Text message alerts prove life saver in flood-hit Nepal

Report
from Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 24 Aug 2017 View Original

"The water swept away food, clothes, kitchen utensils and everything I kept inside, apart from the beds"

By Arun Karki

TADUWA, Nepal, Aug 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - It was a simple text message that saved Shreejana Pariyar from being washed to oblivion along with all her worldly goods when flash floods devastated western Nepal last week.

A day after the Babai river flooded her home in Taduwa village - carrying off everything but the beds and leaving a muddy mess in its wake - Pariyar delivered a baby son.

"I feel luck to be alive," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, cradling her newborn on the porch of her home.

"The water swept away food, clothes, kitchen utensils and everything I kept inside, apart from the beds," she added.

Local charities say hundreds of lives were saved, possibly thousands, thanks to the mass government text alerts, which enabled people to flee before the worst rains hit.

Dinanath Bhandari, a programme coordinator at Practical Action, said the alerts had led to the evacuation of more than 4,700 people from their homes in the Babai river basin.

MASS EVACUATION

With her husband away on a seasonal job in Saudi Arabia, Pariyar's neighbours took her to a nearby school just hours before the flood reached her home, having received a text message alerting them to the impending disaster.

"The Babai flood water level is constantly rising above the danger level – so please leave the area and find another safe place nearby," read the text from the Nepalese government.

Heavy monsoon rains in Nepal have killed at least 141 people since they hit on August 12, according to the government, with many still reported missing. With flood waters receding, aid workers voice rising concerns about food shortages and water-borne diseases.

Twenty seven of the country's 75 districts - including Bardiya district, where Taduwa is located - were either submerged or hit by landslides, leaving villages and communities stranded without food, water and electricity.

It could all have been much worse.

More than 4,000 people were evacuated after a series of text alerts were sent by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology to 50,000 people living in the flood-prone Babai river area, said Practical Action, a charity working in the area.

Mangal Budha Chhetri, a local community leader who coordinated early warning efforts in Taduwa, said the text alerts saved 450 lives in his village alone.

Bir Bahadur Chand, a hydrologist working at the department, explained that "a water gauge station set up in Chepang, a nearby village, reads water levels and sends real-time data to the department's flood forecasting team, who use it as a basis for issuing alerts."

"When the Babai riverbank started to overflow on August 12, we assessed that the water would take about three hours to reach Taduwa from Chepang, so we sent text alerts to 50,000 users living in the area," he added.

The messages were sent through telecom operators Nepal Telecom and Ncell, both of which had agreed to lend their messaging service to flood-hit areas for free, Chand explained.