This blog from Practical Action Nepal shares how one of the Community Disaster Management Committees they work with as part of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance is managing the mixed vulnerability arising at the intersection of risk from the coronavirus and the annual monsoon season.
Community Disaster Management Committees (CDMC) are community based grass root organisations present throughout Nepal. They function as the entry point for local government and other stakeholders to work with communities on disaster risk reduction (DRR) and disaster risk management (DRM) issues, and to improve the resilience of the community. Their chief purpose is to work on taking actions for disaster risk reduction (prevention, mitigation), disaster preparedness, and response & recovery for their respective communities. This is partly done through a range of task forces focused on areas such as first aid, early warning, search and rescue, and the support of community members with specific vulnerabilities. They have also developed mechanisms to raise disaster management funds within the communities.
Bangaun Community Disaster Management Committee
In 2010-11 floods wreaked havoc for the communities living in Bangaun, but with effective community led disaster preparedness and management, the communities have since been safer during the monsoon season. Practical Action, as a partner of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance has been working in Bangaun since 2013 together with our partner Center for Social Development and Research (CSDR). In the first phase of the programme, the objective was to improve community flood resilience including preparedness, structural and non-structural mitigation measures, and resilient livelihoods. In this second phase, Practical Action and CSDR have been working with CDMCs to increase flood resilience. This has included trainings, social mobilisation work, and annual flood drills.
A raised well protecting drinking water from contamination during floods in Banguan village.
There are around 68 households in Bangaun, which lies in Ward no 8 of Tikapur Municipality. Community members and municipality stakeholders have hailed the CDMC for being very proactive and resourceful when it comes to disaster risk reduction and management.
Every year, the CDMC collaborates with stakeholders from ward and municipality levels for resources and knowledge, and maintains an emergency fund for its preparedness and response activities such as to arrange for the first aid materials, hand mic (for disseminating early warning messages), and also to distribute sanitation materials during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Community resilience building through community disaster fund
As the area is largely agrarian the way money for the emergency fund is raised is by community members sharing grains they’ve produced with the CDMC. Grains are sold and the profit made goes into the emergency fund. This season alone they were able to collect NPR 8000 (around 66 USD).
The Bangaun CDMC has been supporting its communities to prepare for the monsoon, despite the uncertain situation created by COVID-19, but there has been challenges in terms of how they can carry out their role, and regular activities. For example the annual flood drills could not take place this year due to the risk of virus transmission. The CDMC has also been unable to meet regularly to carry out activities including task force meetings and community awareness raising programmes.
Flood safe evacuation shelter in Bangaun village.
Community resilience building activities in process despite pandemic
Despite these challenges, the CDMC has taken the lead on informing the communities about COVID-19, including the importance of safe hand washing and social distancing to prevent the spread. This year, despite the pandemic, the CDMC has improved (graveled) the road to its flood shelter. This will help community members access the flood shelter during evacuation. With support from the Irrigation Department, they have also constructed a check dam, in an area which was prone to erosion.
To reduce the risk of migrant workers returning from other cities and India infecting community members with Coronavirus, the CDMC has mandated all returnees to stay in a week long additional quarantine, even if they have stayed in government managed quarantines for two weeks.
Supporting the most vulnerable community members
During the 3-month long lockdown imposed by the Government, the CDMC collaborated with ward and municipality level authorities to facilitate relief distribution for 11 particularly poor households within their community. This was a crucial support for those who depend on daily wage labor for their livelihood and were unable to work due to lockdown. The CDMC has also collaborated with various stakeholders such as non-governmental organisations to arrange for sanitation and hygiene materials for those households who are not able to afford them.
Ms Anju Kumari Chaudhary, Field officer at CSDR, who works closely with the CDMC in Bangaun says, “The CDMC is very proactive and resourceful, largely due to effective leadership of the chairperson. Communities really look up to the chairperson, and cooperate with the CDMC’s requests which makes it easier for the Committee to achieve its objectives. The CDMC also has good collaboration with other stakeholders including the municipality, which makes it easier to bring in information and resources”.
Community trust and transparency is key to a successful CDMC
The community members believe that the CDMC is very transparent in its operation and activities, which is also crucial component for the success of a CDMC.
Mr. Shree Ram Chaudhary believes that the CDMC is very inclusive when it comes to women and young people. There is also active participation of Dalit household in CDMC activities. “There are 4 women in the 7 membered committee and women have taken leadership roles in various task force sub committees too. The CDMC is open to suggestions from youths and also is keen to provide opportunities such as skills development trainings, both on and off the farm to youths and women members of the community. I myself attended an off farm skill training last year in Chitwan and am planning to open my own business after the COVID 19 situation deescalates”.
Volunteers disseminating early warning message to the community during flood drill.
How the pandemic is undermining Committee work
As mentioned there are many challenges faced by the CDMC as a result of the pandemic. Resource generation is one of the topmost ones, according to chairperson of CDMC Ram Prasad Chaudhary. “This lockdown has been hard on many households in the community economically. Hence, for many households, self-sustenance will be a major challenge and priority. It will be hard to collect resources to continue CDMC’s regular activities in coming future”, he shared.
The cost of responding to the Coronavirus crisis being partly paid from the disaster response fund (more than 3bn NRP so far) will have a huge impact on the government’s ability to respond to hazards like foods and landslides triggered by the monsoon at a time when disasters are projected to mount.
The uncertain way forward
The federal government approach to DRR/M has been accused of being too response focused, action is inadequate and too late. The capacity of the newly formed provinces and municipalities/local governments are questionable when it comes to DRR/M. The CDMCs play a key role in supporting the community in the disaster risk reduction and management cycle and improving overall resilience of the community. CDMCs like Bangau have been proactive and have successfully collaborated with stakeholders to improve the community’s resilience. The role of CDMCs is expected to broaden in coming days with governments mandating them to work on overall climate resilience.
With the ongoing pandemic and the health and economic challenges this creates on a community level the ability to prioritise, fund, and carry out activities for community based DRR/M will continue to be significantly impacted and the fragile DRR/M landscape weaken as a result.
Local governments should assess the situation and organisational health of all CDMCs and provide necessary support: technical and financial, to strengthen CDMCs and ensure they have the capacity to fulfill their roles and responsibility which are so vital, especially during the pandemic.
If you want to learn more about the challenges facing communities and CDMCs in Nepal you can read the report Avoiding a perfect storm: COVID-19 and floods in Nepal