Building resilience

June 25, 2018 00:30 AM Dr Somsak Pipoppinyo


Finding innovative ways of promoting and protecting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystem was an important concern for many development partners

Natural disasters leave behind a series of damages to lives and livelihoods, pushing a country into food insecurity and poverty. After the devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015, tens of thousands of people experienced sleepless nights with continued aftershocks that lasted for months.  People in the mid-hills of the country were hard-hit by the landslides that increased the vulnerability of already needy communities, putting their lives and livelihoods at greater risk. The situation was exacerbated when new cracks were noticed in the landslide prone areas such as in the hilly slopes of Nuwakot district. 

According to the locals, some 30 years ago, the topography of Saureni Banchare—a small village of Narjamandap in Tadi Rural Municipality in Nuwakot district—had large terraces suitable for paddy farming. But gradual formation of cracks and gullies is changing the topography and altering agriculture productivity in the area. Moreover, mass movements, with sections of hills moving down slope under the influence of gravity, have been ongoing for more than 25 years, breaking the terraces into small pieces and resulting into degraded land. The cracks were further widened by the 2015 major earthquakes. 

In Saureni Banchare, a total of 21 families’ livelihoods completely depend on agriculture. Among those farming lands, about 50 percent are paddy fields which are located around the Saureni landslide area, now abandoned by the locals due to landslides. In addition, the landslides caused damages to key infrastructures such as sources of drinking water supply and irrigation facilities, severely constricting livelihoods. This pushed most villagers into acute poverty. And, increased vulnerability meant that locals had no option but to migrate to other areas in search of daily wages.

Terrestrial ecosystem 

Among many other challenges that surfaced after the disaster, finding innovative ways of promoting and protecting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystem as well as halting and reversing land degradation as inscribed in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Goal 15 (life on land) and thereby, addressing issues of poverty (SDG Goal 1: No Poverty) was an important concern for many development partners. It was imperative that the landmass movement taking place at an alarming rate is responded with treatment and mitigation techniques to help reduce soil degradation in the affected areas. 

Towards this end, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in collaboration with the Department of Soil Conservation and Watershed Management, Government of Nepal, and with funding support from USAID initiated a pilot project called “Building Resilience to Landslides through Support for Community-Based Rehabilitation and Mitigation Actions and the Establishment of Early Warning Systems in Nepal”. 

The project applied a package of suitable landslide treatment and mitigation techniques using low cost bio-engineering together with agro-forestry practices to reduce damaging effects in the sub-watershed areas. Since strengthening the capacity for emergency preparedness through a Community Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM) approach and increasing the resilience of livelihoods through the prevention of landslide disasters and establishment of safer agricultural livelihood strategies were key focus of this initiative, target communities were provided orientation on the techniques of landslide treatment and mitigation such as construction of gabion check dams to control run-off, watling (use of bamboo) for slope stabilization and sand bag for gully control. Low cost bio-engineering measures such as water diversion channel, French drain, watling and palisade accompanied with gabion check dams and retaining structures were applied. Planting of cash crops (broom grass, coffee, pineapple, banana, red pepper, bay leaf, cardamom, and bamboo), forage (Badahar and Kimbu) and horticultural plants (lemon, litchi and guava) proved effective in soil conservation, land stabilization and as a source of generating higher incomes.

Change on the ground 

Ram Krishna Khanal, Chairperson of the Saureni Landslide mitigation committee said: “The community has decided to plant Banana as a replacement to paddy crops, realizing that water ponding is the main reason for accelerating soil erosion and landslides for the vulnerable land.” 

For last 30 years, due to fear of landslides, the residents of Saureni Banchare village used to have sleepless nights during the monsoon period. The landslide issue is now addressed, resulting in reduced loss of life and livelihoods due to such hazards. Says Khanal, a teacher in local school: “We were totally unaware of such low-cost bio-engineering technologies for landslide treatment. For 30 years, we were suffering from landslides. We are happy to be involved and engaged in applying bio-engineering technology”. He further added, “The risk of landslide has been minimized with the stabilization of slopes on sustainable basis, protecting our lives and properties.”

Similar initiatives of combining low-cost bio-engineering practices that can be locally adapted with agro-forestry practices and income generating activities, along with strengthened capacity of government officials and communities for emergency preparedness should be replicated across in critical landslide-affected and landslide-prone communities for halting land degradation and increasing resilience of livelihoods. Establishment of safer agricultural livelihood strategies and community-based early warning systems will also be a key. 

The author is the United Nations’ Food and  Agriculture Organization (FAO) Representative in Nepal

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