Adapting with FREEDM

The Need
Biratpur and Atalkha panchayats in Sonbarsa block of Saharsa district, Bihar were two of the worst affected during the 2008 Kosi floods. With many branches of the Kosi river flowing through them, these are perennially flood-prone and vulnerable riverbed communities. Their multi-faceted problems required a pre-emptive approach.

How we helped
The initiative focussed on 10 hamlets across these two panchayats. It used a multi-pronged approach to build the resilience of this Kosi riverbed community.

Enhancing Disaster Preparedness
A multi-tiered disaster management system was formed. Representatives from all 10 hamlets also made up an apex Disaster Management Committee who took on a facilitation role. In each hamlet, task forces and early warning systems were set up. These were easy to implement, comprehend and monitor.

Managing and Mitigating Risks
The region faces extreme ecological challenges, including soil erosion and loss to trees. Bioshield plantations were a natural choice. Over 2.5 acres of bamboo buffers and 8.5 acres of banana buffers were planted. With expertise from Bihar Agriculture University, bamboo and banana nurseries were also set up to promote it further. Community members identified by the DMC run these nurseries.

Repeated disasters play havoc with food security and livelihoods. Each family contributed a little towards a community disaster resilience fund and a contributory grain bank in each hamlet. Major livelihoods were linked with government and insurance schemes.

Adapting for Livelihood Security
Climate variability and soil deterioration meant traditional farming practices were no longer viable. Agricultural labourers were having to migrate to find work. The alternative short-term crop technique that was introduced is helping replenish the fertility of the soil. Considering the small size of farmer’s fields, this is also a great way to increase yield; leading to greater food security.

Reclaiming water bodies
Water was sourced mainly from the abundant handpumps with high iron content. Though wells have traditionally been a better source with cleaner water; most lay abandoned or defunct. Through participatory planning and assessments, the community identified eight wells that could serve the community. With proper repair and repairs, they were rendered usable again.

Leaving a mark
The programme helped to reach out to 16000 people across the 10 hamlets, with women taking the lead!

In August 2014, a flood alert in Saharsa acted as a trial run of the entire DMC system. Nepal was planning to release excess water into the Kosi river due to landslides. The last incidence of this in 2008 had led to major floods in the region. However, this time, the programme communities were more informed and prepared to act, with an aim to prevent loss of life. Emergency protocols were activated in each of the 10 hamlets and the DMC were able to establish clear lines of communication to the district authorities.

Learn more about this initiative