Sajal Sthapit/LI-BIRD

Working across sectors to address river erosion at the source

Posted on: 11/10/2015

By: Lakpa Sherpa, Indra Paudel and Sajal Sthapit

Syankhudi khola (river) is the inlet stream of the Begnas lake. Soil erosion due to monsoon rains, exacerbated by poorly planned upstream road construction, and sediments from other streams converge into Syankhudi khola. The residents of Majthana village development committee on the bank of the Syankhudi khola are vulnerable to overland flow during heavy rain in the monsoon. The eroded sediments is altering the physical and biological environment of the lake and more importantly decreasing its depth.

Figure 1. Rural road construction done without proper drainage, in order to stretch the limited budget, is a major reason of soil erosion and landslides in Nepali hillside. Photo: Sajal Sthapit/LI-BIRD.

The commonly practiced mitigation measure for flood and erosion control is to construct of check dams using gabion boxes reinforced with bioengineering. However, the location of check dams are usually not optimum in Syankhudi. Community lack awareness of putting check dam in flow area in the upstream or public lands. There is tendency of putting check dams closer to the floodplain when private property is threatened.

Historically, local elites have cornered the contracts for check dam construction and have employed little consultative process to ensure the effectiveness of this technology. In the FY 2014/15, NPR 575,000 was spent in setting up 63 large and small stone filled gabion boxes in the banks of the Syankhudi khola. These gabions were financed by the Department of Water Induced Disaster Prevention, Kaski, the Government of Nepal. Unfortunately, this monsoon the river swept away over two thirds of the gabion boxes.

Business as usual was not an option. It was important to raise awareness, mobilize the locals and construct check dams in strategic locations. Hence, LI-BIRD funded an exposure visit to the Ratu Watershed in Mahottari district, where a successful model of community river bank management is being practiced with the facilitation of a local organization called Community Development and Advocacy Forum Nepal (CDAFN) and the District Soil Conservation Office (DSCO).

Figure 2. After the exposure visit and series of discussion and planning meetings, the community agreed to establish four check dams in comparatively more strategic locations. Illustration: Hem GC/LI-BIRD using Google Images. (Click to expand).

A total of 12 women and 12 men representing the Begnas and Rupa watershed, DSCO, District Forest Office (DFO), ward secretaries participated in the 4-day exposure visit organized by Jaibik Shrot Samrachayan Abhiyan, a local institution in the Begnas and Rupa lake watershed. Participants learned that even with little external support, river banks can be managed effectively by mobilizing local resources and following technical guidelines strictly.

After the visit LI-BIRD held four meetings with farmers at Majthana VDC and representative from DSCO. A large number of farmers residing at the bank of the Syankhudi gathered on 14 July 2015 and agreed to form the Syankhudi River Management Committee. A committee of 15 locals agreed to work on the recommended plan prepared by the technician of DSCO, Kaski. The committee also agreed to transplant bamboo seedlings as a bioengineering technology along the passage of the check dams.

As many as 33 locals, 12 women and 21 men, contributed 2 days in average to fill 39 gabion boxes at Chandi and Barlyang khola, tributaries of Syankhudi. They took their time out amid the busy rice transplanting season, which had already been pushed back due to the emotional shock of the earthquake.

Figure 3. The community members provided their labour in-kind contribution as per the DSCO norms to construct the check dams. The re-did the work in this case as the first try did not fit technical specifications recommended by DSCO. Photo: Sajal Sthapit/LI-BIRD.

Three check dams at Chandi khola and one at Barlyang khola have been constructed in 2015. Now, the water seeps slowly through the structure and prevents the coarse and medium size sediments, woods logs, leafs, etc. from getting into the Begnas lake. Locals have observed the change in velocity and turbidity of the water.

The formation of local committee, their participation in the check dam construction and collaboration with DSCO illustrates the importance of social capital. The exposure visit indeed was a catalyst. It changed local perspective on putting check dam in wrong location. The community are further encouraged to put check dam in other locations now. They are satisfied with their contribution and enthusiastic to continue the construction in vulnerable areas.   

“The community in Majthana had heterogeneous interests. It was difficult for us to come together. LI-BIRD played the role of a facilitator and brought us together to safeguard both the lake and life at Syankhudi.” remarked Mr. Kalidas Bhurtel, the President of the Syankhudi Construction Committee. Mr. Uddab Ghimire, the Chief of DSCO, Kaski noted a few technical issues with the check dam construction that will need to be addressed in the next year’s work. But overall, Ghimire appreciated the collaborative initiatives between the government, LI-BIRD and local community.

Figure 4. Mr. Uddab Ghimire, Chief of DSCO, points out some minor technical faults to consider in the future while praising the overall work of this year. Photo: Sajal Sthapit/LI-BIRD.

The community is eager to continue similar work in the tributaries of Syankhudi in collaboration with LI-BIRD. From this year’s experience, we also collectively realized to need bring in the rural road construction committees into the planning process to address the issue at the source. Plans are already underway to start dialogue with rural road construction committees in the watershed. 

The Begnas and Rupa Watershed Area based project titled “Mobilizing Local Institutions For Sustainable Management Of Watershed Services In Nepal” is the winner of the Swiss Re Foundation’s 2014 International Resource Award for Sustainable Watershed Management. The work in the watershed is also supported by other LI-BIRD projects including: Diversifying Availability to Diverse Seeds, Sustainable Agriculture Kits and Climate Smart Agriculture.