The Kosi Basin is prone to frequent flooding. With 50% of the silt load of Nepal flowing through the Kosi, the water used to have little depth and helped keep the land fertile. The situation has now changed dramatically. The construction of embankments and dams has increased the water depth. Instead of the earlier phenomenon where silt used to spread, it now piles up in limited locations. Over a period of time, the course of the river has also changed and therefore the old river beds are now dry.
Increase in the siltation means the water already has less natural seepage; a problem compounded by unplanned development. Saharsa also faces the lethal combination of alluvial soil and water which leads to liquefaction.
42.4 lakh hectars of Bihar is prone to floods, covering 76% of its population. The massive Kosi floods of 2008 were an example of the devastating impact of floods in this area. The changing climatic conditions are wreaking havoc on poor vulnerable communities. The loss of agricultural land and limited livelihood options manifest in food insecurity. Usual disaster preparedness mechanisms can also not cope with the complex new nature of floods Relief and rehabilitation programs of Government fall far short of reaching the affected population in these communities due to the magnitude and scale of annual disaster sand their impact. The multi-faceted problems require a pre-emptive approach. Basic amenities need to be attended to and communities strengthened in order to cope with the recurrent disasters. This requires an overall resilience model.
The Flood Resilient Environmentally Enhanced Disaster Management (FREEDM) project, supported by Lutheran World Relief, attempted to do just that; helping communities adapt to the changing risks. The multi-pronged approach includes preparedness, risk mitigation and livelihood adaptation initiatives.
The intervention area focused on Sonbarsa block of Saharsa district. Ten hamlets across two revenue villages of Biratpur panchayat and three revenue villages of Atalkha panchayat in the Sonbarsa block were selected. With many branches of the Kosi river flowing through them, these were two of the worst affected panchyats during the 2008 floods.