Nepal villagers mobilize to curb floods and landslides
Friday, 3 May 2002: People in Bahakot, a village in Nepal's Syangja district, nearly 300 kilometres west of Kathmandu, the capital, know the devastating impact of natural disasters first hand: four years ago a landslide swept away 24 people and destroyed 19 homes.
Frequent landslides also take an economic toll in an already poor area, dumping sediment into the river and disrupting irrigation, thus cutting crop yields by more than half and increasing the risk of future flood damage.
Villagers were ready to join a UNDP-supported programme to control and mitigate disasters and restore land lost in earlier calamities. The initiative, funded by the UNDP/Japan Women in Development Fund, covers two villages in each of four disaster- prone districts: Bardiya, Chitwan, Syangja and Tanahu.
The programme supports the government's efforts to improve disaster preparedness and management at both the national and local levels and also aims to enhance women's participation.
Natural disasters have a heavy impact on poor communities, experts point out, and mitigating their impact needs to be an integral part of efforts to reduce poverty. During the past five years, natural disasters have struck more than 8,000 Nepalese families each year, and in 2001 alone 196 people died.
In Bahakot, the villagers built wire-reinforced check dams -- known as gabion boxes -- to control gully erosion and prevent landslides and set up similar structures at three sites on the river to fend off floods. They credit their work with saving 150 hectares of land in a flood during last year's rainy season.
Til Maya Gurung, chairperson of the Women's Group for Disaster Mitigation in Kahule, one of the communities in Bahakot, said: "I am a very active person, but I was very discouraged after that ghastly landslide of 1998. Now that we have support from the programme, I feel more confident that I will not have to leave the village."
Ms. Gurung coordinated mobilization for the programme in her community, and a number of women in other communities have also assumed leadership roles. About half the members of the participating community groups are women.
The programme also conducted several rounds of disaster management training for the communities and government ministries to improve coordination and information dissemination. The villagers also mapped local hazards and carried out a disaster risk assessment.
The communities contributed half the cost of implementing the local measures. A study revealed that their local construction work cost several times less than it would have if carried out through government agencies and is of higher quality.