Rajapur, Bardiya: People of Rajapur live with the constant fear of floods.
The source of worry and fear for the residents here is ‘Budhi Kulo’ (literally meaning an old canal), a misnomer if you consider the impacts it has had on the residents and the land, for it can become as big as a river when it rains.
“We live with the constant fear of flood during the rainy season. We cannot sleep in our own houses. We have to run away to safer places, leaving behind the livestock at risk and whatever belongings and properties we have,” said Parbati Devi Upadhyaya, who is the resident of Chhutki Bhimmapur village of Rajapur Municipality of Bardiya.
Rajapur Municipality is a home to around 70,000 people all of whom share the same fear and worries about floods. “We are at the risk of flood from Karnali River and Budhi Kulo,” shared Khusiram Tharu, the disaster focal person at Rajapur Municipality.
The fears and worries of these residents stem from real experience.
In October this year, it rained heavily for three days resulting in floods and landslides in many places across the country. The flood also displaced Parbati Devi, whose house stands on the riverbank of Budhi Kulo of Bhimmapur. “The flood swept away my five katthas of land. Now, what will I do? What will I eat?” Parbati Devi shared her sorrow.
How it all began
Budhi Kulo, however, was not always a source of sorrow for the people. Actually, it was not meant to be. It was dug years ago for irrigating the fields in Geruwa Rural Municipality and Rajapur Municipality by channeling water from the Karnali river. But it was not a well-built canal or an irrigation project. As the soil was soft, the canal began to erode and eat away the land, thereby widening and deepening its width and finally came to take the form of a river. The siltation layer increased raising the surface of Budhi Kulo.
Then even a small flood could start resulting in Budhi Kulo leaving its natural course and gushing into the crop fields and human settlements. It began to break apart the embankment and enter the settlements and houses, eroding the land, and posing threat to the life of the residents.
Budhi Kulo is not the only source of sorrow for the people. Karnali and its branch rivulets also flow into Budhi Kulo at times to add to the sufferings of the farmers. Most recently in October, a total of 1213 households were drowned by the floods in Rajapur Municipality, according to the data from the municipality. And 9281 farmers lost their paddy harvest and the paddies that were left put to dry for threshing to the floods. While the farmers lost the hard-earned paddy harvest the little food grain that they had stored in their houses was also completely damaged. To their luck, there were no human casualties.
When the embankment project comes to completion, people believe, Budhi Kulo will stop wreaking havoc. And they won’t have to run to safer areas leaving behind their houses and livestock when it rains.
“The loss is incalculable. We lost all the rice that could sustain us for a year. Now we have to purchase food grains to eat. The river is giving us a lot of trouble,” shared Padmaraj Upadhyay Timalsina, who is a resident of Dhubin Chaur. “If the Budhi Kulo river had not entered the settlement, the rain alone would not have caused the damage of such a big scale,” he spoke of the tragedy.
Elsewhere, Budhi Kulo has turned cultivable land into a wetland. This problem is more striking in Chhutki Bhimmapur of Ward Number 8. “From 50 to 60 bighas of land have turned into a wetland. There is no cultivation there,” said Padam Prasad Khanal, a local of Dhubinpur.
Saving the settlement
The USAID funded Tayar Nepal project has provided support to Rajapur Municipality in disaster risk reduction and management. Under the initiative, around 144 meters long gabion spurs and embankments have been put up in various places of Budhi Kulo.
“Siltation is the main problem in Budhi Kulo. So we have been coordinating with various NGOs to extract siltation and put up embankments. We have started the work recently in coordination with the Tayar Nepal project,” shared Khushiram Tharu, the disaster focal point person at Rajapur Municipality.
The 144-meter gabion spurs run along both sides of Budhi Kulo, way down up to Dhobin bridge in the ward numbers 4 and 8. The people of Rajapur aim to complete the work before the monsoon starts this year.
The five million rupees gabion embankment project is estimated to save around 130 houses and hundreds of bighas of land in Rajapur. “It will give a good sleep to those residents who live along the Budhi Kulo river,” Khushiram Tharu shared his happiness.
The hope in Rajapur is high.
When the embankment project comes to completion, people here believe Budhi Kulo will stop wreaking havoc. And they won’t have to run to safer places by leaving behind their houses and livestock when it rains.
Krishna Adhikari is a Nepalgunj-based journalist who reports on environment, climate change, and disaster issues.