View from the field: how community-built bio-dykes are protecting rural villages and livelihoods from flooding in Nepal. This appropriate and local technology is improving communites’ resilience to flood events from unpredictable and changeable rivers.
As we approached Bangalipur, a closed-knit community of 135 households, dark clouds started covering the sky and a light sprinkle followed after. Enchanted by the fresh, earthy smell wafting from the gravelled road and ducks swimming in the brownish water in the canal running by the road, we thought of delving further into the rural life.
The surrounding was verdant with freshly transplanted rice. Nearby a young man was ploughing to ready the field for rice transplantation while a group of women clad in bright colours were uprooting rice seedlings.
A man transporting the seedlings was singing a folk song from the depth of his heart. At the village outskirts, the Aurahi River, a distributary of Karnali River, had swollen to its brim. However, nobody was concerned – about the river, floods and soil erosion.
Over the last 15 years the river eroded three bighas (2 hectares) of agriculture land owned by 10 families rendering some of them landless.
“The river used to erode 4-5 metres of land every year,” said Rongali Tharu, 70, of Madhuban Municipality-2, Phulbari, Bangalipur.
“The river used to flow among those simal trees,” said Shree Ram Chaudhary, secretary of the community disaster management committee (CDMC), pointing to a row of red silk cotton trees on the opposite bank of the river. “The river would erode our fields and sweep away standing crops every year,” he said. “The river continued eroding our land for 10-15 years.”
For the communities, by the communities
The river has shifted towards Bangalipur in the last decade and to further stop it from eroding the banks and getting closer to the village, the communities came forward to build a bio-dyke, an embankment along the banks of the river.
The Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) formed a CDMC and supported technically and financially to build the bio-dyke.
“We worked for 25 days at a stretch to build this bio-dyke,” said Phularam Chaudhary, chairperson of the CDMC. “Two people from each household worked till we constructed 100 metres of the bio-dyke and one person from each household continued supporting the bio-dyke construction.”
Safe communities, safe crops
The 220 m long bio-dyke has prevented the flood waters from entering the community and eroding the banks of the river. It has also saved the crops in the nearby fields from being swept away by the river.
“This year there has been no soil erosion at all,” said Rongali.
They are planning to plant more Napier grass and bamboo on the bio-dyke. Since the area falls under the buffer zone of Bardia National Park, animals, mainly elephants from the protected area come and destroy houses and eat crops. So, they have avoided planting rattan, elephant’s preferred food according to them, although it is more beneficial, economically.
More embankments, lesser the fear
When we reached Budhi Kulo, the main canal irrigating lands in Rajapur, it had swollen into a wide river. I could see swathes of land being eroded slowly and slowly by the violent waves.
“Due to sand deposits, the water from the Budhi Kulo overflows into the adjacent settlement during the rainy season,” said Dinesh Chaudhary, the sub-engineer working with NFRP. “To stop the bank erosion and water from entering the village, the communities with support from Practical Action built a bio-dyke.”
The recently constructed 150 m long bio-dyke along the banks of the canal has been crucial in preventing the soil erosion and water entering the settlement at Mukta Kamaiya Tole, a village of freed bonded labourers.
Looking at the new sprouts of bamboo and rattan saplings planted on the dyke, it is poised to be a strong green embankment. Adjacent to the dyke was a long patch of marshy land covered with long grass, which otherwise would have been filled with sand. Two little girls were busy cutting grass on the marshland. On the other end of the canal two fishermen were casting their nets in search of fish.
And none of them feared the ferocious waters!