Flood Early Warning Systems in Nepal: A Gendered Perspective

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region is extremely vulnerable to various types of water-induced disasters, particularly floods and landslides. In Nepal, more than 300 people are killed annually on average as a result of floods and landslides. Inequalities in society are often amplified at the time of disasters, and poor people, especially women, the elderly, and children, living along river banks and in the plains are particularly vulnerable to flood hazards. Timely and reliable flood forecasting and warnings that incorporate the needs of both women and men can contribute to saving lives and property. Early warning systems that are people-centred, that provide warnings that are accurate, timely, and understandable to communities at risk, and that recommend appropriate actions for vulnerable communities are more effective and can save more people. The HKH-HYCOS project is being implemented by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and ICIMOD’s regional member countries to address the challenges of ensuring end-to-end flood early warning systems that include data collection, transmission and analysis, and the effective dissemination of information to communities at risk. The project has established a regional flood information system and seeks to promote transboundary cooperation and strengthen the capacity of hydromet services to provide timely and reliable flood forecasts. For flood early warning systems to be fully effective, they must reach the end users and meet the different needs of women and men. Thus, a study on ‘Early warning systems from a gender perspective with special reference to flood hazards’ was conducted in four countries as a part of the project. This report presents the findings of the study in Nepal.

The study assessed the institutional arrangements, key stakeholders, legal provisions, coordination and linkage mechanisms, and four key elements of early warning systems – risk knowledge, monitoring and warning services, dissemination and communication, and response capacity – from the perspective of gender. It also gathered experiences from two villages with functioning community-based flood early warning systems. A literature review was carried out to collect state-of-the-art knowledge from national and international research publications, policy documents, case study reports, articles, databases, and electronic sources. Both qualitative and quantitative methods and tools were used to collect information at the national, district, and community levels, and both men and women were contacted in the different organizations and communities. A checklist of indicators was developed based on global gender and disaster risk reduction frameworks to collect and analyse information on gender sensitivity in early warning systems. A total of 26 organizations involved in disaster risk reduction were consulted. At the time of the study in 2012, seven of the organizations (27%) had projects or regular activities related to early warning systems, a further 15 (58%) had some activities related to early warning systems and/or flood hazard management, and five had projects on all four elements of people-centred early warning systems. The proportion of women staff in government and non-governmental organizations was about 19%. Women’s participation in disaster risk reduction projects was higher in implementation than in project identification, design, and evaluation. The two case studies on community-based flood early warning systems showed that the effectiveness of flood early warning systems depends largely upon the community capacity to respond after the alert messages are received. For this, training on response, drills, and appropriate communication channels are necessary.

The study has improved understanding of the existing flood early warning systems in Nepal, and suggests ways to make early warning systems more effective and responsive to the needs of vulnerable groups, and women in particular. The report suggests that, in view of the diversity of development issues and livelihood challenges that communities face on a day-to-day basis, it is important to tune early warning systems according to the local context.

Early warning system infrastructure at the local level should be developed with the active involvement of local men and women as part of the development process. Early warning systems should be seen as a social and development activity rather than an exclusive domain of engineers and technicians. This simplification and democratization of early warning systems requires bridging the gap between technical departments and communities, building local capacity, recognizing the stake of the local community in contributing to and benefiting from early warning systems processes, and most importantly creating multiple uses of early warning systems technology and not just for a ‘one time disaster’. The early warning systems should be used with advanced applications to disseminate key messages that will also be useful for local livelihood needs, such as daily weather trends to support crop related decisions, market related decisions, and storage and transport related decisions. Further, it is important to recognize that women play an active role in family livelihood security and efforts must be made to involve women and men equally in creating and receiving early warnings and alerts. Women should be involved in local early warning system infrastructure management teams and be provided with mobile phones or portable radios to receive early warning messages.
This report presents the methodology and findings of the study, possibly the first of its kind in the region. The primary users of this report will be key national stakeholders, policy makers, planners, and community members who are at risk from flood hazards in Nepal.

The report contributes to the Hyogo Framework for Action, which was endorsed by 168 national governments at the 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction. The Framework states strongly that the “gender perspective should be integrated into all disaster risk management policies, plans, and decisionmaking processes, including those related to risk assessment, early warning, information management, and education and training”.

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