Rural roads serve as lifelines for many communities in Nepal, but they also cause environmental degradation in the form of erosion, shallow landslides, and river sedimentation. As a solution, “eco-safe roads,” or those that incorporate soil bio-engineering techniques to minimise negative environmental impacts, can significantly reduce economic losses and environmental degradation, and even enhance local livelihoods.
The two-day national workshop on “Eco-DRR for Improving Community Resilience” took place on October 3 and 4 to promote institutional change towards integrating Ecosystem-based approaches for Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR) into development planning at national and sub-national levels. The workshop was jointly organised by Department of Soil Conservation and Watershed Management (DSCWM), IUCN Nepal and University of Lausanne (UNIL) with the objective to organise a scientific exchange between international and Nepali landslide scientists, students and practitioners, and NGOs working in this field.
Several notable speakers attended and offered their perspectives on Eco-DRR and EbA. Dr. Prahlad Thapa, Country Representative at IUCN Nepal, welcomed the participants and stressed that the workshop would provide important insights to prepare much-needed Eco-DRR policies in Nepal.
Chief guest of the programme, Dr. Pem Kandel, the joint secretary at Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, stressed the government’s efforts and works on Disaster Risk Reduction. “It is now time to focus on Ecosystem-based approaches for Disaster Risk Reduction and the need to increase coordination and harmonisation between sectoral agencies to work further in this area,” said Dr. Kandel.
The chair of the inaugural session, Mr. Bijaya Paudyal, Director General at Department of Soil Conservation and Watershed Management, underlined the use of local knowledge and community participation on disaster risk reduction. “Engaging local people and integrating local knowledge in the developmental plan is the best way in terms of success and knowledge sharing,” he said. Linking with the Ecosystem Protecting Infrastructure and Communities project activities, he said “The project intervention has already shown that the low-cost and environmentally-friendly soil bio-engineering or eco-safe roads using local resources can significantly reduce economic losses and environmental degradation.”
Throughout the two days, diverse stakeholders from IUCN, UNIL, ITC Netherlands, Kathmandu University, Tribhuwan University – Institute of Engineering, Department of Water Induced Disaster Prevention expressed their views on related DRR policies and practices within their respective sectors and engaged participants in fruitful discussions.
An associated field visit was also held in the eco-safe road pilot sites in Kaski, Parbat and Syangja districts to present national-level policy makers and stakeholders with examples of nature-based solutions.
There is no doubt that roads are critical lifelines, connecting our rural population with other villages and urban centers for transporting goods to markets, schools and health centers. They form the basis of Nepal’s economic development and social mobility. But a majority of these roads are constructed using heavy construction equipment with little consideration of environmental aspects.
Many of these roads are wiped out during heavy monsoon rains, with high maintenance, as well as high environmental, economic and social, costs. The environmental costs include accelerated sedimentation of rivers and lakes and decreased water quality. The economic costs are due to the high loss of agricultural land and damage to infrastructure and the social costs come from families losing their agricultural lands. These costs could be significantly reduced by constructing roads using low-cost bio-engineering technology, which combines simple civil engineering structures with the use of locally available deep-rooted grasses and shrubs.