28 July -3 August 2017 #869

Texting when trouble arrives

Chitwan village spreads early warning of flash floods through mobile phones 
Om Astha Rai in CHITWAN

Pics: Om Astha Rai

After a rainstorm during last year’s monsoon, Dhaka Mohan Timalsina saw a flash flood rumbling down the Riyu Khola, the river that usually meanders through Madi, the valley that is sandwiched between the jungles of the Chitwan National Park and the Indian border.

A grocery shop owner in Ayodhyapuri village on the southern-most rim of the valley, Timalsina immediately alerted another villager downstream, who relayed the message further along. 

The message ran faster than the flood and finally reached Sita Timalsina, who runs a restaurant in Gardi village on the northern-most edge of the valley. She quickly informed local government authorities, police and other villagers. 

The flood took nearly two hours to charge through the valley before finally reaching the Narayani River. By then, people living along the Riyu Khola had already fled to safety, freeing cattle and securing important documents like citizenship cards and land ownership certificates.  “It was scary, but everybody got the message in the nick of time,” Sita remembers. 

People in Madi have been helping each other to survive flash floods since the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) installed a community-based early warning system two years ago under a scheme supported by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 

Dhaka Mohan and Sita are from two of the four community-based disaster risk management committees in Madi. A resident of the upstream village of Ayodhyapuri, Dhaka Mohan is able to see flash floods before anyone else.

He says: “We rely on each other to survive in this wild valley surrounded by jungles.” 

Unlike in most of Nepal, rivers in Madi Valley flow south to north, from the Siwalik to the Narayani. Flash floods are common here, as the rivers meander across the floodplains that are filling up with human settlements. Last year, two people were swept away by the swollen Riyu. 

WATER WARNING: Villagers carefully cross a flood-swoolen river in the Madi Valley (top). Sunil Pokharel (left) and Rudra Pariyar of the Department of Hydrology and Meterorology monitor rainfall in the valley.

Denudation of the Chure hills to the south adds to the intensity of floods, which often carry with them sand and boulders. Ganesh Poudel, a Nepali Congress cadre in Kalyanpur village of Madi, says: “When it rains, it pours here. And what looks like a dry river now swells up in just a few hours. It is dangerous.” 

Nepal has installed early warning systems in nine river basins. The DHM’s flood forecasting section constantly monitors rainfall data and gauges water levels. If it crosses the danger point, people living nearby are immediately alerted through bulk text messages. Last year, the DHM sent more than 2.5 million SMSs to people living in the Narayani, Kankai, Bagmati and West Rapti river basins. 

In Kathmandu, UNDP Country Director Renaud Meyer says: “Local people have an amazing ability to sense what is happening around. All you need to do is to equip them with some technology. And this is what we have done in Madi.”  

But many flood-prone areas outside the major river basins lack such systems. Early this month, the swollen Mahuli khola breached its embankment and submerged villages in Saptari. There was no advance warning.

Sunil Pokharel, a hydrologist at the DHM, says: “The focus is on major rivers, but small rivers are as dangerous, especially due to erratic weather. Madi is a model for other flood-prone areas in Nepal.” 

Read also:

Preparing for the big flood, Om Astha Rai

Early warning for all, Shradha Giri

The mother of all floods, Navin Singh Khadka

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