Story and photos by Alina Karki, Heifer Nepal communication officer
The flood that hit Nepal in August of 2014 was among the strongest seen in many years. Three days of incessant rain caused multiple landslides and flooding in the southern part of the country, killing at least 256 people and injuring 157. At least 254 people went missing, and 15,234 families lost their homes.
More than half of Nepal’s 75 districts were affected by the flooding, with the greatest damage concentrated in 26 districts. Heifer International Nepal works in five of the districts that were hit the hardest. In those areas, more than 50 Heifer project beneficiaries died, and many more went missing. Nearly 10,000 homes belonging to Heifer project participants were damaged and more than 4,500 were destroyed. Heifer farmers in Nepal lost more than 5,000 animals in the flood. Five Heifer Nepal staff members had their homes swept away or damaged by water and mud.
During the flood, basics such as food, safe drinking water, clean clothes, warm blankets and sanitary products for women were unavailable.
In the village of Fattepur, Heifer beneficiary Balkumari Chaudhary helplessly watched as the river swept away her husband and two daughters. Since that moment, she has not spoken or responded to anyone. Post-traumatic stress is rampant among the survivors, and symptoms include loss of appetite, insomnia and frequent flashbacks of the event.
Collapsed bridges and landslides blocking major highways made travel impossible. Relief programs couldn’t reach survivors promptly, and with each passing day, the miseries of survivors worsened. Villages were completely isolated from the rest of the world for the first few days after the flood, as the water levels remained high and even more flooding was still a possibility.
At a time when the communities could not be reached, people in the communities reached out to their neighbors. Stories of tremendous courage and solidarity were common across Heifer project areas. Heifer’s self-help groups collected grains and dry foods along with other essentials such as clothes, blankets and utensils for the victims. In the village of Tithireya, women showed exceptional courage by preparing and feeding the victims, even though the flood also affected them. In Mohamadpur, Heifer beneficiaries volunteered with the Red Cross to distribute relief.
At the same time, Heifer mobilized its staff and partner organization staff members in affected areas to assess the damages. They visited Heifer communities to survey the damages while counseling victims, even though some of them were victims themselves. Heifer’s project partners started raising funds and collecting food and other relief supplies. They also worked with local government units to bring in medical teams for health checkups after the flu and other illnesses began to spread.
Heifer provided an initial $50,000 to five districts affected by the flood to mobilize immediate relief supplies while beginning to focus on rehabilitating livestock and agricultural systems for the long term. Due to the Nepalese government’s “one door” policy, the donation had to be made through the government’s District Disaster Relief Committee. Heifer’s project management committee, a network of partners, cooperatives and self-help groups, helped channel relief to families in need.