By Lalita Gurung, IFRC
Whenever Deepak Giri remembers the tragic events in the early hours of August 14, 2017, he cannot help but relive a powerful mix of emotions. “I would feel exhausted. At times scared, but also happy to have played a role in my community,” the 29-year-old says.
Despite having seven years’ worth of experience as a volunteer for the Nepal Red Cross Society, Deepak has never experienced flooding of this scale and severity. “The whole community was under water,” he says. “It seemed as though we were in the open sea. The water level was more than one meter deep, and in some places, it was more than two meters deep.”
Front line role
Deepak quickly found himself on the front line of rescue work as part of Nepal Red Cross’ Emergency Preparedness Response Programme, which has been the national society’s focus in disaster-prone communities like Bardiya for the last three years.
The programme includes the training of response teams in first aid, search and rescue and boosting the preparedness of communities both through simulations and with much needed equipment such as inflatable boats, life jackets and megaphones to broadcast disaster warnings.
When the water level in the Babai River tops the danger level, volunteers like Deepak will activate the loudspeakers and start prompting people to evacuate to safer ground.
While his own family shifted their belongings and livestock to higher ground, Deepak and three other volunteers rushed to the Red Cross’ local branch to assemble the rubber boat, before rowing with all their strength towards the village. Many of the houses were completely submerged by the floods.
Volunteers working tirelessly to save lives
For 12 hours, the four volunteers worked tirelessly and managed to ferry 25 people to safety. The life-saving measures put in place by the Red Cross branch in Bardiya are far from an isolated example. In the district of Jhapa, more than 300 people have been trained in early warning methods, search and rescue and relief activities.
The preparedness paid off when the floods hit last August, as 65,000 people received early warning messages via SMS in coordination with the local government’s efforts, and were reached through megaphones and sirens. Three boats were also mobilised to rescue 2,500 people and ferry families to designated safe areas where relief items were distributed within 48 hours.
“The scale of this disaster has shown how vital it is to have a good early warning system and preparedness programme in place. We are proud of the role our volunteers and staff members played in saving lives at the height of the flooding,” says Dharma Pandey, the Director for Nepal Red Cross Society’s Disaster Management. “We are also determined to do more to overcome the constraints of resources and technology.”