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The communities harnessing nature to shield themselves from rising risks in the Koshi River Basin

As global temperatures rise, hazards are increasing in south-central Nepal. A series of community-led projects supported by ICIMOD and the Government of Australia are helping communities adapt.
Published: 15 May, 2024
⏲ 4 minutes Read

Mahottari District in south-central Nepal is a bustling centre that connects the country’s lowlands of the Terai to the hills.

Sitting within the lower area of the Koshi River Basin, it is also acutely vulnerable to a range of different disasters: running from floods to droughts.

This sweep of extremes is now a phenomenon so common throughout the Hindu Kush Himalayan region that it has earned its own acronym: TMTL – standing for ‘too much, too little’ water.

It is a phenomenon of which ICIMOD is working hard to raise awareness, and for which the organisation is also seeking to co-develop and scale solutions.

In transboundary Koshi, the stakes are high. Over 35 million people rely on the river for food, water, and other resources, and are potentially vulnerable to its vicissitudes.

In this region, ICIMOD has partnered with the Government of Australia to set out to safeguard local communities, establishing a four-year programme to build capabilities for green, climate-resilient, and inclusive development in the Lower Koshi River Basin (HI-GRID for short) which launched in 2023.

The project focuses on:

  1. Identifying and scaling adaptation solutions that protect wellbeing and develop livelihoods
  2. Decentralising governance
  3. Integration of gender equality, disability and social inclusion in local-level planning

Community Development and Advocacy Forum Nepal (CDAFN) is one of HI-GRID’s key partners in the region.

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Seepage water raising technology: Underground canal (At the left) to seepage the subsurface water from the Ratu River through the field canals (on the right) for irrigation. Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya, ICIMOD

The organisation works to address peak-summer water scarcity, deploying a technique called ‘seepage water raising’ – which channels water from under the Ratu riverbed through canals to agricultural fields in the nearby villages.

At the same location, embankments are being strengthened with the help of bioengineering measures like the planting of trees. This has helped in defining river channels, and has reduced flood risk to nearby agricultural fields during the peak monsoon.

CDAFN president, Nagdev Yadav, says this Nature-based Solution to the challenges villages face has “Significantly enhanced the livelihoods of local communities, especially during seasons of drought.”

The project is also working with local communities to co-develop Nature-based Solutions and has supported villages to install a community-based flood early warning system (CBFEWS) at the nearby Ratu bridge in Lalgadh.

Local resident Mahendra Bikram Karki has championed the system within the community, acting as a caretaker to ensure it remains operational and relaying life-saving warnings to downstream villagers.

He takes obvious pride in his linchpin role, which has made him a celebrated figure within the district administration and local media, but it’s a serious undertaking.

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Mahendra Bikram Karki (far left) has been voluntarily looking after the CBFEWS installed Ratu River for over ten years and plays a critical role in sharing timely alert during flooding season. Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya, ICIMOD  

“The caretaker is a crucial role in the chain of information that needs to be passed during flood season,” he says. “When it rains heavily, I sometimes don’t sleep for a few nights so I can ensure that timely information is being sent to my friends downstream.”

In February 2024, Australian Ambassador to Nepal Her Excellency Felicity Volk travelled to the towns of Rajabas, Lalgadh and Bhanga in Mahottari to speak to local communities about ground realities, and witness the impact of HI-GRID’s nature-based interventions in its first year.  

Effective & scalable Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for DRR, are helping vulnerable communities address the growing challenges of climate change. Our partners ICIMOD & CDAFN are testing NbS that protect, manage & restore ecosystems & livelihoods.

As the project enters its second year, community interest and action will remain at the fore through collaboration with local partners: identifying solutions that are scalable and sustainable for villages that are already facing acute losses and damages at global temperatures rise.  

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