Emerging from fear: Flood-control interventions in Mahottari

Sep 30, 2017

A stretch of embankment in Sarpallo, Mahottari. Photo: CFGORRP

Thanks to flood-control measures put in place with the support of UNDP, Government of Nepal and GEF’s CFGORRP, residents of Sarpallo in Mahottari are far more confident about their chances of minimizing loss of life in flash floods

Communities residing along the Jangha and Aukusi River of Sarpallo in Mahottari were tired of living under constant threat of floods. Jangha and Aukusi are the major tributaries of the Ratu, and every year when the rains intensified, the river would change course and the subsequent flash flooding would lead to great loss of lives and property in the area. Given the erratic nature of these events, it was difficult for locals to precipitate them or know how to prepare—this meant many nights spent sleepless during the monsoons, worrying about being caught unawares by suddenly rising floodwaters.

The fear was not unfounded; many have had bitter experiences with the floods in the past. Mohit Mahato, 60-year-old inhabitant of Sarpallo, has had to relocate his home five times so far owing to damages incurred in such disasters. Floodwaters have also had a negative impact on agriculture—aggradation, or the deposition of sediments on land by overflowing rivers, has affected soil fertility, and from there, the production of farms, and the socio-economic conditions of communities. Snake-bites are another problem during the monsoons, when poisonous species enter settlements under cover of the water.

It was in view of these risks faced by Sarpallo residents that the Community-Based Flood and Glacial Lake Outburst Risk Reduction Project (CFGORRP)—a joint undertaking of UNDP, the Government of Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF)—formed a number of local entities, such as a Village-level Disaster Risk Management Committee (VDRMC) and Community-level Disaster Risk Management Committee (CDMC) after extensive interaction, consultation and coordination with communities. These front-line institutions work on flood risk reduction initiatives through community mobilization and were involved in planning, designing and implementing CFGORRP’s intervention in the area.

That intervention comprised primarily of support for local communities of Sarpallo to construct an earthen embankment about two kilometers in length. Another 1.5 km long embankment was also built in nearby Jhingasthan. The embankments were further strengthened with gabion revetment and other bioengineering measures, geared at preventing outflow from the rivers.

In addition to this, CFGORRP has also put in place an Early Warning System (EWS)--a telemetry-based arrangement operationalized in strategic spots along the Ratu in technical collaboration with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), as well as providing training and equipment to Light Search-and-Rescue and First Aid taskforces to help communities to prepare better for floods. The project has also installed elevated tube-wells in the VDC, allowing people access to potable drinking water that is uncontaminated, something that comprises a huge problem when water sources are inundated by floods. And evacuation centers have also been built to shelter vulnerable people in times of crisis.

1. MohitMohit Mahato of Sarpallo. Photo: CFGORRP

This year’s monsoon proved just how crucial all these mechanisms are: Sarpallo experienced massive flooding in August 2017, waters rising nearly three meters in height, the sort of swell village elders can’t recall having ever witnessed in their lifetimes. Such was the magnitude of the disaster this time around that in some places, floodwater overtopped even the embankments built by the project and entered settlements, and there were also several sections along the Aukusi where the embankments were damaged, although they held together overall.  “The flooding this year was just terrible,” says Binod Mahato, Chairperson of the local Sankatmochan CDMC. “But things could have been so much worse, and human and material losses far higher if not for these embankments and other preparatory measures that were in place.”

The evacuation centers, built on higher ground, were very helpful, he says, as were the tube-wells in enabling families to cope while waiting out the rains and inundation. And early warning messages received from Bardibas and mobilization of the different taskforces in disseminating information about the disaster ahead of time helped save many lives downstream.

Though the floods will always be a source of fear and uncertainty for residents of Sarpallo, particularly as the impacts of climate change become increasingly evident over the years, they say that there is at least some consolation and hope in the knowledge that there are a few mechanisms in place to buy the community some time to evacuate when floods strike, and help them survive immediate after the disaster. For Mohit Mahato and his family, sleep comes far more easily now than it did in the past.

Safe evacuation center built in  Sarpallo, Mahottari, where the people are sheltered inEvacuation center in Sarpallo. Photo: CFGORRP

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