MAHENDRANAGAR (NEPAL) : There are dozens of villages under the 12 districts of the far west region of Nepal, along Mahakali river basin bordering India, which have no men. According to an estimate, around 3.5 lakh men migrate annually for work to India and this has turned out to be an opportunity in disguise for the local women, who now make a living by guarding the river to ensure sustainable fishing, checking illegal mining and keeping it clean.
In the majority of villages, women have formed small groups that guard river stretches, which is also a source of drinking water for most and agriculture. In Mahakali Municipality, the women groups took on powerful hotel associations and stopped them from dumping waste on river banks and even challenged fishermen who followed poisoning and blast fishing practices.
“We live on the banks of the river and it is our only source of income. The majority of men in our villages work in India and come back for a few days during festivals and it is upon us to protect the river. Our group regularly meets and we discuss problems,” said Purna Devi Kasera, convener, Mahakali Municipality.
In February, around seven villages in seven districts along the river started a citizen science project where women were trained to test water samples for pH level and TDS using handheld machines to check pollution levels. This monsoon, many river stretches were declared fish conservation zones.
“We did not allow any fishing in the river stretch in our village during monsoon. We expect this will help to increase the fish population in coming months and we directly gain as it will increase our income,” said Hema Rokay, who lives in Sonapur village in Bhimdatta municipality. Rokay, whose husband works in a factory in Gujarat, said it is important to keep a tab on pollution in the river as we are dependent on it.
These women have been trained in various activities under Oxfam’s Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA) project being run for the last three years.
Many women cited that sudden flooding in the river after water is released from Sharda barrage along the India-Nepal border as a big problem as it had led to accidents in the past.
“We have now developed an early warning system by which we get a message on the mobile phone from the control room about the rise in water level. This will save a lot of lives and resources,” said Raju Sharky, a mother of two children, who grow paddy along the banks. Like other women, her husband also works in India.
The women acknowledge that training in various areas has helped them gain confidence and now they directly speak to authorities if they find something illegal in their area.