accumulation but human wellbeing. Development in which people not money mattered.

    For the last five years, Practical Action have been working with Zurich insurance foundation on a global flood alliance programme. One of the aims of this programme has been an attempt to measure flood resilience. The degree to which flood resilience can be enhanced at the community level, through wise development choices, choices that enhance flood resilience, that reverse vulnerabilities and reduce risk. These efforts to measure community flood resilience are built upon the sustainable livelihoods framework, and outline an approach to resilience measurement that takes a holistic view across the five development capitals (Figure 1). The framework measures the contribution of components, or resilience sources from each of the five capitals and measures how they perform to either forewarn, mitigate or allow communities to live and thrive in spite of the flood event.

    Sustainable Livelihood Framework (DFID 2001)

    One of the questions we are hoping to answer is what is the role of financial capital? Or more importantly in the rush to generate wealth as the solution to poverty, how critical is capital formation to resilience building? In the context of the 5-capitals approach we are finding that, insurance schemes, microcredit and inadequately financed cash transfer programmes in general do not allow for financial capital formation – at best they enable consumption smoothing. So we want to explore sustainable capital formation, and explore this at multiple levels from the community up to national governments? If by using the tool we can identify measures to build flood resilience, this may allow enough people to be generating profits that allows a capital to accumulate. Is this capital accumulation sufficient to be used to pool risk? To create a proper capital buffer will be very hard, indeed methods currently being trailed in the development community use some form of micro-credit or similar process to enhance local capital accumulation. Preliminary results indicate that this may not be a good way of promoting capital formation.

    Converting the risk into an economic value and then paying this amount into a common pool thereby attempting to share the risk evenly among a large number of people.

    A recent and sobering study of Indian agricultural insurance schemes indicates they were ineffective from a financial perspective. It was found that regardless of their dubious impacts on the formation of the other capitals, they are not even useful for financial capital formation. The job of social insurance must be to smooth consumption shocks enough to allow capital formation, not to extract so much surplus that no new capital formation is possible. Perhaps the real problems are around distribution and redistribution?  Economics as if people mattered, this and other challenges await us as we try to explore the links between wealth creation and development. What we do know is that we need to be looking outside the box and exploring innovative options, not just rolling out business as usual, failed solutions.

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  • Loss and Damage at COP23


    November 30th, 2017
    Taking the Loss and Damage debate beyond the contentious issue of compensation to identify the mechanisms needed to address the losses and damages occurring as a consequence of climate change, especially for the 
    poorest and most vulnerable.

    The 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held under the presidency of Fiji. This is the first time a highly disaster-vulnerable country has been the president of a COP, and hence disaster and climate resilience featured heavily on the agenda. In particular the Loss and Damage debate on the limits to adaptation and measures to overcome these limitations received a lot of attention. Loss and Damage remains a political concept, developed during the UNFCCC negotiations, but with its technical roots in climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction. To explore the challenge and the limits to tackling Loss and Damage in poor and vulnerable communities Practical Action with our partner the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA) presented at a number of events to highlight the challenge.

    Colin McQuistan presenting on the role of technology such as Early Warning Systems to reduce the impact of Losses and Damages

    At one event in the Fiji Pavilion, Practical Action’s discussed the role of technology to tackling intolerable risk that remains even after standard disaster risk reduction and mitigation measures have been adopted. In spite of resilience building efforts, losses and damages still occur signalling the ‘beyond adaptation’ challenge.

    Overview showing the three pillars of climate action and their relationship to the key global agreements and loss and damage.

    Practical Action presented findings from a case study, exploring the role of technology in climate risk management to the threat of flooding in the interconnected river systems of the South Asian region.  The study showed that only a limited set of the available technologies are accessed and used for flood early warning in the region. Insufficient capacity and funding leads to the implementation of the bare minimum, with early warning system implemented in a largely copycat way. However as climate change progresses, the demands on these early warning systems will increase, however if no action is taken, the technology available for these people remains the same. This means their adaptation deficit will increase. We have developed a policy framework (see above) for the Climate, Disaster and Sustainable Development discourse to inform rethinking Access, Use and Innovation from the perspective of the poor so that technology can be used to reduce loss and damage and contribute to rebalancing climate justice.

    This has been mirrored in a recent blog by IIASA calling for a process that involves the active participation of those in politics, public administration, civil society, private sector and research to find new solutions to tackle increasing levels of climate risk for those that need it most. Losses and damages as a result of climate change are not going away and without urgent action they are only going to get worse.

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  • Pumpkins against poverty and climate change in Bangladesh


    October 26th, 2017

    Pumpkin farming in Bangladesh helps some of the most vulnerable people to cope with floods & climate change and so escape poverty. This reveals critical lessons for some of the biggest problems our world faces.

    How is climate change creating poverty in Bangladesh?

    Bangladesh is repeatedly named as the country most vulnerable to climate change. In particular, more frequent and intense rainfall plus rising sea-level is making flooding much more likely. While for some countries coping with climate change is a problem for the future, impacts are already being felt in Bangladesh. The Asian Development Bank reports that more rain is falling and extreme events, such as floods, are becoming more common and severe. Rural areas are being caught in a devastating cycle of droughts and floods. In a country where 70% of the population directly depend on agriculture this is a serious problem.

    Weather events have cost Bangladesh $12billion in the last 40 years, says The World Bank. By 2050, it’s likely that climate change could further reduce the amount of food farmers can grow by up to 30%. As the impact of climate change becomes more severe, it will hamper any attempts to improve the poverty and malnutrition that effect vulnerable people across the country.

    To make matters worse, the most vulnerable people are often forced to live in the most dangerous areas. For example, the poorest families are often only able to build their homes and farms on the very edge of riverbanks, which are washed away during floods. As floods become more common people are more frequently losing their homes, livelihoods and food supply – trapping them into cycle of poverty and food insecurity.

    How can pumpkins fight poverty?

    The Pumpkins against Poverty project run by Practical Action is working with 6,000 of the most vulnerable people in 26 villages across Bangladesh. The aim is to help build their ability to cope with flooding and climate change.

    While floodwater washes away riverbanks, homes and fields, it also creates new islands (called sandbars) in the middle of the flooding rivers. Practical Action is helping communities to turn these sandbars into pumpkin fields. With the time it takes to dig a small hole, and the addition of a small amount of compost, individuals who lost their fields to floods are guaranteed a harvest. Even better, women are actively participating in pumpkin farming around their household tasks – supporting themselves and their children.

    Practical Action is also helping farmers to sell the pumpkins they do not eat. Pumpkin selling can offer a great additional income for families, especially in the monsoon season when prices are three times higher than at other times in the year.

    The project has generated huge employment for some of the poorest people in Bangladesh, and especially for vulnerable women. Pumpkin growing has increased food security and the ability of communities to cope with flooding and the impacts of climate change. It has also transformed individuals into agricultural entrepreneurs, helping them to escape the trap of poverty and malnutrition.

    Why is this an important lesson for the rest of the world?

    The Pumpkins against Poverty project is a clear example of how simple technology can build communities’ resilience to the disaster events climate change brings. The project hopes to support the most vulnerable individuals in Bangladeshi society by actively involving women and children, and so strengthen communities from the bottom-up.

    It is widely recognised that local and bottom-up innovations, such as the Pumpkins against Poverty project, are crucial to both cope with the impacts of climate change and to reduce the contribution to the cause. Despite this, there is a large gap in our understanding of how practical technology can be turned into successful projects on the ground. To be effective, projects need to carefully consider the local context and involve the community at every step. Practical Action’s Pumpkins against Poverty project is helping individuals suffering from the impacts of climate change. Moreover, it provides critical lessons for some of the biggest problems our world faces: hunger, nutrition, employment and gender inclusion.

    Find out more…

    If you would like to read more on technological solutions for climate change in Bangladesh see the Adaptation Technology in Bangladesh report by the Gobeshona sub-group.

    Alternatively discover other solutions to increase flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal which is dedicated to providing specialist advice and guidance.

    More of Practical Action’s work in Bangladesh can be found here.

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  • International Day for Disaster Reduction #IDDR2017


    October 13th, 2017

    International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) held every 13th October, celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters.

    Read more about International Day for Disaster Reduction and our work here: https://practicalaction.org/drr-2017

    “The link between climate change and the devastation we are witnessing is clear, and there is a collective responsibility of the international community to stop this suicidal development”

    Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General on recent visit to the Caribbean.

    In 2017 IDDR once again focusses on the seven targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction – a 15 year global agreement that aims to curb deaths and economic losses from natural and manmade hazards – which was signed by global governments in March 2015. This year’s focus is on Target B: reducing the number of affected people by disasters by 2030.

    This is no easy target. Disaster risk is outpacing development and is being made worse by climate change. This year the world has been hit by a catalogue of unprecedented natural hazards. 2017 started with catastrophic flooding in Latin America, followed by exceptional monsoon rains in South Asia, then a summer of massive wildfires in Europe, preceded the Atlantic Hurricane season that has seen a procession of devastating Hurricanes batter the Caribbean and US, as the year comes to an end wildfires consume California and threaten the regions wine industry, and the pacific typhoon season is about to begin.

    Four of the natural hazard events which became human disasters in 2017 clockwise; Hurricane Irma, Colombia mudslides, US wildfires and South Asian floods

    The world needs to adapt to the new normal of increasingly extreme and frequent weather events. This is at a time when economic opportunity appears to override common sense with greater numbers of people moving to and occupying disaster prone, high risk locations in the pursuit of economic opportunity. This trend particularly among the poorest is exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and making the next natural hazard a potential catastrophic disaster. We need to start to reverse these trends, this means tackling poverty and climate change and making sure we do this collectively for the benefit of the planet and future generations.

    With increasing integration of global markets and cheaper, faster and simpler communication systems, regional cooperation should not be difficult. Unfortunately regional cooperation isn’t a new idea, but is one that is often difficult to put into practice. The disparity in size and wealth between countries and competing national interests, makes it hard to find common ground. Overcoming outdated entrenched views is the greatest barrier to building trust, particularly in regards to protection and sustainable management of shared transboundary resources and global commons.

    Practical Action has long recognised that exposure to natural hazards threatens development gains and can be a key driver of poverty[1]. Therefore for regional economic development to deliver benefits of poverty alleviation, risk reduction must be central. This requires coordinated planning and management across political boundaries.

    Regional cooperation is essential when mega disasters take place. When large scale disasters occur, for example the Fukushima manmade disaster or the earthquake in Nepal the host government alone, often lacks the capacity to respond. In these circumstances regional actors can come to their assistance, with shorter transport times, they will also have language, cultural; and technological tie-in’s that can assist in disaster relief and response. But assistance is not only valid during the relief and recovery phase but is also critical for building back better, regional cooperation must not be restricted to disaster moments alone. Regional cooperation during normal times can pay dividends before the next disaster occurs. Pre-emptive exploration of joined up management mechanisms for shared transboundary resources can establish the regional cooperation channels necessary when things go wrong. For example sharing data on rainfall and water levels across a basin will benefit upstream and downstream communities, regardless of which country they live in. Communication channels to share data can reinforce preparedness as flood risk increases. And trust between upstream and downstream communities is vital if these flood early warning messages are to be believed and acted upon.

    Technology is an important enabler when responding to natural hazards and provides the means for a coordinated response. Technology can support regional thinking, planning and management to minimize current and future impacts by protecting people, properties and ecosystems across the multiple scales necessary. Technology is a powerful magnifier of human intent, allowing us to do things in ways and at scales previously not imagined. However, access to technology and its benefits are not shared fairly. All too often, the poor and the most vulnerable are overlooked as a stakeholder in the development, production and diffusion of technology or have hardly any influence[2].

    Cross Border cooperation saves lives, read more about our exploratory work in Nepal and India [3]

    What are the challenges for regional cooperation, when it sounds like such a good idea? As the growing climate change movement highlights, there is a need to enhance multi-sectoral coordination between governments, and enhance partnerships with communities, civil society and the private sector. This should be guided not only by the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, but also with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. This requires the establishment of regional coordination mechanisms of which regional disaster management centres would be an integral part. These regional disaster management centres must be more than just communication and data sharing channels, they require a shared regional vision and the political support of the member states to put into practice their broader risk reduction mandate.

    Find out more…

    See more of our work on the Flood Resilience Portal. This portal provides practitioners who live and work in flood-affected communities with easy access to the resources they need to build resilience to floods. This is part of the ongoing global Zurich Flood Resilience Programme.

    Or learn about the difference made by Practical Action resilience programmes during the 2017 flash floods and landslides in Nepal and what this revealed about disaster preparedness.

     

    [1] https://policy.practicalaction.org/resources/publications/item/from-risk-to-resilience-a-systems-approach-to-building-long-term-adaptive-wellbeing-for-the-most-vul

    [2] Practical Action launched a Technology Justice call for action https://policy.practicalaction.org/acalltoaction

    [3] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/coping-disasters-beyond-the-border-nepal-india-cross-border-flood-early-warning-system/

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  • Fiji’s Vision for COP23


    September 29th, 2017

    In just over one months’ time the world will focus on the 23rd session of the Conference of Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The global gathering at which progress on combatting climate change will be debated, progress reviewed and hopefully ambitious plans to tackle the challenge will be agreed, supported with the necessary finance and support to put this ambition into practice.

    This year Fiji holds the presidency for the COP meeting[1] and hence there are hopes that the emphasis of this year’s COP will be on Small Island developing states and the unique climate challenges they face. From the irreversible impacts of sea level rise, through to the recent hurricane induced destruction in the Caribbean, small island developing states are among the most vulnerable to the challenge of climate change and the climatic variability that this heralds.

    Fiji’s vision for COP23 is:

    Fijian Prime Minister and incoming President of COP 23, Frank Bainimarama.

    • To advance the work of the COP negotiations and preserve the multilateral consensus for decisive action to address the underlying causes of climate change, respecting climate science.
    • To uphold and advance the Paris Agreement, ensure progress on the implementation guidelines and undertake consultations to design the process for the Facilitative Dialogue in 2018.
    • To build greater resilience for all vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and rising sea levels; to enable access to climate adaptation finance, renewable energy, clean water and affordable climate risk and disaster insurance; and to promote sustainable agriculture.
    • To forge a grand coalition to accelerate climate action before 2020 and beyond between civil society, the scientific community, the private sector and all levels of government, including cities and regions. I repeat: We are all vulnerable and we all need to act.
    • To harness innovation, enterprise and investment to fast track the development and deployment of climate solutions that will build future economies with net zero greenhouse gas emissions, in an effort to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

    Fiji aims to infuse the COP with a spirit of inclusiveness, friendliness and solidarity. It aims not for finger pointing nor laying blame but about listening, learning from each other, sharing stories, skills and experiences. By focusing on the benefits of collective action Fiji believes lies our best hope to move the global climate agenda forward. Well fingers crossed!!

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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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  • The magic trick and resilience: can it work?


    August 28th, 2017

    If you are a citizen of any country exposed to natural disasters, you may know that flooding, cyclones or hurricanes are some of the words that first come to mind when anyone talks about natural disasters. When we talk about disasters, either natural or man-made we all think of one thing – how we can survive?

    We are putting all our effort into finding that magic trick which we believe that will save us from all disasters. What we need, is to recover quickly from difficulties or be strong in the face of disasters. That magic trick is called Resilience. Global efforts are now focused on building resilience in order to reduce the impact of these disasters which is a continued threat to people’s life and livelihoods around the world. However, when we talk about natural disaster and disaster resilience there are no proper or clear tools which can start to lead us towards that magic trick. In a previous study for the United Nations Development Programme, researchers concluded that “no general measurement framework for disaster resilience has been empirically verified yet.” This finding highlights a key challenge for any resilience building efforts: if resilience cannot be empirically verified, how do you empirically measure whether a community is more resilient as a result of your work?

    It is neither simple nor easy to know whether efforts focusing on what we believe builds resilience are correct. However it is necessary to try to measure that the impact of our work is leading to more resilient communities or at least that they are more stable and adaptable to the disasters than before. In that scenario the flood resilience measurement tool (FRMT) developed by the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance designed to quantify the flood resilience of the community. The tool has been trialled in numerous communities across 10 different countries including Bangladesh, by various implementers. It has already demonstrated that it can be a great complementary tool to flood resilience community programming.

    For Bangladesh, a country at the forefront of the battle for flood resilience, the tool can provided valuable insight. Where the tool has been implemented recently in a running project, it has started to help us identify not only the community trends of floods resilience but also the gaps in resilience by looking into the strength and weakness of the communities from the data analysis. This tool also allows the organisation to understand the community better by analysing interdependencies and by understanding it through different lenses. This process helps us and our partners to work on addressing the gaps. Our hope is to gather this evidence and feed into the national level for better advocacy and lead to more informed policy makers.

    Currently the tool is in development phase; key parties test and feedback on strengths and weaknesses of the tool to make it as robust as possible for measuring the flood resilience.  Through continued use and improvement of this tool we can begin to increases the resilience of the community by considering the all key areas. The use of the FRMT can begin to identify changes in resilience over time and verify through post flood assessments whether our interventions are managing to strengthen communities. So that at a time in the future we can not only say that the magic trick is working through the development work of the organisation but also the people’s ability to resist and recover from the disaster is increased.

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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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  • Flood Early Warning Systems from a Gender Lens


    July 13th, 2017

    BIO: Prior to her master studies at the University of Edinburgh’s International Development, İpek Aybay has worked at a voluntary business organization of leading entrepreneurs and executives of the business community in Turkey as an expert at the Information Society and Innovation Department where she has made research on technology, innovation and development. Currently, she works at UNHCR head office in Ankara, Turkey as a Senior Protection Assistant. 

    We are mentioning technology as a tool for changing our lives so often that it has become a ‘cliché’. This mentioned “change” however, seems to be very relative depending on which part you live in the world. As an example, for someone living in a country not exposed to natural hazards, technology is in most cases a tool to facilitate daily life, using GPS system to find address or to check traffic jam. On the other hand, in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal where natural hazards happen frequently, technology could save lives. In this sense, Early Warning Systems (EWS) for floods are an example for proving the crucial role of technology in disaster risk reduction.

    When we look at the role of technology in development and resilience, we can easily realise that this subject is almost always paradoxical. While some advocate it strongly, others criticise it harshly. For this reason, when I had to choose my dissertation subject at the International Development Department of the University of Edinburgh, disaster risk reduction seemed a very convenient area of study. Practical Action’s EWS projects in Nepal and Bangladesh immediately drew my attention and I decided to study these programmes from a gender lens. Why I selected Nepal and Bangladesh? And why this perspective was needed?

    A woman using one of Practical Action’s tube wells in Bangladesh

    Nepal and Bangladesh were two key countries for proving the significance of EWS, as both countries are part of a continent where 95% of the people who are affected by floods have lived in the last decade according to CRED and UNISDR.  Despite many differences in the ways in which these countries are affected by floods, EWS in both countries have a great potential to save lives and reduce the impact of natural hazards. For this reason, Practical Action has developed various projects concerning EWS in close collaboration with the governments of Nepal and Bangladesh. My main objective was to reveal the gender gap in these projects in order to better assess impacts of disaster resilience activities.

    As the efficiency of flood EWS depends on the ways in which people perceive and process risk information[1], without understanding the risk perception of communities and the factors affecting their decisions, it is not possible to expect EWS to operate efficiently. A variety of factors ranging from gender and socio-economic status to cultural values can affect the ways in which EWS operate among which gender can be specified as an essential factor.

    Scholars suggest that women are affected disproportionately by floods and are often referred to as the ‘most vulnerable’ by different institutions that are involved in flood response. For instance, UNIFEM (2010) reports that during the 2010 floods in Pakistan, despite flood EWS in place, there were women who refused to leave their houses for reasons such as “disbelief of flood warning; concerns of theft or occupation of, or losing claim to property; reluctance to move to camps due to cultural norms, and hesitation about taking women and girls out of protected environment of homes exposing them to strangers”. Furthermore, as evidenced by various scholars, floods also increase “women’s domestic burden” as in most households women depend on their houses for sustaining their livelihoods. In contrast, although it is known that a gender-inclusive EWS is essential for reducing loss of lives, the gender factor is often neglected when designing related projects. For this reason, it is very important to consider flood EWS in a gender framework, rather than define it as a technical process independent from the gender and power relations in place.

    Mother and daughter at flood-proof community, Bangladesh

    I conducted semi-structured interviews with government officials, Practical Action employees from different country offices, local NGOs and international organisations. During my work based placement with Practical Action, I found out very interesting differences in gender aspect of EWS projects among country offices as well as between advisory and project implementation levels. One of the most prominent findings was that different people had different interpretations of the terms “gender-sensitive” and “gender-disaggregated”. This has led to variations in the responses to the questions around gender in both of my focus countries, Nepal and Bangladesh. In the Nepali context, I was able to speak to a government official and it was puzzling to see that INGOs and in particular Practical Action was referred as more involved with the gender aspect of flood EWS at the community level. Therefore, understanding gender interpretations within organisations is essential as their actions directly affect communities and their responses to disasters. On the other hand, it was not surprising to find out that donors were also key players about the gender inclusiveness level of the projects as there were clear differences when a gender goal was set by a donor organisation and when it was not.

    Unfortunately, there was a considerable evidence to suggest that in both Nepal and Bangladesh, gender dynamics of EWS are often neglected or seen as an external factor by the key organisations as well as governments. In relation to this, further research is needed to explore the ways in which EWS programmes could move beyond the current approach based on needs in order to adopt a gender approach. Indeed, it is essential for an NGO to have the same understanding of gender-sensitive programme making among its staff members. If the views in this regard are different or opposed in an institution, procedural documents cannot deliver their aims in the field. Instead, it could exacerbate the already existing gender power relations as gender roles amplify the liability on the already overburdened women during the time of the disasters.

    Community visit to early warning tower

    My experience with Practical Action enriched my knowledge in many ways. Being a part of the organisation at all times made it easier to contact key staff as well as government officials. Further, as I was affiliated with the University of Edinburgh, I believe this allowed me to study and analyse the institution relatively more objectively. In conclusion, I believe the practice programme has been beneficial both for me and for the organisation, especially with regards to the communication within the organisation around gender issues. It is possible to see that, when people become aware of each other’s varying interpretations of the same issue, it could help them to rethink of their actions, re-evaluate their approach and eventually reinvent their influence on the communities. According to me, this was the most important positive outcome.

    [1] Twigg, J. “The Human Factor in Early Warnings: Risk Perception and Appropriate Communications” (2003).

     

    Curious to find out more? Have a look at Practical Action’s publications: 

    Flood Early Warning System in Practice: Experiences of Nepal

    Delivering Early Warning Systems for the Poorest: From flood-vulnerable to flood-resilient communities

     

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