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Solar panel brings smile to faces

It’s not hard for anybody to imagine the frustrations of people in Bayelkudni who have to spend about 2 hours just to charge a mobile phone. There is no power grid in this community, so they’re forced to hop on their bicycles and ride at least 30 minutes to the nearest market town, wait for at least half an hour while the phone charges, then peddle another half hour to get back home. And that’s when the service providers were open or hadn’t lost power due to load shedding or during monsoon, when they left the house dry and clean only to return soaked through and muddy. For those without bicycles, the situation was even worse.

Bayelkundi community, a SAFER Nepal Project community with a population of 780 lies in Ward Number 4 of Krishnapur VDC in Kanchanpur, northwards from East West Highway. The population includes 9 Dalits, while the rest are Freed Kamaiyas or Janajatis. The average land holding of these people is just 1-5 kattha (0.0338-0.25 Hectare) and most of this land is vulnerable to flood, though almost all the people in Bayelkundi are daily laborers.

While threats of flood in big river catchments were being taken seriously throughout the country, not much importance was given to those living along small rivers, even though the cumulative losses experienced there tend to be much higher and have a much greater impact. Considering this, Mercy Corps Nepal, which has been active in Community Based Disaster Risk Reduction for several years now, implemented two major programs between November 2007 and September 2010 funded by ECHO through IV and V DIPECHO Action Plans for South Asiaworking through its local partner, the Kailali Chapter of the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS). These programs piloted the establishment of community based flood early warning systems (CBEWS) in Kailali. Even though some people doubted it would make much of a difference, MC and NRCS were able to justify its relevance and vital importance through greatly reduced figures of human and property losses during subsequent flooding. MC then implemented the Strengthening the Capacity of Communities for Disaster Risk Reduction through Early Warning in Nepal (SCORE) Project, which was funded also by ECHO through its VI DIPECHO Action Plan for South from April 2011-November 2012. This project extended the community based flood early warning system to seven communities of four VDCs in the adjacent district of Kanchanpur. And now, MC and its partners, the Nepal Red Cross Society Kailali (NRCS Kailali), Nepal Red Cross Society Kanchanpur (NRCS Kanchanpur) and Nepal National Social Welfare Association (NNSWA) are implementing an eighteen-month project from March 2013-August 2014 named Strengthening Actions for Fostering Resilience through Early Warning and Risk Sensitive Planning in Nepal (SAFER Nepal) with the financial support of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department through its 7th DIPECHO Action Plan for South Asia.

Mr. Sita Ram Chaudhary, working as a Social Mobilizer for NRCS Kanchanpur and an ex-EWS TF member and ex-Secretary of the CDMC remembers, “Having been involved as a EWS Task Force Member and Secretary of Kosheli Community Disaster Management Committee, Bayelkundi, I understand the importance of communication. From the various trainings, workshops, exposure visits and awareness raising activities I was involved in, I realize that the value of communicating flood and river level information and rainfall information in flood vulnerable districts like Kanchanpur, where many communities and VDCs are affected by flood almost each year, is even greater. A single phone call about flood or any other hazard to any responsible citizen can help prevent that hazard from turning into a disaster.

But Sita Ram also shared a bitter experience and important lesson learned. During a post-monsoon experience sharing workshop, other fellow gauge readers and EWS Task Force members from downstream locations shared they could not get enough alert calls from him during a period of heavy rainfall from18-19th September, 2012.

Sita Ram says, “It’s true that I could not contact our downstream friends as much as I was supposed to because my mobile’s battery charge was quite low. It rained continuously for almost twofull days and my battery had started getting lower as time passed. To save battery, I turned off my mobile and turned it on once every hour so as to inform the Mercy Corps’ staff responsible for EWS support, so that he could inform the downstream communities and other relevant stakeholders. Luckily, there was no human loss that day, but I wish I could have called the downstream communities and other stakeholders like DHM, NRCS and Nepal Police on my own.”He learned that something as simple as a drained phone battery has the potential to halt communication and lead to disaster.

Buddi Ram Chaudhary, 32, is a resident of Bayelkundi and was chosen as a river level observer by the communitythis year.  He says, “The situation has improved after Mercy Corps and NRCS Kanchanpur provided the solar panel to our community in August. We can now charge our mobiles in our own community. Our valuable time is saved. We can give more time to our children and work. Our CDMC [Community Development Management Committee] has decided to charge NRs. 5 for charging each mobile and the funds collected are collected in an emergency fund. We have already collected NRs. 500 and the fund is increasing each day. Some part of the fund will also be used to provide recharge cards for me for playing the role of EWS TF member. I am prepared for the next flood and feel confident that the people from my own as well as downstream communities will remain safe by getting early information about any flood from me. I won’t have to get depressed for not being able to communicate flood information to vulnerable and relevant stakeholders. I respect my mobile phone, adore these new solar panels and, most of all, I love my involvement in the Early Warning System.

Three solar panels have been provided to 3 communities of Kanchanpur by Mercy Corps Nepal through the SAFER Nepal Project in order to strengthen the Early Warning System of the District and vulnerable communities.


Mr. Tek Raj Upreti, President of NRCS Kanchanpur handing over the solar panel to Mr. Santa Ram Chaudhary, Chairperson, Kosheli Community Disaster Management Committee Mobile phone getting charged


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