Green roads in Nepal prevent disasters

View from above on rural road in Nepal

View on rural road in Nepal; Photo: Sanjaya Devtoka

Classified as a low income country, Nepal is highly vulnerable to natural hazards and is even considered a hotspot for disasters.  Annually, flood, landslides as well as erosion cause on average 300 casualties in the country with economic losses exceeding USD 10 million.   
With the increasing threats that disasters present particularly in the light of climate change, there is an urgent need to prioritise proactive risk reduction over reacting to disaster events. Healthy ecosystems in particular are fundamental to build community resilience, and can be a cost-effective investment for disaster risk reduction. However several questions can arise when trying to implement these activities based on nature. In this context several questions arise: “What activities need to be implemented in a particular local setting?”; “How can communities use research results and international programmes to support their local actions?”; “How to show evidence for the effectiveness the approach used?”.

test plots with planted grass

Implementing scientifically informed solutions

In the Parbat, Kaski and Syangja Districts of Nepal, the construction of rural roads with poor design and planning poses serious threats due to their susceptibility to landslides. To address the challenges in the region, the IKI project ‘Ecosystems - Protection for Infrastructure and Communities (EPIC)’ is promoting the use of vegetation to stabilize slopes and reduce landslides, a technique known as bio-engineering.

Amriso Grass on street

Pushing this approach a bit further, the choice of plant species being used were selected in consultation with local communities to integrate local knowledge. This knowledge combined with on-site experiments provides the opportunity to not only use suitable plants for slope stabilization, but to also use plants that are known to be resistant to adverse climatic events such as droughts. This can ensure continued protection even under changing climate conditions.

street with grass

Three demonstration sites were set in the targeted region where a combination of community-based activities are implemented including measuring the effectiveness of vegetation in stabilizing roadside slopes and identification of the most effective plant species. More than 10, 000 plants have been planted in these pilot sites which are monitored by the communities. Several grasses were found to contribute to soil stabilization and also provides possible source of income as they can be sold by communities to make brooms.
Additionally an economic evaluation was done to compare the economic benefits or bioengineered or “eco-safe roads” versus unplanned rural earthen or “grey roads”.  The study showed that initial costs are higher for an “eco-safe road” by around 1.5 times. But over time, the yearly economic benefits of bio-engineering increases as “grey roads” require more and more costly maintenance per year.

Moving from research to action

tables with workshop participants

The knowledge gathered at the pilot sites provides useful information and lessons learned to stream the use of bio-engineering as an effective disaster risk reduction strategy in policy-making. To promote institutional change, a national workshop was being held in October 2016 in Nepal bringing together a range of stakeholders including policy-makers, practitioners and researchers. Knowledge exchange, increased awareness of the benefits of ecosystems for risk reduction and cross-sectorial collaboration were some of the key outcomes of the workshop to scale up such nature-based solutions at national level. The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety is supporting the EPIC project through its International Climate Initiative (IKI) with € 4 million. The project is being implemented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in partnership with the University of Lausanne.