Local Women’s Handicraft support communities affected by floods in Nepal

12 September 2017, Article by Clare White

The South Asia monsoon season of 2017 brought the heaviest monsoon rains recorded in the past 30 years resulted in severe flooding. More than 1,200 people have died across Nepal, India and Bangladesh and 40 million people have been affected, by destruction of houses, infrastructure and agriculturei. In Nepal, heavy rains starting in August caused floods and landslides resulting in tens of thousands of houses destroyed, families displaced and 160 reported deaths ii.

In response to this flooding, the Local Women’s Handicraft (LWH) identified two communities in Nepal, the Karerey and Gogonpur villages in Saptari District, that had not received support from anywhere. These communities had severe damage to rice fields, houses, and livestock with approximately two thousand people impacted. Seven hundred people are living in makeshift tents on a bank surrounded by their destroyed rice fields with no food, possessions or access to clean drinking water. The people from these villages were reliant on their rice and lentil crops as well as livestock such as goats and chickens. They do not have access to jobs or a cash economy. So when their houses and agriculture were destroyed by floods, they are left with nothing.

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On 20th of August and 10th of September, staff from LWH delivered aid packs to those impacted by the floods in Karerey and Gogonpur villages. With funds from donations, two hundred aid packs were prepared including rice, lentils, hygienic sanitary pads, medical supplies, blankets and floor mats. Each pack contains enough food to support a family for one month. Staff from LWH undertook an initial consultation with the affected communities and developed a list of families that were impacted. Packs were provided to the senior woman from each family affected to ensure equitable distribution and to empower local women.

Community members set up a distribution station on the sand, that was previously their rice fields, to ensure orderly distribution. One by one, women on the list came to the distribution station, where community members supported LWH staff to give the aid packs.

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Saheen Sheikh from LWH provided an information workshop to the women from both communities about menstruation hygiene and the sanitary pads. Women from LWH have designed and developed a washable sanitary pad made from cotton that can be used for a number of years. Using the pad can reduce bacterial and fungal infections. This design can be copied by women in these communities to make more over time. It is suitable for women living in rural Nepal who do not have access to sanitary items or cash to purchase them.

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I accompanied Saheen and Majher Meye from LWH, as well as Daniel Matthews from England, on the distribution mission in September. I noticed that the roads had been severely impacted by the monsoon rains with many pot holes and ditches making for a bumpy ride. At one point we had to wait for 2 hours as the road was closed due to flood waters. At both Gogonpur and Karerey villages, the people were very thin and I could see the sadness and desperation of those who have lost their houses and livelihoods. I felt overwhelmed at the scale of loss and hardship. This disaster has significantly impacted children in these villages. Those who have lost their houses and food supplies are not attending school and have little energy due to hunger.

Despite their tough situation, the members of the community were extremely friendly and generous and offered me water and shade. Community members waited in the incredible heat and dust for 4 hours for the distribution to finish showing their resilience and stamina. On receiving the aid pack, the smiles on the women’s faces were radiant as they were so grateful for the supplies. I could see that these supplies were the only way that those impacted by the floods would be able to eat and sustain for a month. In both villages, the women were shy to talk about menstrual hygiene and said that this was the first time they had received education on the topic. Despite this, they were very engaged in the workshop and were grateful for the sanitary pads.

LWH is a fair trade textile and handicraft collective in Kathmandu, focused on empowering and educating disadvantaged women using sustainable methods. For more information please see their website: http://www.lwhnepal.com/.

 The Guardian, South Asia floods kill 1,200 and shut 1.8 million children out of school, Thursday 31 August 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/30/mumbai-paralysed-by-floods-as-india-and-region-hit-by-worst-monsoon-rains-in-years

ii In Nepal there has been 64 997 houses destroyed, 336 695 families affected, 91396 families temporarily displaced, 160 deaths, and 29 people missing (Nepal Ministry of Health) due to the 2017 floods. World Health Organisation, Situation Report # 5 Date: 06 September 2017 Emergency type: Nepal Flood 2017 http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/who_sitrep-06sept2017.pdf

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