Before the Water Comes

Koshi basin communities can now access up-to-date information on floods

In the plains of Bihar in northern India, flooding has a long history. Most recently, in 2008, poor maintenance caused a breach in the Koshi embankment, the structure that protects villages adjacent to the river. Water poured out of the embankment and washed over the plains of northern India, ultimately affecting around 3 million people and culminating into one of Bihar’s worst ever floods. That’s why there was concern six years later on 14 August 2014, when consistent heavy rainfall in Nepal caused major rivers, including the Koshi River, to rise to dangerous levels. ICIMOD’s flood management team was monitoring the rainfall and river flows, and sent a flood outlook to Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM). The outlook was forwarded by DHM to radio and news stations, and helped downstream populations prepare for the worst.

The project includes different components meant to build the technical capacity of stakeholders, and to make flood information available to the wider public.

ICIMOD was able to receive this up-to-date, accurate information on rainfall and potential floods that August because of a project that began in 2010 that aimed to improve flood forecasting and to minimize the loss of human life and property across the region’s major river basins, including the Indus, the Ganges, and the Brahmaputra. The Hindu Kush Himalayan-Hydrological Cycle Observing System (HKH-HYCOS), a regional component of the World Hydrological Cycle Observing System (WHYCOS) supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Finland, includes different components meant to build the technical capacity of stakeholders and make flood information available to the wider public. Because of the transboundary nature of many of the region’s flood disasters, the project also made efforts to strengthen cross-border cooperation in disaster management.

Since 2014, ICIMOD has made improvements to the Koshi basin flood outlook system with support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), including activities to build the technical capacity of stakeholders and make the flood outlook operational. Now, an up to 72 hour advanced flood outlook can be provided to Nepali and Indian stakeholders in the Koshi basin. Working closely with national agencies in Nepal and Bihar, India, the system employs radar technologies to operate 12 automated web based sensors and transmit data to national hydrometeorological services, as well as an ICIMOD-run regional flood information system server. These provide real-time data and information on river water levels and rainfall in different vital locations of the basin that are combined with GFS (Global Forecast System) modelled rainfall predictions and analysed to produce the flood outlook. The public and other interested institutions can access the latest updates on floods from websites maintained by ICIMOD and DHM.

To ensure operational aspects of the flood information system, the project is working to build the technical capacity of national agencies and knowledge around its use. For example, in March 2014, ICIMOD ran a two-day training in the town of Dhankuta in the eastern part of the Koshi basin for 20 station gauge readers and observers from 11 station locations. The training included theory, group work, and a visit to one of the stations in order to promote a deeper understanding of real-time data collection, how to operate and maintain the station equipment, and how to rectify technical problems when they arise. Most importantly, the training emphasized how to assure the collection and transmissions of good quality data, which can make the difference between death and life for many in the towns and villages of the Koshi basin.

The flooding that occurred in parts of Nepal and Bihar in August 2014 did not unfold into a major disaster; however, the issued flood outlook gave some communities the time they needed to evacuate. The flood outlook’s success has been noticed by Bihar’s State Disaster Management Authority, which has shown interest in integrating the system into its own disaster management activities. In this sense, the project not only has improved the quality of flood data available in the region, but also has set an example of progressive cross-border cooperation that is essential in the event of a disaster.

HKH-HYCOS is a regional component of the World Hydrological Cycle Observing System (WHYCOS), a global programme of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and supported by ICIMOD core and programme donors, including Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade since 2014. the project seeks to enhance regional cooperation and strengthen the capacity of national hydrometeorological agencies in flood forecasting by establishing a regional flood information system. based on real-time hydrometeorological observations from 38 stations installed by the project and operated by the national agencies, and satellite observation based precipitation forecasts, the project is able to provide regional and basin-wise flood outlook information to stakeholders in the countries of the hindu kush himalayas through web and mobile-based applications and help minimize the potentially disastrous impacts of floods.

Find the Koshi Flood Outlook at: www.icimod.org/koshifloodoutlook


Photo credit: Udayan Mishra, NWCF , Nabin Baral