by Marie Anne Sliwinski
Oct 16, 2013
On the eve of August 18, 2008, Chandra Kant was nervous and uneasy. He had been listening to the radio all day as torrential rain fell on his village — fearful that the worst was yet to come. He knew that if the rainfall did not stop, the nearby river would overflow and flood his village.
At 7:30 p.m., the radio announcer reported that the Koshi River embankment, 32 miles north of his village, had collapsed. Chandra’s worst fear had happened. A science teacher, Chandra knew that there was little time before the floodwaters reached his village. He immediately went to the house of Baldave Mandal, a retired language teacher and asked him to gather everyone in the village for an emergency meeting.
In a small village 80 miles southeast of the India-Nepal border, 40 men met that night to discuss their plans to save the village from the coming floodwaters. The villagers had nowhere to go and could not seek refuge in nearby villages, as those villages were also likely to experience flooding. Chandra and Baldave told those in the meeting that they all needed to redirect the floodwaters away from the low-lying areas of their village. The villagers quickly identified vulnerable areas and began creating a sand barrage to re-route the water.
Meanwhile, Chandra monitored the rise of the river. All through the night and into the next day men, women and children hauled sand and built barrages. They tied together pieces of bamboo and straw to form fences and keep silt and water away from their homes.
Two days after hearing the radio report, the river in their village overflowed. The rain hadn’t stopped, and the villagers had to continue to protect their families and homes from the onslaught of mud and water that came. When the rains finally ended, the villagers saw the devastation. Crops destroyed, livestock perished and homes ruined. But everyone survived, thanks to Chandra and Baldave’s quick action and leadership.
Five years after the devastation of the 2008 floods, the governments of India and Nepal rebuilt the Koshi River embankment and developed an early warning system to better prepare communities for and mitigate the impacts of regular flooding along the border.
Many villages along the Koshi River do not have measures that can prepare villagers from future flood disasters, like Chandra and Baldave put into place. While the Indian and Nepali governments are working to reach all communities, the current early warning system does not reach the village level, leaving many people vulnerable.
In response, LWR is increasing the resilience of ten villages in India, through two local partner organizations: Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS) and Integrated Development Foundation (IDF).
The 18-month project is designed to:
- Establish community-led disaster preparedness systems by improving local plans, creating local reserves of cash and food, and building the communities’ capacity.
- Foster livelihoods by cultivating flood-resistant crops, reclaiming the water body, planting crops that shield villages from floodwaters, and providing social security insurance.
- Improve access to government services by establishing two district-level Citizen Forums, and develop plans for community engagement for an effective government service delivery system.
Chandra chairs the Disaster Management Committee (DMC) in his village, a group of community volunteers who come together to implement the project. In the past four months alone, the DMCs across the ten villages have begun to:
- Conduct vulnerability assessments and mapping out specific areas where disasters commonly occur;
- procure bamboo and banana seedlings for planting in villages as a part of a bio-shield to protect villages from floodwaters;
- form sub-committees with women to manage grain banks, which will serve as food reserves during emergencies;
- train village farmers on how to plant flood-resilient crops;
- retrofit water wells and raise them higher to prevent contamination; and
- meet regularly to share each village’s activities and accomplishments, discuss issues and make decisions.
With LWR’s support, Chandra is hopeful and excited for things to come. He understands that the DMCs are instrumental in building the resilience of his village to disasters. “We are ready and thank LWR for your support!” Chandra exclaimed.
I pass that thanks on to you, who make LWR’s work possible. Please know that your gifts are an investment in better, stronger, more resilient futures for people like Chandra and his community.