Micro, indigenous practices can sometimes provide the much-needed solution to preventing natural disasters. Chanakya, in 4th century BC, preached about the use of ponds in the cities to prevent flash floods, douse fires and the like. This practice was emulated in both India and Nepal in the digging of large ponds as seen in Jaipur, India or Janakpur in Nepal
News about sweeping floods both in Nepal and India has dominated newspaper headlines in both the countries. Floods and landslides have resulted in the demise of many innocent people in neighbouring India and Nepal so regularly every year that they have been something of a deja vu in either country.
If we take the case of India, in far off Maharashtra, 100 persons have already lost their lives due to the over pouring of rain to the tune of 594 millimeters over a few days of time. An equal number of people have perished in nearby Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in the deluge.
This scenario in Nepal is more distressing. Some 332 events of flood, landslide and heavy rainfall have occurred over a month, between June 11 and July 15, 2021, resulting in the departure to the heavenly abode of 28, 26 and 7 individuals, totaling 61 persons, to this disaster trinity.
A fleeting glance at last year will reveal that a total of 478 people lost their precious lives to disasters – 202 to landslides, 102 to fires, 62 to floods, 62 to lightning and 50 to animal attacks.
India has poured in an astronomical amount of resources to stem the flood disasters from occurring in India and Nepal. The construction of the Koshi Barrage is one glaring example.
Despite this, the number of flood events has been climbing up over the years.
India and Nepal had agreed to build the Sapta Koshi high dam with the twin purposes of preventing disasters and generating the much-needed hydro power.
However, this project has not made the desirable headway for fear of drowning several settlements on the river banks. Such macro projects have alarming environmental consequences, leading to the progress of such projects at a snail's pace or not at all.
In such situations, the micro, rather than the macro, indigenous practices can sometimes provide the much-needed solution.
Chanakya, in fourth century BC, preached about the use of ponds in the cities that had manifold uses of preventing flash floods, use of water in case of a fire and the like.
This practice was emulated in both India and Nepal in the digging of large ponds as can be seen in the pink city of Jaipur in India or Janakpur in Nepal.
It received continuity in what was called the Gaddha khodo, or dig the ditch programme, for recharging the ground water in India.
Now it has been used feverishly for constructing the comfort rooms to give a fillip to the Swaccha Bharat campaign of India.
Ponds not only reduce the likelihood of floods, but they also lessen the landslide risks due to the curtailment of the tremendous speed by which the rain water gushes to the lowland from the mountain highlands. Consequently, the Three Gorges Dam of China has been relieved of sediments due to the presence of myriad ponds upstream.
The presence of ponds also diminishes the likelihood of wildfires due to the decrease in the temperature and rise of humidity, which have been so irritatingly regular after floods and landslides in Nepal.
More comforting is the taming of the pollution monster, which merrily follows the footprint of wildfires.
The presence of ponds contributes to the lush green landscape, confining the wild animals to the periphery of the forests. Lightning which otherwise would strike settlements, resulting in the deaths of many, gets diverted to the surrounding moist forests with tall trees.
The digging of such ponds does not involve rocket science. It can be carried out by people with modest skills, like green turfing and digging, giving them the much needed employment. The cost of one pond comes to well less than Rs 5,000.
The multi-headed disasters can be tamed with the digging of 0.5 per cent of the land area in the country from the mountains down to the Tarai, which comes to construction of about one square kilometers of ponds by each local government of Nepal. This is far less than the Almighty creating 70 per cent of water body and 30 per cent of land mass while scripting the mother earth. These ponds can be maintained every year by digging a few feet of accumulated sediments, which work as excellent fertiliser.
The sustainability and the versatility of the ponds as a panacea to the disaster problems were first recognised by the Rotary Club of Thamel which initiated the digging of 10 ponds in Bahun Jhora, ward No. 3 of Bardibas Municipality in Mahottari district of Nepal in collaboration with the Nepal Centre for Disaster Management, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, Forest Consumer Group and the Forum for Community Development and Promotion.
Further digging of 90 ponds is beginning soon this week in a bid to hit a noble maiden century.
The government has also allocated financial resources for the digging of ponds in the mountains in the budget this year, which needs to be mobilised soon instead of unnecessarily freezing it as it happens regularly in the country.
But the government and non-government organisations like the Rotary Club alone cannot accomplish such a Herculean task.
All other institutions should join hands in this noble task to say good bye to uninvited guests like disasters forever.
This initiative should also be supported by India in view of innumerable charitable activities it has launched in the past because the storage of water in the hills leads to lesser floods and sedimentation flow to India.
This activity will also enhance the unparalleled people-to-people relations existing between the two countries, which otherwise get unfortunately eclipsed at times by the marooning of areas at the southern border of Nepal.
Deluges like these will quickly recede into the pages of history with the restoration of our common heritage of digging ponds.
Pokharel is IP Vice Chancellor, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology
A version of this article appears in the print on August 2 2021, of The Himalayan Times.