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Women and local government collaborate to build resilience in Nepal

Nepal is among the twenty countries in the world at the highest risk of disaster from floods, landslides and earthquakes. The Lumanti Support Group for Shelter in Kathmandu works with grassroots women’s organizations’ to upgrade settlement infrastructure to reduce these risks, facilitate their participation in multi-stakeholder dialogue, and collaborate with national and local governments. The resulting credibility for women’s organizations has earned them public roles in emergency preparedness, disaster risk awareness-raising, and seats on disaster management committees allocating resources for disaster risk reduction. Community- based monitoring by grassroots women’s CBOs has also increased government transparency and accountability in the delivery of water and sanitation services, reducing corruption and improving performance.


Introduction

The Lumanti Support Group for Shelter mobilizes impoverished communities in Nepal to organize and negotiate secure housing and basic services, promoting community- led upgrades of settlement infrastructure, improved access to water and sanitation, and community-based financing mechanisms. Lumanti has facilitated several grassroots women-led strategies for resilience and facilitated partnerships that have linked women’s efforts to decentralized resources.

In 2009, Lumanti and members of the Cooperative Women’s Federation joined in an effort to increase their awareness of disaster risk management policies. They initiated a dialogue with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), calling a multi-stakeholder workshop where national and municipal government officials, NGOs, and community leaders came together to share perspectives. As the MHA emphasized the urgent need to translate the National Disaster Management Strategy into local, concrete actions, the dialogue workshop catalyzed on-going dialogue among the Lumanti Group, its grassroots allies and local governments.

Traditionally, grassroots women’s development work and leadership have tended to go unrecognized by governmental bodies. But in 2012, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development’s “Local Disaster Risk Management Planning Guidelines” specifically recognized the value of engaging multiple stakeholders in disaster risk management planning. The guidelines direct local governments to form Disaster Management Committees at district, municipal, Village Development Committee (VDC), and ward levels, and to include four representatives from the Red Cross, NGOs, or community organizations. This created a place at the table for local communities and women’s grassroots constituencies in local agenda-setting bodies. Increasingly, women’s organizations have taken on public roles, raising their profile and resulting in membership on the local disaster management committees.

Community-government partnerships to improve access to water

In Kaski District in the mountains of Nepal, increasing average temperatures and drought are drying up local ponds. For women there, water scarcity means that they travel longer distances to collect water. As a result, community health and hygiene suffer, as does food production. The situation is further exacerbated by poor road access in their hilly terrain.

The grassroots women’s group of Sundar Pokhari in Sarangkot village conducted a risk and vulnerability mapping exercise, identifying water scarcity as a major concern1The community’s vulnerability mapping exercise was funded by the Huairou Commission’s Community Resilience Fund. and advocating the Village Development Committee to rehabilitate a nearby pond. Impressed by the women’s initiative and mobilization of community funds, labor, and construction materials, the Committee granted the community NRS 100,000 (approximately US$1000), assigned technical personnel to advise the women’s group on pond rehabilitation and maintenance2Bishnu Paudel, Chair, Sarangkot, during an interview with Priya Pillai, from Best Practices Foundation in January 2013 as part of the Huairou Commission’s action research project, “What Communities Want: Putting Community Resilience Priorities on the Agenda for 2015.”, and provided additional support when an interruption in funding stalled pond rehabilitation. Women’s access to water has improved significantly since completion of the works, reducing their time spent collecting water for domestic use and enabling women to maintain kitchen gardens for growing food. Based on their successful collaboration, the Sarangkot VDC invited the women’s group to join the District Disaster Management Committee.

The Sundar Pokhari partnership model has been similarly successful in other communities. In Thankot village, grassroots women are part of the Disaster Management Committee, with NRS 50,000 (approximately US$500) granted by the VDC for disaster risk management activities. And in Butwal Municipality, grassroots women’s groups have successfully advocated for local government support for the construction of a disaster management center.


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Multi-stakeholder partnerships for earthquake safety in Kirtipur Municipality

Multi-stakeholder partnerships have also granted grassroots women a central role in earthquake safety efforts. A partnership in Kirtipur Municipality, supported by Oxfam- Great Britain, brings together Tribhuvan University, the Lumanti Support Group for Shelter, the Kirtipur Municipality and Kirtipur Women’s Network. Tribhuvan University provided land for earthquake evacuation centers at 83 locations identified by the government. Kirtipur community leaders worked with volunteers and municipalities to drill bore wells to ensure a clean, safe water supply and to store materials required to rapidly construct emergency toilets. In Kirtipur, 134 community members from seven wards were trained in the construction, operation and maintenance of emergency sanitation facilities. Over 1,200 volunteers from local communities have been trained in first-aid and search and rescue.

Women’s empowerment forums were also convened to educate grassroots women on earthquake risk and emergency response plans. The Kirtipur Municipality quickly realized that they should tap local leadership and awareness-raising capacity, appointing local women from each of the seven wards to be trained on disaster risk awareness and to disseminate preparedness and evacuation plans in their respective wards. Fourteen additional grassroots facilitators have been trained to undertake awareness-raising roles focused on water and sanitation concerns during emergencies.

In addition, the Kirtipur Women’s Networkhasbeenofferedaplaceonthe DMC. Members of this DMC have pressed the municipality to use disaster management funds not only for relief but also for risk reduction and preparedness. Following dialogue and consultation with the DMC, the municipality allocated funds to run a disaster risk-awareness campaign, emergency preparedness training for women, and technical trainings on safe construction for skilled and semi-skilled labor such as engineers and masons. Community leaders and local government agreed to prioritize rehabilitating the traditional water tanks in Kirtipur to address water supply concerns and ensure water availability to fight fires. Moreover, the official plan document for the municipality now includes its intention to engage multiple stakeholders in its development planning processes.

Community-based monitoring of water and sanitation services

Poor water and sanitation services are an everyday problem for women and families, leading to health risks especially when exacerbated by heavy rains and flooding. In an anti- corruption initiative supported by UNDP in 20133This is part of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative of the Huairou Commission supported by UNDP., the Lumanti Support Group for Shelter worked with grassroots women to test a social accountability strategy on Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) including a WASH Report Card measuring performance. Building on Citizen’s Forums in four municipalities, the Lumanti Group focused on supporting women’s leadership in Thankot VDC in the Kathmandu Valley.

Community focus group discussions in Thankot identified key obstacles to accessing water andsanitation–lackofdrinking water, unequaldistribution of water services, drainage and waste management problems, and corruption. Nine ward-level local committees mobilized around the issue and learned to analyze public budgets and water and sanitation services, in order to administer the WASH Report Card. More than 240 women and men participated in mapping WASH-related service providers and institutions, collecting data in nine wards and holding community conversations linking delivery of water and sanitation to good governance and transparency.

The new information served as the basis for community dialogue with the Thankot VDC Secretary and the Water Supply Committee. As a result, communities are seeing noticeable improvements in garbage collection and the quality of drinking water, and a reduction in the incidence of water borne diseases. The VDC has also made it policy to formally appoint a five-member community monitoring committee to reduce corruption and increase transparency, publicly displaying government budgets and public programs and consulting grassroots women on local planning. The local government has agreed to work with local communities to develop joint plans for improving access to water and sanitation and a district-wide program to address open defecation, and at present, four grassroots women are engaged in the ward level budget planning.

Conclusion

In Nepal, grassroots women’s organizations are taking steps to identify priorities for reducing disaster impacts as well as improving people’s everyday lives. Their proactive approach and leadership in awareness-raising and monitoring have been recognized and valued by government officials, reflecting the Federal Government’s directive to include CBO representatives in local disaster management committees and budgets. Governments have formally appointed women to local decision-making bodies, joint planning processes, and public roles in promoting DRR, and budget allocations are increasingly informed by priorities set by women’s groups. In addition, the social accountability process initiated by local communities is already showing results as local governments deliver services more effectively and include grassroots women in their planning and budgeting. The benefits of these partnerships are mutual and far reaching. Governments can ensure that their programs, plans, policies and services reach the communities most affected by disasters and climate change. Grassroots women’s groups advance development priorities and practices that protect them from adverse impacts of disasters and position them as real partners in advancing climate and disaster resilience.

References   [ + ]

1. The community’s vulnerability mapping exercise was funded by the Huairou Commission’s Community Resilience Fund.
2. Bishnu Paudel, Chair, Sarangkot, during an interview with Priya Pillai, from Best Practices Foundation in January 2013 as part of the Huairou Commission’s action research project, “What Communities Want: Putting Community Resilience Priorities on the Agenda for 2015.”
3. This is part of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative of the Huairou Commission supported by UNDP.