Warning signs in Nepal

With the start of monsoon, fears of the people residing in waterfront areas begin to increase.

Every year the settlements nearby the rivers suffer from significant loss of property and physical displacement, caused by unprecedented flooding.

While settlements in a majority of riverfront areas across the country continue to suffer from monsoon-led natural disasters, a community residing near the Babai River in Balapur is beginning to breathe with a sigh of relief after the installation of an Early Warning System in their village.

Balapur village touches the Babai River in three directions and the river flows approximately 1.5 kilometres away from the village. During the rainy season, the swollen river would enter Balapur from Shanti and Babai settlements.

“It was very difficult to live in this village. The flood drowned my three goats, cows and all the food stored in my home. The flood also washed away my paddy plantation. I could not even protect documents important to me and the materials in my house. The whole village was waterlogged,” says Tihar Bahadur Chaudhary, a local of the village.

The river swept away Sabit Kumar Chaudhary’s home. His four goats, food grains and other physical properties were lost in the flooding. “I could save nothing,” he says.

People in Balapur were compelled to live in uncertainty until Practical Action worked with them to install an Early Warning System in the village. The project has also provided equipment and accessories such as sirens, microphones, lifejackets and boats to help them react to any flooding emergency.

A water gauge reader has been installed in the upper station of Babai at Chepang to help the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology to observe the water level. If they find the water level rising dangerously, they quickly inform the police, media, and rescue officials and the communities via sirens.

As a result, Balapur residents are warned about a flood before it enters the village. The System also allows them to assemble their important documents and other properties and move swiftly to a safe place.

Surrounding communities have also formed disaster management committees at the local level. The committee warns villagers, disseminating information about the flow of a flood, using microphones. The committee also prioritises the safety of pregnant women, disabled people, and children. The committee members are trained in flood awareness and preparedness procedures.

Moreover, there is a separate rescue unit under the disaster management committee, responsible for immediate rescue operations. The system is solely installed with full participation of communities and therefore the community owns the system and maintains it.

Sitapati Tharu says: “If the observer in the upper station finds the water level rising to a crucial level, we can hear the loud sirens in the village. If the siren rings for the first time, we become alert and start packing important documents, property and food and prepare to leave for a safe location. If we again hear the sound of the siren we then immediately move to a safe place.”

The disaster management committee, upon notice of the second siren sound, prepares to shift the pregnant women, disabled and children to the safe areas. As soon as villagers hear the third round of siren sounds, all of them run away, urging their livestock on and carrying other materials to safe places.

Thanks to the project, mitigation infrastructure such as culverts and roads are in place to allow people to move quickly during floods. The project also organises mock drill practices to build capacity of communities. These are rehearsals to make communities aware of how they should be prepared at the time of flooding.

The Early Warning System installed in Balapur has been a proven and highly effective guards against floods and flood-led natural disasters. If the system is promoted by the state in flood prone areas across the country, settlements close to riverfront areas will not face untimely deaths and loss of property.

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