The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) is prone to natural hazards and climate change exacerbates this susceptibility. Floods and flash floods are major natural hazards in the HKH and are catastrophic for downstream communities. Many rivers and tributaries flowing from the mountains and hills enter the plains, sometimes across international boundaries, forming flat, flood-prone, and partially waterlogged areas. Light to heavy rainfall in the hills can cause flash floods and huge losses in lives and livelihoods in the hills and the plains. Though early warning systems have been developed at the global, regional, and national levels to provide information on floods identified by the Hyogo Framework for Action and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Special Report on Extreme Events and Disasters (SREX 2012)—in getting this information to the most vulnerable communities, more so when communities span international administrative boundaries.
Godavari Knowledge Park, Lalitpur, Nepal
14 May 2018 to 18 May 2018
To address this, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) piloted a community-based flood early warning system (CBFEWS) in Assam, India, in 2010, and upscaled and outscaled it to five locations inside Assam in 2013. The success in generating and disseminating flood signals not only helped save lives and assets, but also helped the District Disaster Management Authority deploy rescue teams to vulnerable sites. As such, the initiative was conferred the prestigious UNFCCC’s “Momentum for Change: 2014 Lighthouse Activity Award” under the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Solutions category at the 20th Conference of Parties (COP20), in Lima, Peru. Seeing the potential of CBFEWS, ICIMOD extended its pilots in the transboundary Ratu River in Nepal in 2016 and extended the coverage of the system to transboundary villages in Bihar, India, in 2017. The system helped save lives in Nepal and India and demonstrated that community systems are more effective in the timely dissemination of information, leading to faster action.
CBFEWS is an integrated system of tools and plans through which people in upstream communities, upon detecting flood risk, disseminate the information to people in vulnerable downstream communities so that they can take action to save lives and livelihoods. CBFEWS integrates technology with local knowledge and perceptions using a people-centric approach. Although the detection of flood risk and its communication to vulnerable communities is driven by technology, the success of CBFEWS depends on how well the communities are prepared to respond to floods. CBFEWS places emphasis on engaging communities, documenting their experiences, and developing response plans specific to their location. Communities learn the technology, prepare plans, and share responsibilities as part of the holistic system.
In 2010, ICIMOD designed an automated device that detected rising water levels and transmitted flood signals through a cable to receiver units placed at a designated caretaker’s house. Upon receiving the flood warning, the caretaker alerted concerned agencies and vulnerable communities downstream via telephone or mobile phone. The system was installed in the Jiadhal River in Assam in 2010 and was destroyed by the devastating flood of August 2011, but not before triggering a flood alarm that saved several lives. The technology has been significantly improved, most notably in accessing data in real time, improving accuracy of flood detection, and increasing the geographic coverage of the system. In 2013, the device was enabled with a wireless communication facility, and five systems were installed in Assam. In 2016, the device was equipped with a radar-based water level system and a telemetric system that could transmit data to a server using the internet; these were installed along the Ratu River in both Nepal and India. These improvements were made possible through ICIMOD’s research and development and support from Sustainable Eco Engineering (SEE).
In order to make more widely available its knowledge about CBFEWS, with support from SEE, ICIMOD will host a five-day regional hands-on training. This training aims to help people from vulnerable communities to install and operate the device. It will also guide participants to develop reliable and efficient communication networks that encompass caretakers, concerned agencies, and communities to disseminate flood warnings efficiently.
This hands-on CBFEWS training is designed to familiarize participants with the concept of the complete package of an effective community-based flood risk management system. Following a “learning by doing” approach, the course will provide technical know-how as well as conceptual knowledge about the efficient use of the flood early warning device and in installing and operating the instruments. By the end of the training, participants are expected to conduct the necessary surveys and install the early warning system instrument independently.
This hands-on training will be most relevant to those directly involved in CBFEWS implementation on the ground, including:
Participants who already have a basic knowledge of handling electrical and electronic equipment are highly encouraged to participate.
The training will be conducted mostly in English but may be adjusted to another language as required.
CBFEWS activity is supported by the Government of Australia in Afghanistan under the Strengthening Water Resource Management in Afghanistan (SWaRMA) initiative; the Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (SDIP) for South Asia in Nepal and India (Bihar) under the Koshi Basin Initiative, and in Pakistan under the Indus Basin Initiative; the governments of Norway and Sweden in India (Assam) under the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme, and the US government through USAID and ICIMOD’s core donors in Afghanistan.
ICIMOD is grateful for support from its core donors: the governments of Afghanistan, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Norway, Pakistan, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. ICIMOD acknowledges all partners and government line agencies supporting this initiative, and SEE for technical support and instrument manufacture.