'The risk was clear'
In southern Nepal, a young girl leading a child club network established as part of a UNICEF programme reflects on what she and her peers have learned and achieved through working in disaster risk reduction in their community
Parsa, Nepal: For much of the year, the Singyahi River, as it flows through Manawabazaar in Parsa District in Nepal’s south, is a temperate, calm entity. However, come monsoon season, and it can rage wild, wreaking havoc and destruction in its wake, a constant threat to the 300 or so families living in its proximity.
That was what happened in 2019, when heavy rains caused the river to become swollen beyond its banks, entering the village, destroying crops and forcing people out of their homes.
It was during that time that two students had been swept away while they had been crossing the river on their way back home from school. While one of the children made it out of the water alive, the other had not been so fortunate.
“There was no embankment,” says Reetu Shrestha, one of Manawabazaar’s locals and the vice president of the child club network in the area. “The risk was clear."
Following the incident, Reetu and her fellow network members had advocated with ward and municipal officials, as well as seeking support from UNICEF and Nepal Red Cross Society representatives, to urgently address the safety needs.
The construction of a kilometer-long embankment along the river was proposed to keep the river’s course in check. Thanks to the commitment and push from the children, the embankment soon materialized.
Reetu and the child club network also led a campaign for the plantation of trees along the embankment, to help prevent soil erosion and flooding, as well as reaching out to locals with tips on keeping important documents and valuables safe in case of a flood or other emergency, and on evacuating to higher grounds immediately.
“We haven’t seen a big flood here since,” says Puja Tiwari, another of the 14 members of the network
Supporting the establishment of child clubs and networks around the country is one of the key aspects of UNICEF’s Child-Centred Disaster Risk Reduction (CCDRR) programme. The programme, funded generously by the Margaret A Cargill Foundation, is run in collaboration with local governments, and works with and for the children and communities in disaster-prone districts to better prepare them to prevent and respond to disaster.
Besides coordinating with local officials and organizations to identify and mitigate disaster risks such as fire, cold waves or floods - as in the case of the Singyahi – the children are also engaged in raising awareness in the community about harmful practices such as child marriage, the dowry system and untouchability, among others.
“During COVID-19, we also campaigned to promote the preventive measures,” Reetu adds. “And we feel we made a real difference in helping people learn to keep themselves safe.”
The network holds monthly meetings to plan upcoming activities and programmes, as well as their participation in different trainings. These have included basic first-aid, searchand rescue trainings and other DRR-related sessions.
All of which, Reetu says, means that she and other child club members feel like they can fully support their communities during a crisis, advocate for children’s rights and needs to key decisionmakers, and call for urgent action where required – precisely the objective of the CCDRR programme.