On a field trip with journalists to Koshi River basin

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Journalists walk in Jure's landslide affected area of Sindupalchowk district
Photo: Naresh Newar

The scars over the hills of Jure village in Sindupalchok district, nearly 40 kms south of the Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, still remain visible as constant reminder of the devastating landslide on 2 August 2014. The disaster killed 145 people including 50 children and heavily damaged Jure, Itini and Kaguni villages.

“Being in the actual place of incident helps to capture the reality and makes a huge difference for preparing a story,” says BBC Nepali journalist Sita Mademba, who visited the location for the first time. She had covered the incident from her base station in Dharan municipality, 500 km southeast of the capital, and this was her first journey to Jure.

Journalist Sita Mademba interviews a local farmer in Sindhuli
Photo: Naresh Newar

Mademba and 18 other journalists from India and Nepal were on a six-day field visit organised by ICIMOD Koshi Basin Programme from 5-11 April 2016. They were also joined by team of ICIMOD experts led by Shahriar M. Wahid, coordinator of KBP, to provide any knowledge inputs for the journalists while traveling through the different ecological zones of the Koshi basin in five districts of Sindupalchok, Kavrepalanchowk, Sindhuli, Saptari and Mahottari.

The aim of the field visit was to show journalists how KBP was involved in the field through its research action for developing knowledge in partnership with government and local NGO partners on water-related issues through a river basin approach. The journalists would also get a get a hands-on and practical knowledge on critical issues linked to river basin.

"The journalists would also get a get a hands-on and practical knowledge on critical issues linked to river basin"

The first leg of our journey with journalists were in Jure village of Sindupalchok where they observed geohazard sites, particularly the impact of landslides and to understand how hydro-meteorological stations operated.

The next stop was in Daraune Pokhari village of Kavrepalanchowk district to show the importance of reviving spring ponds to address water scarcity in the midhills. Since 2013, ICIMOD KBP in partnership with Nepal Water Conservation Foundation (NWCF) has been involved in an action research project to improve understanding of springs and investigating ways of spring flow.

“I have covered stories related to Koshi basin but this field visit has helped me to get a new perspective about sustainable solutions,” said journalist Shobha Manandhar from Nepal Forum of Environment Journalists (NEFEJ), which runs a popular ‘Aankhi Jhyal’ environment-based television programme for which Manandhar has produced and reported several television episodes.

KBP Coordinator Shahriar M Wahid interviewed on the spot for his expert opinion.
Photo: Naresh Newar

Nearly 100 km south of Kavrepalanchowk, we drove along the highway to Sindhuli district to show the importance of linkages between upstream and downstream areas on managing water resources. Journalists were able to interact with local communities to hear their own perspectives on how water resources were managed locally.

"Journalists were able to interact with local communities to hear their own perspectives on how water resources were managed locally"

“This field observation granted me an opportunity to see the hardships experienced by the mountain people through the ICIMOD lenses,” said Patna-based senior journalist Ashok Mishra from Hindustan Times. He explained that the field interaction had given him several story ideas and new perspectives on many important water issues. The field interaction also included a recap session every evening by Wahid and a team of ICIMOD experts to discuss about the relevant issues and local contexts of the places they visited. Every morning there was a briefing session on the topics and information about the place where journalists were traveling.

One of the most interesting visits was to Saptari, where journalists walked to Mahuli catchment area to observe the challenges of local irrigation system and interact with the local agricultural communities on water use master plans (WUMPs). “Such a field trip gives journalists an opportunity to get a better understanding and this has given me a lot of story ideas,” said journalist Ramesh Bhusal, Nepal Editor of Third Pole, a South Asian environmental online magazine. The local villagers were also thrilled to see a team of journalists and for many of them it was first encounter with the media. “Journalists hardly come here to visit the farmers and this seemed liked a good opportunity to share our woes,” said Ram Chaudhary, a local farmer, who shared that this was the first time he was interviewed by a journalist.

The last leg of our journey was in Mahottari district where the journalists observed ICIMOD-supported community-based flood early warning systems (CB-FEWS). “Such a simple early warning system devices for flood can save so many lives and would be really useful in Bihar too,” said journalist Imran Khan, special correspondent of IANS, one of India’s top news agencies.

Deo Raj Gurung, ICIMOD Remote Sensing Specialist, Geospatial Solutions, shares his expertise on the Jure landslide event 
Photo: Naresh Newar

"The visit has been successful in drumming up media voice in favor of regional collaboration for Koshi river basin management and showcase ICIMOD’s work on the ground"

The field visit programme was a new experience for us at KBP, and had a positive outcome but not without challenges. “In spite of a few challenges faced during the trip, on the whole, the visit has been successful in drumming up media voice in favor of regional collaboration for Koshi river basin management and showcase ICIMOD’s work on the ground,” said Wahid. He explained that the outcomes had been rewarding both in terms of print and audio-visual media exposure. “Hopefully, this will leave a mark to push forward ICIMOD river basin management agenda in the future” he added.

In the last three months since the field visit programme, the participant journalists have produced over 70 stories and news in over 40 different national and international media outlets including television, radio, print and online newspapers and in several languages besides English.

"In three months, participant journalists produced over 70 stories and news in over 40 different national and international media outlets"

Final word

As we have learned from this trip that one of the keys to success for such a field visit programme, whether with a few or large number of journalists, is to ensure that information is readily available for journalists. Our team at ICIMOD KBP prepared all the necessary and resource and knowledge materials relevant to every site and water-thematic issue. The programme was planned meticulously to ensure no stone was left unturned to support the journalists for their stories. There were scientists traveling with us who had expert knowledge of each site and issue to provide answers on the spot. In the field, there were on-the- spot interviews facilitated by ICIMOD Knowledge Management and Communications (KMC). In the end, journalists had their own freedom to choose their own story ideas and write independently.

The logistical challenges are always expected while on a road trip with large group of participants especially while traveling in tropical areas, where even during a Spring season, the temperature can get quite humid in the southern plains. The journey was always on road, which was challenging given that we were traveling to quite disaster hotspot areas of the Koshi basin areas.

"The trip was not just about journalists writing stories. It was also about developing new relationship with journalists"

Journalists from the KBP event interacting with local villagers sharing their water woes
Photo: Naresh Newar

For us at Koshi Basin Programme, this was a good experiment of a communications practice. At the end, our team realized that the trip was not just about journalists writing stories. It was also about developing new relationship with journalists who live near or in the Koshi basin areas in both India and Nepal. The encouraging aspect of this trip was also the close relations fostered between the journalists themselves who could collaborate on stories to share knowledge at a regional level. Most of HKH’s natural resources including the rivers are transboundary for which the knowledge-sharing beyond national borders are so key for encouraging policy makers and building capacity of local river basin communities through the support of media.

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Naresh Newar



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