Women-led functional and sustainable safety nets

Munuwa village, located at the south-eastern belt of Kailali district in far-western region (plains) of Nepal, is vulnerable to floods. In particular, the seventh ward[1] of the village (named Jabalpur), located in the farther south strata of the village, is a high-risk area in terms of floods and subsequent river-bank erosion owing to its proximity with Pathraiya river.

In terms of demographics, the Jabalpur area comprises a total of 31 households (18 of indigenous Tharu communities, seven of Brahmins, five of Madhesis and one of Dalit), with a total population count of 194 people – of which 84 are children.

“The people living in Jabalpur were plagued by annual floods, as the Pathraiya river swelled. Most of us even had to live a life of squatter, upon being displaced by the floods. Since agriculture is our lifeline, we suffered severe devastation to our standing crops and stored grains due to recurrent floods,” says Ms. Khagisara Gautam, 41, chairperson of a local Chandramukhi Women’s Group.

In 2012, Sustainable Development Society (DBS), an implementing partner of one of the projects under the LWF Nepal’s Nepal Development Program, started Empowerment Education Classes (EEC) at Munuwa village, which also saw the proactive participation of 20 female members from Jabalpur area. In course of those classes, the participants were acquainted with a wide range of topics, including flood preparedness and response measures, health-related issues and human rights. After taking the classes, the 20 female members of Jabalpur had a deeper realization apropos to the importance of collective efforts, which eventually led to the formation of a women’s group, named Chandramukhi. The primal work done by the group, during its initial stages, was its active facilitation in preparation of a Community Based Disaster Risk Management Plan (CBDRMP). Based upon this vital plan, the group took initiatives to muster resources to carry out a series of activities related to disaster risk management.

This ensued in a collaborative action by DBS on establishment of a check-dam along the Pathraiya-river bank corridor, spanning one kilometer, in 2014. In rainy season of the same year, community members of Jabalpur were supported with young bamboo samplings, which they planted along the river bank. Similarly, DBS facilitated in formation of various DRR-themed task forces, which were assigned with specific responsibilities. The task force members were also duly supported by DBS for capacity-building activities – for instance, by ensuring the participation of task force members in basic search and rescue trainings.

Also in 2014, LWF Nepal’s implementing partner, DBS coordinated with community members, including the members of Chandramukhi Women’s group, of Jabalpur for establishment of grain banks and emergency funds, both being the proven local measures of emergency preparedness at the grassroots level.

Up until 2014, the community members of Jabalpur had to take shelter in a faraway location (at Office of the Village Development Committee – Munuwa, which is some five kilometers north from Jabalpur). Realizing this, DBS, together with significant community support, incepted a collaborative work on establishment of an emergency shelter. The emergency shelter, as of now, is entirely functional and was constructed with combined efforts of the community members of Jabalpur, LWF Nepal (via its implementing partner, DBS), Munuwa Village Development Committee and USAID.

The raised shelter, which will serve as a safe, relocation site, is expected to provide respite to people from Jabalpur and adjoining Shankarpur areas, during times of floods.

Together with this disaster resiliency, LWF Nepal has supported people of Jabalpur with sustainable livelihood opportunities. This year alone, seven farmers have been supported for leasehold farming in an area of 10 katthas[2], where vegetables, cash crops and paddy (utilising the System of Rice Intensification production methodology) have been cropped.

“The support for leasehold farming has contributed in generating per household incomes ranging NPR 16,000 (EUR 146) to NPR 21,000 (EUR 191). LWF Nepal, via DBS, has continuously supported us in technical aspects as well, so as to improvise our cropping practices,” opines Jabalpur-resident Ms. Sarita Chaudhary, 27.

Ms. Khagisara Gautam, chairperson of Chandramukhi Women’s Group, is optimistic about the functionality and applicability of emergency funds and emergency shelters.

“The emergency fund now has a total monetary collection amounting NPR 22,000 (EUR 200), in which LWF Nepal provided NPR 10,000 (EUR 91) during initial stages and added now to it, is the community contribution equaling NPR 12,000 ~ EUR 109 (community members contribute NPR 5 ~ EUR 0.05 per HH per month). During the floods of 2015, noodles, beaten rice and biscuits worth NPR 3,000 (EUR 27) was provided from the very fund to some 150 people (including a significant number of elderly, women and children) from Jabalpur and adjoining areas, who had sheltered at Village Development Committee premises (up until this time, the emergency shelter was undergoing construction). Now with the construction of the emergency shelter at Jabalpur itself, people herein need not suffer from the impacts of the annual floods, in the scale that they used to be affected with, earlier,” says Ms. Gautam.

The chairperson of the Community Based Disaster Risk Management Committee (CBDRMC), Ms. Shukra Miya (45), shared that she plans to expand the volume and outreach of the emergency funds.

The creative efforts of group members affiliated to Chandramukhi Women’s Group were quite important in course of building disaster cum economic resiliency of the community members. Such community initiatives in the leadership of women members from marginalized groups in Kailali are lucid epitomes of socio-economic empowerment.