A Case Studey on Disaster Risk Reduction For Flood Disaster


Effect of Climate change is seen worldwide and Nepal is no exception either. Nepal’s
temperature is increasing at a rate of 0.04-0.06 degree Celsius per annum within the last 30-
40 years. Because of the increase in temperature, already impacts on ecological zones can be
seen. Throughout the country the effects are already being felt. There are changes in rainfall
pattern, summers are hotter and winters are colder. Monsoon rain has become more intensive
resulting in the increased frequency of flash floods and landslides. This has increased
different types of disasters among which water induced disasters are more prominent.
In a developing country like Nepal, many development plans are poorly prepared at the
central level without consulting the local communities and representing the felt needs of the
target communities. Such development plans prepared without consulting the target
communities are not only unsustainable but are also expensive and create negative
perceptions towards the development activities on the part of the local communities.
Flawed development initiatives in many areas of Nepal have created disaster or hazard such
as the breach of irrigation channels, building constructed in vulnerable areas, poor housing
plans, etc. Due to flawed disaster management, the ratio of people killed to affected
population in Nepal is highest in the region (Thapa, 2002).
Understanding the recent changes in climate and disaster trends is important to realize the
challenge that disaster pose and the need to search for the additional or alternative ways to
reduce the risk of disaster. During disaster, mainly marginalized and economically
disadvantage groups are affected. This is mainly due to the reasons such as: they live in
particularly vulnerable areas and they have very limited or no access to aid and support after
the extreme event. Indigenous people on the other hand have contributed their wisdom on the
use of natural resources and reduce the risk inflicted by natural hazards. But none of the
national policies of Nepal has emphasized in the documentation and study of IK and its
relevant issues (Sharma, et. al, 2009).

General Background:

Nepal is a country which is located in South Asia, sharing borders with India and China.

With an area of 147,181 square kilometers, Nepal is divided into main three geographical

regions; the Himalayan region which covers 15% of the total area, the hilly region which

covers 68% and Terai also known as the food basket of the country covers 17% of the total

area. Natural disasters are very common and frequent in Nepal. Due to country’s topography,

climatic pattern and lack of needed infrastructure planning make it extremely vulnerable to

various kinds of natural hazards.

Every year thousands of families are affected and are being homeless due to natural disasters.

Landslides are considered as a threat to the hill communities. Roads and transportation

facilities gets affected as it gets blocked every year. Mainly Eastern Terai, Western and mid

Western Terai and Hilly districts suffer from landslides and floods. Also, as most of the areas

of Nepal lie in high seismic risk zone, earthquake is considered as the largest threat, basically

in the urban areas where population density is very high. According to UNDP’s Bureau of

Crisis Prevention and Recovery, Nepal ranks as 11th most at risk country to earthquake and

13th most at risk to floods. (2004)

National disaster risk management practices in Nepal are mainly focused on core government

functions and micro-level disaster analysis does not get addressed in these plans. The main

challenge of disaster management in Nepal is the absence of proper policy formulation and

implementation and strategic plan for prevention and preparedness. Due to unstable political

situation and lack of proper coordination among authorities, nation plan for disaster

management has not been implemented successfully. The system of hazard mapping,

vulnerability assessment has yet to be properly developed. Focus is still given to the post

disaster activities i.e. rescue and relief work rather than prevention and preparedness.

After a decade of armed conflict, a peace settlement in 2006, Nepal is in the period of

political transition. There still is an ongoing negotiation by an interim legislature parliament

over a new constitution. The legislatives reform processes have slowed and become less

clear, so has the process of implementation of new policy. This has brought upon impact for

disaster risk reduction. Due to the absence of district and local elections over last decades,

the levels of government from the perspective of disaster management has weakened. (IFRC,


In the report presented by Government of Nepal in World Conference on Disaster reduction,

it is stated that Nepal does not have traditional indigenous knowledge wisdom and practices

or trained programs on disaster risk reduction. The traditional indigenous practices for

disaster risk reduction are to sacrifice goats and other animals and pray to go to reduce the

risk of disaster. But there are various evidences which prove that in fact indigenous practices

are prevalent in Nepal. The wisdom and possessed by local inhabitants has emerged as a

means to survive under remote isolated and harsh conditions in mountainous region of Nepal

(Sharma S, 2009). Recognition of Indigenous knowledge in Disaster Risk reduction efforts

has been insufficient even though there are evidences that these practices have potential to

provide solutions.

Nepal lacks systematic and in-depth studies in indigenous knowledge. Though there are

reports which talk about the importance of indigenous knowledge for Natural resource

management in Nepal, literature on indigenous knowledge for disaster risk reduction is

limited and scarce. (ISDR, 2008)

What is needed and accepted locally can be indentified and understood through the in-depth

study of local knowledge and practices. This will help to understand how people’s

participation can be increased in DRR. Taking local knowledge and practices into

considerations helps in promoting mutual trust, common understanding and the community’s

sense of ownership and self confidence. If there is incorporation of indigenous practices in

the existing practices and policies, the community will get encouraged and it empowers them

to take the leading role in disaster risk reduction activities.

Indigenous people have contributed their wisdom on the use of natural resources and

restoration. But none of the national policies in Nepal has emphasized the documentation and

study of IK and issues (Sharma, S. et. al, 2009). Marginalized communities have a large and

diverse body of knowledge on disaster mitigation based on traditional wisdom. Since they

live in remote, isolated and inaccessible areas on the ridges or on the foothills, they have their

own coping strategies in times of disaster. Detailed, systematic and intensive studies on

indigenous knowledge would contribute to a more comprehensive understanding an

appreciation of their overall contribution for better and safer living conditions of the people.

(UN/ISDR, 2008)

Statement of the problem:

Nepal is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. Country’s temperature is increasing at

a high rate of 0.06 degree Celsius per year (Shrestha et.al, 1999). Various marginalized

communities are also experiencing this increment and are facing some extreme weather

events such as erratic rainfall, droughts, landslide etc. Impact of the climate change is more to

the livelihood of those who depend on forest, land or nature for their food and income. IPPC

Third Assessment Report states that the communities who live in marginal lands and whose

livelihood are highly dependent on natural resources are among the most vulnerable to

climate change.

Tharu, the indigenous people of Terai region are the most vulnerable people which are being

affected by the climate change. Though they have adapted to natural hazards through their

traditional knowledge and survival skills, the current changes in climate and its impact could

be overwhelming to deal with. Livelihood diversity of Tharu is limited than those of

communities from other areas. Hence it is important to understand the level of impact on

their livelihood.

Even though Tharus have been residing in Terai region and have been adapting to the

climatic variation from the ancient time, their lives have started to be affected by climatic

anomalies which is more likely to be damaging in the near future. The knowledge that these

communities have acquired over time needs to be well understood so that appropriate

techniques can be recommended for their betterment.

Overview of Flood in Nepal:

Floods are common phenomenon in Nepal. There are more than 6,000 rivers and rivulets

nationwide. Among these, Koshi, Narayani, Karnali and Mahalaki are considered as main

rivers. They originate from the Himalayas, descend from the hills and flow through terai

plains. During monsoon which is basically June to September, these rivers rise up and cause

damage to the areas within their flood plains. Mainly, the districts like Baglung, Banke,

Rautahat, Bardiya and Sindhuli suffer great damage due to flood. Floods in Nepal are

classified into two: Riverine and Flash floods. (ICIMOD, 2007)

Nepal experience intense rainfall for four months from June to September which contribute

to 80% of annual rainfall. These intense rainfall causes flood as it gives rise to major rivers of

Nepal. These floods generally rise slowly n the Southern Terai Plains. Inundation caused by

overflowing of river banks causes extensive damages in the various regions of Terai

(ICIMOD, 2007). Flash floods are floods which occur without warning. These are considered

more dangerous as they occur suddenly and flow with very high speed. They are triggered by

extreme rainfall, failure of dams etc.

Flood of 1993 is considered as one of the major floods in Nepal. It caused massive

destruction of life and property, thousands of people were homeless and it also destroyed

crops over thousands of hectares of land. During this flood, 45 districts of the country were

affected. The total loss of physical destruction was estimated to be Rs. 5 Billion. Similarly,

other major floods of Nepal are the 1978 flood in the Tinao Basin, the 1980 flood along the

Koshi River. Also, the central and eastern Terai was submerged during the flood of 1987 in

Sunkoshi Basin (ICIMOD, 2007).

Many villages in the Terai area get flooded every year because of barrages and embankments

built in India by interfering with natural drainage cause water logging. The embankments

built long the Bagmati, Karnali and West Rapti rivers close to the border have constrained the

flow of rivers and contributed to the inundation of about 27 border localities. (MoHA, 2009)

Disaster adversely affects Nepal’s entire economy but the poor and vulnerable suffer the

most because they have limited options for rebuilding their livelihoods after a disaster strikes.

Marginalized group of Nepal are forced to reduce their food consumption, sell livestock

which ultimately have a negative effect on their future. Hence, DRR efforts should be

mainstreamed in order to change this overall context. (MoHA, 2009)

Concept of Disaster Risk reduction (DRR):

DRR can be seen as ‘the systematic development and application of policies, strategies and

practices to minimize vulnerabilities, hazards and the unfolding of disaster impacts

throughout a society in the broad context of sustainable development (UNISDR, 2004).

According to the report by Concern, Disaster Risk reduction is a means of bridging the gap

between development and humanitarian programs. In the same report it is written that

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) measures are designed to protect livelihoods and the assets of

communities and individuals from the impact of hazards by:

  • Mitigation: reducing the scale, intensity and impact of hazards.
  •  Preparedness: strengthening the capacity of communities to withstand, respond to

and recover from hazards, and of government, implementing partners and Concern to

establish speedy and appropriate interventions when the communities’ capacities are


  • Advocacy: favorably influencing the social, political, economic and environmental

issues that contribute to the causes and magnitude of impact of hazards. DRR is often

a complementary or integral part of other programmes such as micro-finance.

Disaster Risk reduction measures are undertaken in order to build local resilience. They

strengthen the social capacity to respond to changing conditions, including the stress inflicted

by disasters (MoHA, 2009). A holistic approach to disaster risk reduction includes all three

process of disaster management; Preparedness, rescue and recovery.

Disaster Risk Reduction in Nepal:

In 2009, Government of Nepal adopted a National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management

(NSDRM). Also, there is a revised draft bill for a new disaster management act that will soon

go to cabinet (IFRC, 2011). Apart from this, the necessity of integration of DRR and

development goals has been recognized at national government level in Nepal in its national

developing planning, its National policy on Environmental adaptation to climate change.

Some of the major gaps which can be seen in legal framework for DRR in Nepal are as


  •  The current legislation focuses only on rescue and response operation and there is no

comprehensive and broadly based Disaster Management Act.

  •  There is not yet a comprehensive and adequately resourced mechanism to implement

the national building codes to guard against the risk of earthquake and fire.

  •  Land use planning is not clearly regulated.
  •  There is no effective early warning system. Relevant government entities which

collect information or provide communications do not have specific mandates to

share information with communities and disaster related communication.

  •  Existing legislature does not set requirement for risk mapping at community level.

Also there is no recognition of importance of indigenous knowledge and practices.

Understanding Indigenous Knowledge:

It is found from the various literatures that local people are aware of the changing climate and

they develop their own adaptation measures based on their cultural practice and past

experiences. People always find ways to live with the environment using the knowledge they

have gained through their ancestors. This knowledge is usually in the form of social practices

and behaviors. In many countries these knowledge are manifested in the form of songs,

folklores, and also proverbs which usually becomes the part of cultural beliefs and practices.

The origin of indigenous knowledge lies within the communities though it is often influenced

by outside sources over time. Exchanges of information between different cultures have

taken place since early days. The process of developing IK, whether incorporating outside

knowledge or not is decided solely by the community itself. (Baumwoll, 2008) “Indigenous

knowledge refers to approaches and practices of a culture which develop from an advanced

understanding of its specific environment which has formed over numerous generation of

habitation.” (Baumwoll, 2008)

According to Berkes (1999), Indigenous knowledge is part of local knowledge and it refers

to: “local knowledge held by indigenous people or local knowledge unique to a given culture

or society.” United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has defined Indigenous

knowledge as the knowledge that an indigenous community accumulated over generations of

living on a particular environment. It means all the form of knowledge which enables the

community to achieve stable livelihood in the environment. This can be in the form of

technologies, skills, practices, beliefs as well as cultures. IK is used in different areas

including health, education, natural resource management etc (Warren 1998). These

knowledge systems include all areas of life as they are developed by people for survival.

Lousie Grenier in a publication by International Development Research Center (IDRC) has

defined IK as, “the unique, traditional, local knowledge existing within and developed around

the specific conditions of women and men indigenous to a particular geographic area.”

Similarly, UNESCO claims that local and indigenous knowledge connect directly to the

natural world and the specific environmental context.

Indigenous knowledge on disaster risk reduction can mainly be classified into four


a) Technological: Indigenous technology is seen in almost every part of the world.

Technology is used almost in every aspect of the life. These traditional practices are

seen to be more effective foe the community than scientific practices. Like in some

cases, most of the communities have intimate knowledge about the quality of soil,

plants and seeds that are resistant to drought o flood. Farmers who work in the

marginal lands practice mixed cropping, intercropping techniques which reduces risk

of poor harvest. Also at many places, houses are constructed on raised platform so

that they remain above flood levels. Technologies can be seen to be used while

constructing earthquake resistance building or houses as well.

b) Economic: Communities have developed their indigenous economic strategies to

deal with the disasters. Usually vulnerable households try to store up grains, foods

and cash which they can draw on in difficult times. In the case of food shortage,

natural or wild foods from the forests are used such as roots, berries etc.

c) Social: This basically includes kinship networks, mutual aids and self help groups.

Sharing of foods, materials during the crisis can be seen in many communities. Also,

people’s joint participation to rebuilt or reconstruct the damaged infrastructures can

be seen after the disaster event.

d) Cultural: This includes religious beliefs and norms which helps the community in

perceiving warning systems about the disaster and provide the medium to pass on the

knowledge and experiences from one generation to another generation. This is passed

on in the forms of stories, tales as well as other practices.

In the report presented by Joshi V, et. al, Indigenous knowledge refers to the age old refined

methods and practices developed by previous generation from an advanced understanding of

local environment, to save their belongings and lives from any future natural disaster. The

local people observe signs in environment which allows them to take precautions before

disaster happens.

SDMC in its published report presents that Indigenous practices varied from one area to

another and even within the same area, it varies from one community to another community.

The knowledge and practices keep changing with the time. The communities learn to adapt to

the changing contexts and challenges.

According to the report presented by ISDR, there are mainly four arguments related to the

value of indigenous practices.

  •  Knowledge regarding strategies to cope against natural disaster can be transferred

from one community to another community in the similar situations.

  •  Affected community gets encouraged if there is an incorporation of indigenous

knowledge in existing practices and policies. This empowers the members of the

community to take the leading role in all disaster risk reduction activities.

  •  Information contained in indigenous knowledge can help improve project

implementation by providing necessary information about the local context.

  •  Non-formal means by which indigenous knowledge is disseminated provides a

successful model for the other education on disaster risk reduction.

The indigenous knowledge, a product of anthropological geophysical and climate attributes,

truly empowers a community in terms of having defined risk reduction strategies via

anticipation, coping, adaptation and recovery. Anticipation and prediction make community

better prepared to face the impact of the disaster. When a disaster strikes, they respond, adapt

and cope using their indigenous knowledge

Indigenous Community:

Indigenous communities are those having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and precolonial

societies that developed on their territories; consider themselves distinct from other

sectors of society and now prevailing in territories or parts of them. (Khatiwada, 2011)

With distinct language, religion, customs, folklore, culture, knowledge, ancient territory, 59

indigenous nationalities are legally recognized in Nepal (NEFIN, 2010). Nepalese indigenous

nationalities are excluded from main streams of national policies and are being legally apart

from their ancient natural heritages, biodiversity, skills, technology, traditional ethics and

many more. In the report presented by ISDR in 2008, it is stated that knowledge on disaster

mitigation has been found to be stronger in homogenous and tribal communities rather than

in migrant communities. In Nepal, Gurung and Tharu communities possess more knowledge

on disaster mitigation due to the presence of strong sense of solidarity and harmony within

the community.

Indigenous Knowledge In DRR:

According to Dekens, Indigenous people have adjusted their livelihood strategies to adapt to

gradual change for centuries, but new global pressures have significantly changed people’s

social, economic, political and environmental contexts. While moving forward with DRR

strategies, it is necessary to take an account to the interrelated human, societal and cultural

factors along with the physical hazard risk. (Wisner et. Al. 2004)

Basically, the interest in the indigenous knowledge entered the development discourse during

the 1980s (Chambers). In 1990s, experts continued to explore the alternative approach to

development and its consideration of Indigenous Knowledge. During this period, the

international community began to catch on an introduce IK into the debates. (Denkens, 2007)

Knowledge originated from communities was not given any emphasis as scientific

technologies are considered to be more effective. According to Wisner et, al, (2004), narrow

focus on post disaster activities overlooks the interrelating factors which may contribute to a

hazard becoming a disaster and ignores the depth of knowledge existing within communities

that face such risk. This has lead to an abandonment of Indigenous strategies. Traditional

knowledge which is not based on facts is often dismissed by policy makers in favor of

scientific methodology (Mercer, et. al 2007).

Although IK is not based on the scientific facts, they are formulated on the basis of past

observation and have been proven to be closely matched with scientific reality as indigenous

measures do enable adaptation to harsh environment in many cases (Shrestha, 2011). But the

interest in IK has been extremely slow in entering the field of DRR. Experts agree on the

facts that the links between DRR and indigenous knowledge have seldom been made in either

literature or practice (Dekens). The reason for this delay according to Dekens is that until

now disasters have been focused only on technological solutions including stronger

infrastructure, high tech warning systems etc.

It was not until the beginning of the twenty-first century that the values of indigenous

knowledge became reflected in policies and practices of DRR organizations. Several projects

have been initiated by international organizations over past few years which focus on

compiling and dissemination of indigenous practices as a means of spreading valuable

knowledge and strategies to different communities (Boumwoll, 2008). ICIMOD in the

support of European Commission through its Humanitarian Aid Development, initiated a

fifteen month project. This study provided a collection of publication by Julie Dekens which

analyzes the value of indigenous knowledge for DRR. The field of sustainable development

also began to recognize the importance of IK. The World Summit on sustainable

development (2002) made several referenced to IK and its importance for sustainability


In recent years, shift in the approach to DRR can be found with and introduction of the

vulnerability approach, a focus on pre-disaster activities and an inclusion of the affected

community. These three changes support the inclusion of knowledge held by local people in

preparedness and mitigation strategies to help reduce the vulnerability of disaster-prone

communities (Boumwoll, 2008). At the moment, organizations have shifted their approach to

DRR from technology focused activities and towards emphasis on reducing vulnerability of

the community. These shifts have led DRR experts to consider integration of Indigenous

Knowledge in DRR policy and practice. IK refers to approaches and practices of a culture

which has been developed from an advanced understanding of a specific environment which

has been formed and passed down from many generations. Many indigenous communities

understand their local environment and care for it maintain lessons for past disasters and are

dedicated towards the place they live in. Hence the use of indigenous knowledge in the field

of DRR is an additional tool that can help indigenous and vulnerable communities.

There were several examples of the stories which became highlighted after the Indian Ocean

tsunami. During the Tsunami, the experiences of communities such as Simeuleans and the

Moken, who both relied on the IK for survival, received international attention. Their stories

were highly publicized by various publications, newspapers, news programs etc. This made

people realize the importance of indigenous knowledge and initiated the discussion on the

possibility of improving DRR by incorporation IK in it.

DRR should involve the incorporation of indigenous knowledge alongside scientific

knowledge. Even though research and development organizations have acknowledge the

existence and importance of indigenous knowledge and strategies related to disaster risk

reduction in practice, little documentation of its application through official channels exists


Case Study: Success study of UNDP’s project integrating IK in DRR:

Since 2001, UNDP has been carrying out a pilot project named “Participatory Disaster

Management Program (PDMP) in four of the disaster prone districts of Nepal. The

programmes works with the local community to mitigate water-induced disasters based on

indigenous knowledge and locally available materials. The program, based on the experience

of a similar earlier a year long program called “Upgrading Disaster Management Capacity in

Nepal” (1996-1997), aims to combine modern knowledge and indigenous knowledge in

disaster preparedness and mitigation with the goal of building community capacity in a

participatory, sustainable and cost-effective manner.

One of the success stories of this project was seen in the Chitwan district of Nepal. During

this phase, flood management through micro-infrastructure like dyke construction was

carried out. Also in other area biological measures such as flood control management through

large scale plantation, protection of degraded forest, proper drainage of excess run off water

etc were adopted. Community itself selected the variety of plants that were to be used in that

area. Also, the majority of the community in the project area, basically Tharu, an indigenous

people was found to be fond of fishing. Hence, with the assistance from the institute of

Agriculture and Animal Science, Chitwan, the community in the project area constructed 25

family fish ponds which were able to reduce fish catching practices at natural streams and

rivers. In this way a disaster torn community has been able to reduce the flood problem and

are also generating financial resources through activities combining their local knowledge

and with the help of UNDP’s program.

Objectives of the study:

The main objective of the study is to explore the use of indigenous knowledge and practices

in Tharu community to reduce the impact of flood disaster. The study will try to show the

importance to indigenous practices in disaster risk reduction practices.

Specific objectives of the research are as follows:

  •  To understand how the local knowledge is developed, used, transferred and adapted.
  •  To explore and indentify mechanisms which can be promoted to increase people’s

participation towards risk reduction.

  •  To understand whether the indigenous practices can be combined with scientific

strategies in order to minimize the impacts of flood hazard in Tharu community.

Hence the research is expected to seek the answers to the following questions:

1. How do people traditionally know when hazards are coming or are

transforming into disasters

2. Are people aware of any changes in climate related disaster?

3. What do people traditionally do to prepare themselves for such disasters?

How effective are these measure in the current days?

Significance of the study:

Many people in Terai region go homeless and their agricultural land gets swept away due to

inundation of floodplains by flash flood and drainage floods. The flood water also brings

diseases and makes access to clean drinking water very hard. Large number of epidemics

outburst during flood season. Also, people get bitten by snakes and there is huge scarcity of

drinking water.

Flood of 1993 is considered as one of the major floods in Nepal. It caused massive

destruction of life and property, thousands of people were homeless and it also destroyed

crops over thousands of hectares of land. During this flood, 45 districts of the country were

affected. The total loss of physical destruction was estimated to be Rs. 5 Billion. Similarly,

other major floods of Nepal are the 1978 flood in the Tinao Basin, the 1980 flood along the

Koshi River. Also, the central and eastern Terai was submerged during the flood of 1987 in

Sunkoshi Basin (ICIMOD, 2007).

People always find ways to live with the environment using the knowledge they have gained

through their ancestors. This knowledge is usually in the form of social practices and

behaviors. In many countries these knowledge are manifested in the form of songs, folklores,

and also proverbs which usually becomes the part of cultural beliefs and practices.

Interpretation of such beliefs also gives us idea about why communities act differently.

Nepal is considered as one of the richest in terms of indigenous traditional knowledge due to

its geographical diversities and many ethnic communities. Most of the indigenous knowledge

is transmitted orally from generation to generation and there is lack of proper documentation.

This is considered as one of the problems of integrating indigenous practices in DRR. This

study will help to document the practices applied by Tharu community and will try to show

significance of combining indigenous practices with new technologies. Such knowledge will

then can be generalized and recommended for the other communities via similar other

studies. Knowledge regarding strategies to cope against natural disaster can be transferred

from one community to another community in the similar situations.

Indigenous people have lived in the vulnerable places for centuries adapting to the local

climate. Tharus of Nepal are one of the oldest inhabitants of Terai region. They have been

using their knowledge for years in order to reduce their impact and sustain their livelihood.

Tharu community in the Bardiya District of Nepal is one of the marginalized groups

vulnerable to disaster. Tharus are the indigenous group who make up 52% of population in

Bardiya District. They constitute one of the several indigenous groups that are historically

marginalized and discriminated in Nepal. The marginalization of Tharu Community was due

to lack of representation in Government and politics, language barriers and lack of access to

state protection and services. These groups are mostly affected by floods. In order to sustain

their livelihood, these people occupy marginal and exposed land as they are cheaper for them

to afford. Tharu community, an indigenous community living in Terai Landscapes, is well

known for their traditional skills and knowledge. Tharus of Nepal are one of the oldest

inhabitants of Terai region in the country. They have been using their knowledge and skills to

cope with natural calamities. But with the changing climate, the local knowledge developed

over centuries may not help to address rapidly emerging challenges. Their indigenous

knowledge are limited to the regular phenomenon only.

This research will mainly focus on the indigenous strategies which have been practiced in

this community. The paper will focus on the on going indigenous practices of Tharu



The study was conducted in three villages using FGD. The results presented here are the

responses from the respondents of the study area. Therefore the findings are only valid for

similar location and may not be generalized to other communities. Similarly, the information

on climate change, impacts and local practices were the perceived responses of respondents

based on their experience of the past. It may differ with the location and also within the

different communities within the same district. The study focuses on the Tharu Community

of Bardiya District which may not represent the other Tharu Communities of Terai region

having different socio-environmental conditions. The limitations of the study include time

constraints which is restricted to coverage of the study area.

Selection of Study Area:

The idea behind selecting this district for my study was due to the fact that this district has

been affected by floods constantly. Bardiya district of Nepal is one of the most hazard

affected districts of Nepal. Every year the districts suffer from intense flooding which

disrupts lives of people, ruins agricultural lands and hundreds gets displaced. The district also

faces various types of epidemic breakout which come side by side to flood.

In this district, the flood which occurred in 2008 affected 32 VDCs where 865 houses were

completely damaged and 572 were partially damaged. I got interested in this particular

district as news regarding flood in this area were being publish constantly.

Fig 4.1 Adapted from the Himalayan Times newspaper, published at 2010-08-23

Five VDCs at risk of inundation in Bardiya


BARDIA: Rise in water level in the Karnali river following incessant rainfall since

the past four days has put five VDCs at risk of inundation in the Rajapur area of the


Chediya, Tedia, Anantapur, of Rajapur, Bhalufata, Shankerpur, Iswarigunj of

Bhimmapur, Khaireni of Daulatour and Dangpur of Gola are at risk being

submerged by the flood water.

The Rajapur area is surrounded on all sides by the Bheri and Karnali River.

High alert has been exercised considering the increasing level of water in the rivers,

Chief of the Area Administration Office, Rajapur, Arjun Subedi said.Armed Police

and Nepali Police personnel are on a stand-by position in case a situation arises to

rescue the flood victims, Police Chief Surya Prasad Upadhyaya said. Meanwhile,

two people have gone missing after being swept away by the Karnali River. One of

the missing has been identified as Tilak Khadka, 50, of Asaneri in Motipur-4. The

detail of the second person is not yet known, the District Police Office, Bardia said.

Among the various VDC of the district, I chose Rajapur Village Development Committee as

it is one of the oldest settlements for Tharu community and also has been affected by flood

many times. The VDC’s are divided into nine wards on the basis of population size. A ward

is the smallest administrative unit consisting of one village or groups of village. Since my

study was on the indigenous strategies for flood hazard, out of 9 wards, I chose three wards

which were easier to reach and was vulnerable to flood hazard.

An overview of Study Area:

Bardiya District is located in the Terai of the Mid-western Development region, Bheri zone.

The district covers an area of 2,025 km2 and according to the Central Bureau of Statistic

CBS 2001, the total population of Bardiya is 382, 649 out of which 189,994 are female and

192,665 are male that are distributed in 59,569 households. It is a fertile plain land covered

with agricultural land and forest. The district is split into two distinct sections: the main land

of Bardiya and the Rajapur Delta. Rajapur Delta is 37 kilometers west of Gulariya and has

historically been and area of frequent flooding due to extensive network branches from the

Karnali River.

Rajapur area within Bardiya District is known for being pre-dominantly settled by Tharu

people. It is said that most of the Tharus in this area are first or second generation migrats

from Dang district of Nepal. The total population of Rajapur area as per 2001 census is

92,908 in 13,303 households. This consists of 24.3% of the total population of Bardiya

District. More than 50 different caste/ethnic groups reside in the area (CBS, 2001) among

which the proportion of Tharus in the area is 69.8% which is one of the highest concentration

of Tharus in the whole country (Chettri, 2008).

The main source of livelihood in the study area is agriculture. Some other sources of

livelihood are found to be seasonal labor, services and business,


An overview on Tharu population:

According to CBS report of 2001, the total percentage of Tharu in Nepal is 6.75%. In

Bardiya District there is 52% of Tharu ethnic group out of total population. Tharu people

mostly reside in the close proximity to the forest and near the river in the past. This is due to

their dependency on products for firewood, close access to wild medicinal plants used to cure

diseases and agriculture and fishery as their main source of income for livelihood. In the past,

their life was semi-nomadic form.

It is believed that Thar, the desert land of Rajasthan, India is ancestral homeland of Tharus

from where they fled away. As they migrated from Thar in between thirteenth and sixteenth

century during Muslim invasion, they became Tharu. (Pandit, 2007)

Singh (2006:13) clarifies that Tharus are the descendants of Sakyamuni Buddha and Asokha

the Great and they cannot be branded as a tribal community. According to Laxmi lal

Chaudhary, Tharus are the indigenous people and they belong to Lord Buddha’s clan. They

posses their own distinct identity, unique traditions and exclusive customs and also have their

own beliefs. The Tharus call themselves the son of the land (Dharti Putra). They are the

original settlers in the entire Terai plains. In 1950s, when there was severe Malaria outbreak

in various regions of the country, it was Tharus who adapted.

Tharus in terai region have their own indigenous institution and governance mechanism

which is known as “Barghar” system. This village leadership is selected during the ‘Maghi’

festival which is New Year for them. Barghar is selected by villagers for a year. The

Barghar’s position is voluntary whereas villagers pay paddy to the others to acknowledge

their services. The traditional roles of Barghars include coordinating with community

members to identify and prioritize community development needs or activities and to manage

community labor (tharuculture.blogspot.com). Disputes in communities are also resolved by


Even though Tharus have been residing in Terai region and have been adapting to the

climatic variation from the ancient time, their lives have started to be affected

anomalies which is more likely to be damaging in the near future.


Methodology includes the methods which can be used to obtain the desired data. It’s a plan

of action. It can also be known as a strategy to conduct the research. For ensuring a quality

research, priority was given in developing appropriate research methodology as per the

objectives of the research. Literature review of similar research project was done which was

helpful to develop definite research methodology and research tools.

Data Collection Methods and Instruments:

The study used the participatory tools and methods in order to generate information about

climate change impacts and indigenous strategies used by the local people. Required data

were obtained from primary and secondary sources. The primary data were acquired from

field visits while the secondary data were extracted from books, reports, publications etc. For

the collection of primary data, field visit was carried out. The specific instruments used in

this study are as follows:

Focus Group Discussion

It is considered as one of the important data gathering tool. It is used to discuss specific topic

in detail. FGD is a qualitative study method that requires a small homogenous group of

people to discuss a study topic. It is also known as an exploratory research tool and is being

widely used by researches to generate qualitative data. Focus group discussion was held in

the three different wards of the Rajapur Village with local elder people, farmers, Barghar as

well as social workers. Total of four group discussions were carried out. During FGD,

participatory tools like social mapping, timeline and local knowledge documentation were


After finalizing different years of flood using time line, information regarding impact of

flood was also collected from the members. The participating community people provided

the requested information based on their recall on past and present experiences on the study

topic in each FGD.


Systematic observation was carried out in order to gather the required information.

Information on various features for getting insight view of consequences of flood hazard and


local practices and methods adopted by people to cope up was gathered via observation.

Participation observation adopted to understand more about Tharu community everyday life,

behavior, livelihood strategies, cultural practices and tradition. I also tried to know about the

livelihood strategies of Tharu in their day to day life with the help of participation

observation methods. This method helped to understand more about Tharu community in


Extensive Literature Review

For secondary data collection, publications and reports, review of published reports,

documents and researches related to indigenous practices was done. The extracted documents

were then analyzed. All the facts regarding local knowledge and practices were reviewed via

doing in-depth study in the subject matter. It was then related with disaster risk reduction

practices. Also, the data published from Central Bureau of Statistics were used to analyze the

socioeconomic status of the study area.

Data Analysis:

Qualitative information such as farmers’ experiences regarding climate change and

adaptation measures taken on their farmland collected from local people and key informants

were analyzed and interpreted in relevant chapters to complement.

Indigenous Knowledge for disaster Risk reduction:

Due to geographical diversity and presence of many ethnic communities, Nepal is considered

as one of the richest in the terms of indigenous traditional knowledge. This knowledge has

been passed down from generation to generation and is proven to be very useful in case of

coping with the natural events.

It is found from the literatures that local people are aware of the changing climate and they

devise their own adaptation measures based on their cultural practices and past experiences.

Understanding the local perception is useful in understanding the true implication for

changing climate. Climate change and its impact are already visible in Nepal. Indigenous

people whose livelihood is based on the state of natural resources are mostly impacted when

such changes occur. The relationship between knowledge, culture and beliefs is important in

context of DRR, since the belief system often incorporates environmental ethics which helps

to reduce risk of disaster.

Absence of proper policy formulation and implementation as well as strategic plan for the

prevention and preparedness is one of the main challenges of disaster management in Nepal.

The country is still in the period of political transition. Due to unstable political situation and

lack of proper coordination among authorities, national plan for disaster management has not

been implemented successfully.

Also, disaster risk reduction initiatives in Nepal face the constant challenge of the country’s

relative poverty and the increasing competition for resources for economic development at

both national and local level (IFRCC, 2011). There is need to integrate indigenous practices

in DRR.



Local People’s response to Climate Change:

Majority of the local people responded that they have experienced change in climate with

increasing temperature. More than 80% of the respondents reported rainfall variability with

untimely rainfall, late monsoon, no rain or high intensity rainfall pattern within short

duration. People responded in the past i.e 10 years ago, people knew the pattern of rainfall

and could tell when the rainfall would occur. But at present rainfall pattern was


In 1986, Rajapur Village was ruined by disasters including fire and flood. Heavy flooding

destroyed three houses and damaged fertile agricultural land. Forestland was cleared to

allocate space for victims and flood prone households. The dense mixed forest in the area

was destroyed. A total of 7.7 ha of forest were damaged.

Impact on forest and biodiversity

Forest is also an important sector of Tharu communities as they are still depending on it for

various livelihood options. It is also in critical condition due to climate induced changes.

People are moving to the higher grounds which are resulting in massive clearance of forest

area for settlement purposes.

Physical and social impacts Impact on physical infrastructures

Climatic risk and hazards especially flood, river bank erosion and windstorm has severe

impacts on infrastructures like buildings, bridge, roads and even houses. Houses get

inundated during flood; also there is a risk of roofs getting blown away during heavy storms.

Human casualties

Tharus of the studied sites indicated that climate risk and hazards had also impacted on

human casualties and injuries in some cases. One of the farmers also informed that they have

to stay alert whole night at the time of monsoon and/or intense rainfall as they do not have

any proper or scientific early warning system in their village.

Flood Problems in Study Area:

A flood may be defined as a discharge of excessive water which exceeds the channel

capacity. Flood has remained a problem for Karnali River for years. As learnt form the

discussion with the locals in the study area, floods of heavy magnitude have created big

destruction in the past as well. Recurrence of flood is common during the monsoon season. It

is learnt that the area is under inundation and the flooding is increasing in the study area since

last 30-40 years.



Flood disaster is prominent in the study area. Each year flood causes massive destruction on

agricultural land, infrastructure and live stocks. Basically two type s factors were seen which

contributed to the flood disaster in the study area, Natural and Anthropogenic. Among the

major cause of flood, heavy monsoonal rain is the direct cause. Besides this other causes are

found to be climate change, river bed rise and infrastructure. According to the locals, the

intensity of rainfall has increased in the past few years. Though there are fewer rainfalls,

intensity of those rainfalls are higher which is contributing to increase in the level of river

which is ultimately contributing in the flood. Deforestation, and poor planning and designs of

embankments are other factors. The community people respondent that due to migration of

people from different areas and due to growth of population in the study area, deforestation

has increased. Before, due to the forest, there was less chance of flood water entering the

village. But now since there is little forest, there are no natural ways to reduce the impact of


Locals also expressed the need of improving the embankments. According to them,

embankment should have more slopes and the materials used should be stronger. One of the

other reasons for flood in that area, according to the locals is the building of Girjapuri dam in

India. During intense rainfall, if these damn were opened, there would have been less change

for flood to enter the study area.

During the FGD, people stressed that flood damages physical infrastructures. Their main

concern is the damages to the productive agricultural land and livestock. Since more than

85% of people directly depend on agriculture, river cutting issues has been of great concern.

The flood also caused losses of livestock.

Local knowledge on Flood:

It has been found that local people of the study area are using their beliefs, local knowledge

practices for forecasting of storms and rainfall, early warnings as well as for emergency

management. This knowledge has been passed down to them from previous generations

orally. Their forefathers used to adapt to natural hazards based on their own surviving skills.

However, the efficiency of traditional flood management practices is now being questioned

in this changing environment. It is important to develop the current level of awareness while

enhancing traditionally accepted system. This is possible by integrating scientific knowledge

in to the existing system with understanding by local people.

Forecasting of storms and heavy rainfalls:

It was found that many people these days use the support of weather forecast report from

radio stations about the forecast of rainfalls. But still lots of own ways for forecasting was

found. Some of the indicators for the people for forecasting heavy rainfall and flood as

shared by locals in the field study are:

  • Abnormal crying/voices of animals and birds
  • Mobility of ants to the higher grounds
  • Chickens spread out their wings in order to dry them up
  • Increased level of river level
  • In a backside of certain type of an insect, straws get stuck. By looking at the

number of straws, size of flood is assumed.

Early Warning Practices:

No effective or scientific way for early warning system was seen in the study area.

Nevertheless, there were some general practices that were seen. Some of the local or

indigenous knowledge on early warning were documented during the field visits which

are as follows:

  • Strange sounds from rivers: Community people identify the sound of heavy flood

upstream, based on their prior experiences. Once they are confirmed that there is a

flood, firstly the ‘Barghar’ is given the notification after which the information is

passed out to the entire community.

  • Smell of the river: Muddy smell or different type of smell in the water is considered

as another indicator for flood. Locals responded that usually during flood the river

carry mud or soil due to which the river smells differently. Also, colour of the river

is different.

  • Presence of materials in the river water: When the water level increases, flood

carries dry leaves, mud and other materials along the river. These are also taken as

indication of increasing water level.

Farmers are determined and initiated to minimize the impacts of climate change in forest

sector both individually and collaboratively. In this case, they have planted Bamboo, Khar,

Munj, Amriso in flood prone areas and also initiated bio-fencing with support of different


Flood Management Practices

It has been found that local people are using traditional way of embankment. They have been

using Zhaala Paata (embankment made using branches of trees, various sticks) for reducing

impact of flood. This method was proved to be very effective many years back. According to

locals, it is very affordable method and was greatly used by their ancestors before. However,

it is only effective for three months as it dries up after three months. Before when the

monsoon season was predictable, it was enough to stop the flood from entering the village.

But now in some of the places, where the land cutting issues are more severe, people were

found to use stones and gabion wires for embankment.

Besides this, some of the house holds at present has changed their house structure by building

in higher elevated area or increasing the plinth of the houses. Tharu community in the terai

has a tradition since long past to store rice grains in every household I amount atleast

sufficient for six months. They sue a locally designed earthen structure called “Deheri” to

store grains so that it will not deteriorate for long time. In the study area similar practice was

seen. However, in this area, ‘Deheri’ was not only used for storing grains and it was built in

such a way hat it would act like a protective wall for the house.

Communities have also managed the forest as a community forest. They have the belief that

forest would act like a savior to them and would protect them for the flood. They have also

made cannel irrigation for crop production as well as to divert excess water form the river to

different river.


Agencies Involved in Flood Risk reduction in the study area:

District Development Committee (DDC) is considered as one of the major line agency for the

government entrusted with development work in all of the VDCs of the district. Activities of

NGOs and INGOs were severely affected during on going conflict (Maoist Insurgency

period). Even after the initiation of peace building in the country, the involvement of NGOs

and INGOs in the study area was seen to be limited. Also in terms of flood management,

mostly activities conducted in the study area are related to response, recovery and relief

rather than prevention and preparedness.

Presently, Red Cross and local NGOs; SCORE Nepal and Radha Krishna Seva Samaj are

working to create awareness regarding flood issues in the area. They basically give trainings

to social workers of the area regarding how to act after the occurance of the disaster.

According to the respondents, they along with the help of Red Cross, are planning to get a

Siren which would help them in early warning.

Strengths and Weakness of IK:

Upon discussing with the local people and observing the local practices, some of the

strengths and weakness of integrating local and indigenous practices in Disaster Risk

Reduction Practices were found which are mentioned below:


  • Understanding local knowledge and practices can help to identify what is the need

and what are accepted locally. In the case of Rajapur VDC, people had various ideas

in order to reduce the risk of flood hazard. After the flood in 1960, locals accepted the

use plastic bags full of sand along the river side for temporary embankment which

were distributed by the Nepal government.

  • It can help to understand the factors which may increase people’s participation.
  • Building on local knowledge and practices can decrease dependency on external aid.

People themselves seemed to be active to try various techniques for flood


  • Local human resources as well as natural resources will be mobilized. It will promote

mutual trust, understanding and community’s sense of ownership.

  • It can also help organizations to implement their projects activities and strategies as

per the local partner’s needs.


  • One of the problems of integrating indigenous knowledge in disaster risk reduction is

that such knowledge are transmitted orally from one generation to another generation.

Hence, proper documentation cannot be found. In the absence of documents, this kind

of knowledge cannot be generalized and recommended for use unless they are tested

and proved to be valid in the changing context.

  • Scientific monitoring and forecasting and warning systems are proven to be more

reliable. The locals in the area themselves agree to the fact that relying only on the

traditional way of forecasting and early warning system is not enough as they might

not be accurate due to on going climate change.

  • Traditional coping strategies are also inadequate for the events that occur suddenly

and in massive scale. Respondents replied due to change in rainfall pattern and

increased intensity of rainfall, they cannot predict the flood every time. Sometimes

flooding occurs within a short period of time which makes the locals difficult to cope

only using the traditional strategies.


Study found that Tharus in Rajapur VDC were able to recognize that temperatures have

increased, snow fall decreased and there has been a fluctuation in the rainfall pattern.

Inadequate scientific monitoring makes it difficult to validate the observed changes. Natural

resource degradation and poverty are already severe problems in Nepal, and there will be

more severe problems in future if present scenario continues. Though indigenous practices

are found to be present in the area, it is not adequate for risk reduction for flood. According

to the community people, the ways and methods were useful few years back when they could

predict the rainfall and could tell about upcoming flood. But now since variation in climatic

conditions are seen, only relying in these practices are not enough.

Indigenous communities have a large and diverse body of knowledge on disaster risk

reduction based on traditional wisdom. Since they live in remote, isolated and inaccessible

areas on the ridges or on the foothills, they have their own coping strategies in times of

disaster. Detailed, systematic and intensive studies on indigenous knowledge would

contribute to a more comprehensive understanding and appreciation of their overall

contribution for better and safer living conditions of the people. (UN/ISDR, 2008)

Local knowledge and practices are often invisible to outsiders. Many techniques remain

confined within particular community only. Hence efforts should be made to bring out those

practices. One of the main problems of integrating Indigenous Knowledge in Disaster risk

reduction is lack of proper documentation. Hence, first essential task to be done is to

document such knowledge and practices in all dimensions let it be technical, cultural, social

or economic.

The time tested knowledge possessed by various communities is need to be linked with

scientific knowledge. Mainly, it should be a two way process in which scientist learns from

indigenous knowledge. Mainly, it should be a two way process in which scientist learns from indigenous coping mechanisms and on the other hand communities are also benefited with
modern and scientific knowledge which reduced their risk towards extreme events.

  •  There should be policy and legal frameworks for incorporating traditional knowledge


  •  There should be proper collection and compilation of traditional and local knowledge

which are scattered throughout the country. Researches should be carried out in
different community for the compilation of such strategies.

  •  There should be institutional mechanism for mainstreaming traditional knowledge

into the disaster risk reduction practices

  •  Indigenous practices should be studied, analyzed and then documented in order to

develop some kind of tools and methodologies for the application and test via some
pilot projects.