Planning and acting to reduce the impact of floods in Nepal

Published: 8 March 2016 8:00 CET

By British Red Cross

Padma is 36 years old and lives in the village of Heludubari in Jhapa district in the east of Nepal, close to the border with the Indian state of West Bengal. She has two children – a boy, 15, and an 18-year-old girl. Her husband migrated to Malaysia for work two years ago, so Padma is at the head of the household. She has a piece of land where her two goats, two cows and seven chickens can graze.

However both Padma’s home and land are on flood prone areas, very close to the Mechi river that runs through Nepal and India. The annual monsoon season runs from June-September, and in previous years floods have caused many of Padma’s neighbours to evacuate their homes for safety, and permanently displaced several families whose homes were destroyed. Padma knows this and is worried. If her house was damaged by floods she would have nowhere else to take shelter.

Because of this Padma has not stayed quiet. She has joined up with a friend, Bhakuri, and a number of other neighbours and formed a team of committed community members concerned about the flood risk. This informal community group has been proactive in raising funds from within the community, and Padma herself has also contributed what she can.

The community has decided to divert the river flow by constructing a gabion wall to act as a dam. Padma volunteered to support the mitigation work that has started already. However the community has maximised its fundraising from a population that is living hand-to-mouth, and wants technical expertise to ensure that the flood mitigation works when most needed and will continue to do so year after year.

Padma is also interested in strengthening the income of her family and community but is worried about being able to pay back the high-interest rates required by the cooperative organisations in the area and knows she will not be able to afford to pay back the investment. “We would like to invest in cow rearing and vegetable farming and I already have some skills in tailoring,” she says.

Padma is also worried about the health risks that face her, her family and her community. “There are no medical services here,” she says. There is no transportation service either – so travelling to reach health facilities takes a long time with much of the journey on foot. Padma says although they have wells for drinking water, these have been damaged and the water quality is poor, risking the health of the entire community. She sees many people suffering from jaundice due to only having dirty water sources.

Padma and her community are taking part in a Nepal Red Cross Society project to help people prevent and deal with disasters. The project  is supported by the British Red Cross and helps community volunteers learn skills to reduce, provides funds and offers technical support.  

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