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Community-engaged initiatives to contribute to improving the floods-early warning system in Nepal

1:16 am, June 19, 2021

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Prajwal Badalhttps://informnepal.com
Prajwal Badal the editor of Inform Nepal. He is also a researcher, community development worker, and advocate.

This paper, in the beginning, discusses the causes and effects of floods and other similar water-induced natural disasters. Since Nepal is extremely prone to flood, this paper will briefly analyze the situation in Nepal and compare the situation with other countries of the world. I have also presented the necessary steps taken in many places to counteract or mitigate the effect of these natural disasters. Similarly, I have then introduced the early warning system. This system provides information about the natural disaster which helps people to mitigate the effects of the disaster. The paper then provides a sequence of practical specifications of actions and initiatives that should be considered when preparing or evaluating early warning systems.


As we know, human civilization has always been prone to catastrophic natural disasters or severe calamities. Humans have witnessed deadliest disasters throughout the history of mankind which has led to the destruction of lives, and properties. The natural disasters have become more common in a recent time and have increasingly elevated to the higher level resulting in economic, social, political and cultural consequences. According to the World Economic Forum, flooding and other water-induced disasters are the most frequently occurring natural disasters in the world, (Myres, 2016). Water induced disasters like flood, landslide, soil erosion, bank erosion, erratic rain is more common and similarly, the damages caused are even more severe in the least developing countries.

Similarly, in the context of our country Nepal, which is one of the least developing countries in the world, the problem of water-induced disasters is highly recurrent. Nepal has been ranked in 30th position in the world in terms of flood and landslide, (The Government of Nepal, Ministry of Home Affairs, 2018). Nepal is a landlocked country, with around 6000 rivers and streams flowing mostly from north to the south with high velocity due to high river gradient, (Government of Nepal Ministry of Home Affairs, 2015). Apart from it, the rugged topography, variable climatic conditions, and complex geographical structures make the country quite vulnerable to floods and other similar natural disasters. Similarly, high-intensity rainfall, continuous rainfall for several days, glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF), and landslide lake outburst flood (LLOF) adds fuel to this disaster. Poor disaster preparedness and risk management on both the individual, institutional and governmental levels have further increased the vulnerability, fatality, and risk of these natural disasters.

Generally, in the monsoon season, these natural disasters are more catastrophic in the country. A total of 161 people lost their life and property worth Rs 1.4 billion was destroyed between 20 June to 12 October in 2019, (Ministry of Home Affairs, 2019) in Nepal. Furthermore, 288 deaths are reported since the beginning of monsoon season in this year as well, (ECHO, 2020). These natural disasters cause nothing but just the destruction of lives and properties. It strikes human beings, their community and livelihood towards destruction.


The paper is prepared with the objective to find out and realize community engaged initiatives to contribute to improvement of early warning system.


The catastrophic effects of the flood and other similar calamities are now familiar to the general people and are overwhelmingly heart-wrenching. Many people across the globe and in our country are concerned to mitigate the negative effects of this deadly disaster which costs the lives of thousands of innocents. Since the severity and frequency of floods and similar other disasters have increased, it needs a long-term recovery and resilience framework to deter those effects. The central, state and local governments are seen working hand in hand to prevent those disasters. Many international non-governmental organizations, with compliance with local partners, are seen working in this field for a long time. Millions of capitals are being spent on relief programs. Nonetheless, it is always insufficient and the loss or destruction due to disaster is always seen rising in the upcoming years. The best efforts of the individuals, NGOs, INGOs, governmental bodies are probably not good enough. Even though people nowadays of various communities, local bodies, and the central government bodies are eager to prevent, prepare and mitigate those calamities, the problem is still rising at its peak.

Various steps are taken to minimize the floods in different places of the country and likewise in different places of the world. Construction of dams and their associated reservoirs for the assistance in flood protection and recovery is done in many places. Similarly, diversion canals to temporarily divert the path of the river where the chances or impact of the flooding to lower down is also made, (Alissa Flatley, 2018). Use of excess water in the flood-prone region for constructing groundwater replenishment is also made in many places. This groundwater replenishment is prepared on the lower risk region by diverting the path of the river, (National Research Council, 2020). It then absorbs the groundwater. These techniques further reduce the possibility of future droughts. Similarly, apart from the dam, other defenses such as levees, bunds, reservoirs, and weirs are used to prevent rivers from bursting their banks. Moreover, sea walls, beach nourishment, and barrier islands are made generally in coastal areas (not Nepal) to protect the general population from sudden floods, cyclone and other related disasters. Apart from these, even selfclosing flood barriers are designed to protect people, and property from floods caused by heavy rainfall, or rapid melting snow. Temporary perimeter barrier techniques are also being seen where permanent defenses fail, (Environmental Agency, 2011). These temporary barriers include sand backs or impermeable sacks. These techniques are the most common and are prevalent in many places in the countries, some of these techniques are prevalent in Nepal as well. Even though these techniques are wonderful of their own, however, the risks of the floods have not lowered down despite using these techniques. It is because a community-led initiative with further scientific and much practical techniques will be much better to regulate those calamities as compared to these strategies.

Rigid preparedness and plan for more resilient recoveries are needed to accurately analyze the situation. The preparation from grass root level i.e., community level is needed to counteract those negative impacts of disasters. Community participation is needed to be aligned with the private sector, development partners and the nongovernmental alliances to reach to its full potential. It is always important to emphasize understanding the risks of these natural disasters with proper preparedness of the risk factors. As Benjamin Franklin has rightly said,” An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care”, it is always better and safe to prevent any disasters from happening. Especially when the disaster is a flood which could even be predicted at most times by making correct use of the early warning system. A critical understanding of key concepts of disaster management and other various skills and techniques are needed to foresee the upcoming natural disasters.

The occurrences and impact of the flood are alarmingly increasing. The frequency of calamities and vulnerability is simultaneously rising throughout the world. In this case, the early warning system (EWS) is the key measure to address or implement it as a disaster reduction strategy. The early warning system is defined as,” The provision of timely and effective information, through identified institutions, that allows individuals exposed to a hazard to take action to avoid or reduce their risk and prepare for effective response.”, (ISDR, 2014). Early warning system gives essential information to the concerned authorities about the risk of the disaster, hazards about to be caused to the locality, community vulnerabilities. This technique protects people and their lives, their assets and their livelihood. It in a long run safeguards economic, social, cultural well-being. These warning systems generate timely meaningful warning message of the extreme events which could threaten people’s lives happening near the places. These early warning systems save thousands of lives, reduce economic losses, and provides information which could save the communities and their livelihood. Early warning system empowers people and the community to take the lead of their respective community. They are people-centered early warning which allows the community to prepare for and confront the power of natural hazards. The efficiencies of these systems are measured in terms of lives saved, reduction in economic and livelihood losses. Early warning system generally takes place in three phases. First one is a measurement of precursors, which is followed by an indication of catastrophic events. Thirdly, the warning is sent out to the concerned authorities. Finally, the concerned authorities take the response and responsibility of the warning system and seek to address the impacts of those warning by taking extra precautionary measures. For establishing effective early warning system in any river, stream or rivulets, these following methods should be used, (Helander, 2018):

  1. Area survey, flood hazard mapping, and assessment of warning level and danger level: One can study the pattern of the river by comparing the past flood events from communities’ records. Flood hazard mapping and assessment of warning and danger levels can be done further utilizing GIS       (Geographic       Information System) tools.
  2. Installation of monitoring instruments
  3. The setting of an Operation Centre: The system transmits data from the stations using internet protocol (IP) to the web-based data server. The flood warning bulletin is posted on the website during the flood in the monsoon season
  4. Communication and Warning Dissemination System Method

The global pandemic has ceased every kind of public gatherings and almost every possible way of accumulating primary sources of data. Hence considering the present situation, the study method is primarily based on secondary sources of data, including journal articles, governmental books, academic books and other case studies of various Early Warning Water systems installed across the globe and mostly in Nepal. Similarly, the information gathered from various governmental websites like Ministry of Home Affairs of Nepal, and along with international websites like ISDR (International Strategy for Disaster Reduction), World Economic Forum are extensively used. The paper is primarily based on summarization, collation and synthesis action of already existing research materials based on considerably of similar geographical location as of Nepal. The report is inclusively based on factual evidence and practical observations. Reports of hydrological forecasts, data-based mechanistic modelling, data, maps and trends of many Early Warning Water systems are reviewed. Key principles of people-centered early warning systems are considered while preparing the report. Since the main theme of the report is to improve Early Warning Water System by the collective strategies of the people of the community, hence the role of public participation and the local authority is studied while preparing the paper.

Findings and Discussion

Reviewing various articles, journals, and research paper, I researched how a community-engaged strategy can contribute towards improving early warning systems (EWS). EWS in this present day has got a widespread recognition in the world. They are generally complex and consists of multiple layers of communication among stakeholders, and another different level of government. In the context of Nepal, the first Early Warning System (EWS) was used in the East Rapti River basin in 2002, (ICIMOD, 2014). Before this, various early warning systems are set up in many places in the country. This led to coordinated early warnings, evacuations and early response. Community-based early warning system makes use of hydrological forecasts techniques and data-based mechanistic modelling.

I got information about the effective implementation of the ESW in predicting floods and other waterinduced disasters. According to the UNISDR, the elements which are required in the early warning systems are as follows, (UNISDR, 2006).

1. Risk knowledge

This generates and collects information on data, figures, maps about the risky and vulnerable places where the probability of flooding is high. It helps to establish a standard process to collect, assess and share those data, maps and trends.

2. Monitoring and warning service

This service makes use of sensors which measures water levels at relevant sites in local waterways including rivers, streams. The measured water level is then collected and linked with the local database. Making use of sensors and other scientific and technological tools, this service helps to accurately monitor and warn the concerned authority.

3. Dissemination and communication

 Media, governments, NGOs/INGOs can play a crucial role in dissemination and communication. The communities and people are warned and it facilitates information exchange between different levels of government.

4. Response capability

Response capability gets risen through education; training programs related to improving community disaster preparedness. It even ensures community participation and strengthens the ability of communities to respond to those natural disasters.

Applying these key principles of people-centered early warning system, it empowers individuals and the people of the community to act appropriately to mitigate the possibilities of hazardous disasters. Furthermore, for effective community strategies to contribute to improving the early warning system, a lot of precautions is needed to be taken care of. To contribute to improving early warning system from a community level, the involvement of the local community is the first step which needs to be followed. People-centered early warning system relies on direct public participation. Without the involvement of local authorities and communities at risk, governmental efforts will be inadequate. Local participation will strengthen the community which helps them formulate or implement the strategies to contribute to improving the early warning system.

Considering gender perspective and cultural diversity is yet another step to enhance the community-engaged strategy to improve early warning system. It is because different groups have different vulnerabilities, (ScienceDirect, 2020). The hazards are handled differently by different people in society. Men and women play a different role in society and the effects of the natural disaster will be different for them. Different genders are impacted differently by the disaster. Similarly, gender inequality and social marginalization increase vulnerability to disasters. The less economic, political and social power marginalized people get, the more likely they suffer during and aftermath of the disaster. Hence the first step to be done by the community to improve early warning system will be acknowledging gender equality. Gender analysis is required to understand gender inequality in the present given context.

A multi-hazard approach in the same way, will be beneficial to understand and improve early warning systems in a community. Multi-hazards as we know, pose a serious threat to human life. The evaluation of those hazards requires a risk assessment. The multihazard risk assessment will then allow the identification of most vulnerable areas of flooding and help to cope up with it. It provides better reliability for unfortunate and catastrophic events. They help public understand in much better way about the risk they shall face if a disaster occurs. This will surely allow them to deter the effects of the disaster.

The community in compliance with the effective government and institutional arrangement will also contribute to improving the early warning system. Good governance with long term political commitment with full public participation of the general public will allow discouraging the effects of natural calamities. The general public will be given assistance, information about the ongoing situation in that area. Apart from it, this rigid arrangement will even help to rehabilitate the human settlements whenever necessary.

Furthermore, to improve early warning systems, disaster management and mitigation measures could be implemented through the community itself. The areas with high annual flood risks could be studied. Civil engineering as well as bioengineering action could be identified and studied to determine the technical, environmental and economic viability. Similarly, social awareness campaign through posters, pamphlets, dissipating information through radios or televisions, about the effects of the disasters and possible mitigating measures will allow deterring the consequences of the disaster. Furthermore, this technique will improve early warning system as it helps the people to understand the possibility of the upcoming disasters. Knowing the consequences of the disaster, people will also learn the ways to cope up with it. Likewise, an awareness campaign about the importance of afforestation, reforestation, terrace farming will help to discourage flood, landslide and other water-induced disasters.

There are, however, few limitations of communitybased strategy to improve early water systems. For instance, the early warning system is predominantly reliable on real-time water level readings, (ScienceDirect, 2016). They are susceptible to failure in high rainfall generally in monsoon season. Sometimes even lead time becomes shorter, especially where river conveys water rapidly. However, these limitations can be detached if proper scientific, advanced technologies are used along with being extra vigilant.


This research paper has highlighted the situation of community-based early warning system in Nepal and many other countries in the world. It has emphasized the role of the community to manage those disasters and the importance of early warning systems. The risk of flood and other water-induced disasters can never be underestimated. To reduce flood, the community can always play a crucial role in it. They should be actively involved in all aspects of the establishment and operation of early warning systems and be vigilant towards the catastrophic hazards and potential impacts to which they are exposed. Similarly, the community must be able to take actions to minimize the threat of loss or damage. The community must always be thoughtful about its actions. The benefits, possible negative impacts, and future impacts must be identified by the people of the community. The members of the community should leave no stone unturned to have compliance with the private sectors, governmental sectors, NGOs/INGOs to improve early warning systems.

Engaging the community in Early Warning Systems (EWSs) plays an essential role in saving lives, reducing injuries, and limiting environmental damage associated with disaster events. Furthermore, an even greater effort is required to engage the community in contributing to improving the early warning system. Various steps can be taken towards a more integrated flood early warning system. For example: upgrading the existing manual to make it automatic will help to have proper river forecasting systems. Similarly, the government should help the communities by decentralizing the budget, planning, and making decisions to assist the local community people to improve the early warning system.

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