Yale Himalaya Initiative

environment | livelihood | culture

Narayan Gyawali on flood resilience in development practice with LWR and YHI

Written by: Amanda Mei

Representing the Lutheran World Relief (LWR), Narayan Gyawali has worked with communities in India and Nepal to develop resilience to flooding-related disasters. Although the communities remain vulnerable and marginalized in political systems of the two nations, projects such as the Trans-boundary Resilience Project (TBR) are contributing to increased resilience and livelihoods of the local areas. Along with Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies graduate students Zach Garcia and Camilo Huneeus-Guzman, Narayan presented his development work for the YHI Spring 2018 series.

Photograph by: Jake Lyell for Lutheran World Relief

In the lecture entitled “Creating Evidence for Resilience in Development Practice: Lessons Learnt from Collaboration between LWR and YHI” Narayan summarized the activities of the Lutheran World Relief in India and Nepal. The U.S.-based organization works on agriculture, climate change, and emergency operations projects in 33 countries around the world; currently, it works with local smallholder farmers in both India and Nepal through NGOs. Beginning with a pilot project in the trans-boundary region of Nepal and India in 2013, Narayan has led several scale-up emergency response projects. The 2018 TBR project, supported by the Global Resilience Partnership (GRP) and Z Zurich Foundation, aims to build flood resilience in local communities.

“I’m happy to share that in our project area — the two river basins — there were no flood casualties,” Narayan said about this year. By comparison, 175 people died in Nepal and 650 in India in the region due to flooding last year.

With a target of 72,000 beneficiaries, the TBR project has engaged 178 communities in the Koshi and Gandak river basins along the Nepal-India border. The communities represent two upstream districts in Nepal and two downstream districts in India, which are “socially-excluded,” vulnerable communities with regard to natural disasters, according to Narayan. But the projects are noticeably improving responsiveness to natural disaster risks in the affected populations.

The TBR project has addressed three components of natural disaster resilience in communities: early warning systems, resilient livelihoods, and citizen advocacy in the government. These components are consistent with LWR’s three defined resilience capacities: objective, adaptive, and transformative. So far, the short-term objectives of developing early warning systems such as mass SMS communications systems with support from national governments have greatly improved disaster response times. Although previous government channels delayed communications about floods by about 48 hours, the TBR project has decreased the time of messaging between upstream and downstream communities to 15 hours. The project has also helped to set up resilience agricultural and economic schemes in addition to local citizens’ forums.

In May 2015, LWR collaborated with YHI to develop a user-friendly, scientifically-rigorous resilience-measurement tool. Developed under the guidance of Dr. Alark Saxena, the tool was introduced by the graduate students Zach Garcia and Camilo Huneeus-Guzman at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The tool shows potential for assessing the effects of LWR’s flood resilience projects.

“The beauty of this tool is that we have tried to accommodate the practitioner’s perspective … and also the academic,” Narayan said.

Although the research team faces challenges in standardizing indicator variables such as categorical and numerical responses to household interview questions, the tool provides development practitioners with a quick way to collect information through open software. Using information about pre- and post-monsoon conditions, the tool has shown improvements due to LWR’s work in India and Nepal. Nevertheless, challenges such as household absences and earthquake disruptions limited data collection. In an interview with YHI series coordinator Bhartendu Pandey, Narayan said that the motivation behind the development work was learning from one project phase to another. Working with local communities requires a gradual process of learning how to apply development theories in practice.

“If I can contribute something … even a small thing to the communities, then that keeps me motivated,” Narayan said, thanking YHI for the forum in which to bridge the perspectives of practitioners and academics in development practice. The partnership between LWR and YHI promises to model a way for development and academic institutions to mutually support each other and jointly tackle issues such as natural disaster risk management in the Himalayan region.