Photograph of Padma, leader of the flood committee in her village in Nepal

Padma

Padma could have kept quiet. Many women in her small community in Nepal do.

Fair enough – they are usually working very hard. Their husbands mostly live abroad to earn extra money so they have sole responsibility for their children, livestock and homes.

Many also work on tea plantations, earning as little as £1.20 a day for their labour – less than the cost of a mother’s day card in the UK.

Padma makes ends meet for herself, her son and daughter by raising two goats, two cows and seven chickens on a small piece of land.

But she spoke up because, on top of all of this, her home and land are threatened by regular flooding. So are most houses in her village, which lies in a flood plain near the Mechi River in Nepal’s Terai region.

Nepal is better known for mountains and earthquakes, but in the flat southern part of the country, floods are the biggest problem.

During monsoon season from June to September, many people have to flee their flooded homes and some are completely destroyed.

“If this happened to my family,” Padma said, “we would have nowhere else to go.”

Women  pull together
Photo of Bhakuri, Padma's friend and committee member in Nepal

Bhakuri

Padma, her friend Bhakuri and other women in their community decided to do something to protect themselves and their children.

The first step was for Padma to organise a committee with her neighbours to raise funds from their community.

When she heard the plans, Dhana, another village mother, gave £3 – more than twice the amount she and her two daughters live on in a day.

By pooling all the contributions, the committee collected enough to buy materials and rent equipment.

Together, they built a small dam using gabion walls – wire cages filled with rocks. It diverts the river flow and stabilises its banks. This will help, but the women knew they needed to do more.

“We will need spurs in the river”, Bhakuri said, “to make completely sure that the land will no longer flood. Then my house will be safe. My land will be safe.”

Building skills to improve lives
In Nepal, committee members stand next to the riverbank showing the first improvements they made

First improvements to the riverbank

The women can now turn their plans to reality with support from a new Red Cross project in their village. Overall, it will reach 54,000 people in villages across the area.

Designed to help people prevent and deal with disasters, the project helps the community volunteers learn basic skills to reduce their risks. It also provides funds and technical support.

Training from the project will help local volunteer committees keep people safe when flooding happens again. This includes building volunteers’ skills in how to provide first aid, and search and rescue services.

In addition, villagers will learn to identify risks in their community that can be addressed before floods hit or need to be dealt with during emergencies.

Finally, they will raise awareness of how to stay safe in their community.

“I’m keen to improve the situation”
Sita holds her baby while her daughters stand next to her as they sit in their village in Nepal

Sita and her children

Sita is one of many people who want to take part in the project. Mother to two girls and a baby boy, she also works on a tea plantation.

Sita worries about the flood risk but has been unable to move to a new home. She and her husband spend all their time just meeting their family’s daily needs.

“I have seen my neighbours evacuate their homes for safety,” Sita said when the Red Cross visited her home. “Some had to leave because of the damage to their homes, in many cases time and time again.”

“I am keen to improve the situation for myself, my family and my community.”

All photographs © Carl Whetham/British Red Cross