By Sunir Pandey
Saptari, Nepal – When 17-year-old Chandani Kumari Jha woke up in the morning of 12 August 2017, she knew that she would not be spending the Saturday finishing her chores or hanging out with friends. Night-long rainfall throughout Nepal’s southern districts had induced the worst flooding in two decades, and much of her Ramnagar village would be under water for days.
But, thanks to early warning procedures put in place as part of the disaster risk reduction planning, the village’s Local Disaster Management Committee (LDMC) was able to communicate with residents upstream and find out about the increasing level of the water. Chandani and her friends, all part of a local child club, then raced around the village and used sirens and microphones to warn the community of the imminent danger and gather them to two previously-identified safe zones.
“Hundreds of people gathered in our school’s compound,” said Chandani. “We shared whatever information we had with search and rescue teams so that those who were still stranded could be saved.”
As part of UNICEF's Margaret A. Cargill Foundation-funded Child-Centred Disaster Risk Reduction programme in Saptari, the LDMC in Ramnagar had identified two safe zones in the area where people could gather during natural disasters. All these mitigation measures, coupled with frequent public campaigning by the child club, contributed towards preventing major incidents this year in Ramnagar.
In addition to destroying people’s houses and sweeping away their possessions, floods also induce bureaucratic nightmares for the affected. For example, if a family were to lose their land registration certificate in the flood, they would have trouble proving the land really belongs to them.
“All these important papers must be kept safe in a Go Bag along with food, medicine, money, valuables, so that people can address both short-term and long-term problems,” said Indra Yadav, an LDMC member.
Chandani and her friends, who underwent CCDRR training previously, had gone door-to-door raising awareness about these disaster preparedness measures among the community members.
Lying on land sandwiched between two rivers on the east and west, Ramnagar is especially prone to flooding. But community members have other natural disasters to worry about as well.
A yearly seasonal calendar developed by the child club lists when disasters like flood, cold wave, heat wave, fire and drought are likely to occur. All these disasters have their own preventive and mitigation measures, and the LDMC has found out that the child club is very effective in spreading awareness in the community.
"By using the calendar, we know the hazard likely to affect us in each month," said 14-year-old Balaram Kumar Shah. "We, students, organize "community walks" every Friday and march aroundthe entire village.
"We tell people not to throw away lighted cigarette carelessly. We advise them to plant banana trees (for killing small fires) and to stay indoors during storms and cold wave."
Sakarpura, another village in Saptari, too is affected by flooding routinely. The flood this year was the worst villagers had seen in decades.
“We could not see dry land anywhere and we feared the worst for ourselves,” said 14-year-old Jyoti Kumari Mandal, a child club member. “But thankfully the flood waters came happened during the daytime.”
Using whatever means they had, Jyoti and her friends went around the village, spreading word and getting villagers to gather in previously identified safe zones. A raised platform built by the Citizen Awareness Centre became crucial in saving hundreds of lives. Initially, these shelters were built as a market place, an income-generating intervention as part of Local Governance and Community Development Programme (LGCDP).
“But after seeing 300 people gather there for two days, my villagers have realised how important safe zones are,” said Shivanath Yadav, an LGCDP mobilizer. “We need to build more.”
The CCDRR program has been implemented in Sakarpura since last year and child club members have been trained in first aid, making Go Bags, educating fellow villagers about sanitation and hygiene, and purifying drinking water.
“All our water pumps were under water for days and many people had no safe source of drinking water,” said 14-year-old Rinki Shah. “Some of us had kept water purifiers in our Go Bags and that is how we managed to avoid getting sick.”