« Our staff face many obstacles when implementing programs during this season. Simply walking along treacherous roads and slopes increases the risk of landslides. The time needed to travel between programs sites has increased considerably. Crossing small rivers becomes risky, especially when flash floods wash away the paths. Even a bulldozer can not repair the damage caused by the rising waters »

As the clouds gather and the rhythmic drumming of rain fills the air, Karuna teams continue to work with communities to break the cycle of poverty.

This article describes the obstacles our staff face during the rainy season. As we witness the transformative power of our work, we believe it is essential to also highlight the difficulties encountered on the ground, as well as the extraordinary resilience and adaptability of our teams.

A difficult season for community activities

The rainy season brings many challenges. In Darjeeling (India), for example, the rainy season generally peaks in June, July and August, but can last until September. Visibility is greatly affected, making travel difficult.  The sky is barely visible through relentless and unforgiving rain. During this season, landslides frequently block roads, preventing both transport and communications.

The program coordinator for the Ruby Valley (Nepal), Umesh Nakarmi, is responsible for supervising, implementing and overseeing all the projects in this area. He explains: “The rainy season has proved to be unpredictable and fearsome. Our farmers are in trouble. The landslides disrupt the millet planting and  delay the potato harvest, which means that the potatoes are rotting in the fields.  Further, the landslides hamper access to the market, and cause even further loss of income.»

Nikita Rai has been the senior coordinator in Mirik, Darjeeling, for Karuna-Shechen India since March 2023 :

« He says that the mountainous terrain is prone to landslides, whichblock roads leading to the villages, and take several days to clear away. Traveling by foot during the rainy season takes longer as the paths to the villages are often covered in extremely slippery algae, making walking quite difficult. Crossing bamboo bridges over streams and rivers is challenging because of the current. Furthermore, community meetings are poorly attended on rainy days, and the increased risk of power cuts makes communication with the village volunteers problematic. »

Adapting the projects to the season

Project logistics need to adapt due to the transport challenges that are a recurring theme during this season. We must pre-position construction materials and office supplies before the roads become impassable, relying on travel on foot from the last accessible point. Carrying out the necessary visits from the Kathmandu office also poses major difficulties.

This is how the rainy season changes the pace of work for Karuna’s employees. In India, Bidisha Yonzon, project coordinator, explains:

“Rainy days make it difficult to monitor activities with personal visits. I usually work in the field three or four days a week, but during the rainy season, this is reduced to one or two days. I adapt to the rainy season by planning my work in the field on days when there is little or no rain. Organizing community meetings is a challenge, as it is difficult to get people together on rainy days. To ensure that our programs run smoothly, I often conduct telephone interviews to gather feedback and I work closely with the volunteers and community mobilisers in the field. To avoid having our belongings destroyed, we make sure that we send items to the field on a day when it’s not raining. Large quantities of jute sacks filled with flour, and sanitary towels have to be transported very carefully, as the rain can damage the goods in transit.”

The activities must also be adapted to the needs and availability of the members of the partner communities. The monsoon season is generally dedicated to agriculture. Many beneficiaries reported that the heavy rains rotted the vegetable garden seeds they had sown this season. Rahul Shrestha, Program Manager Education and Environment in Nepal, is responsible for planning the smooth running of the projects:

“The rainy season is very important for agriculture in our communities. People are busy tending their fields, planting essential crops such as rice and maize. Many community activities are disrupted due to bad weather. However, the extended closure of schools in July and August provides a unique opportunity for in-service teacher training.”

Ensuring the safety of Karuna teams

The team on site faces its own set of challenges as it traverses remote areas on foot. We discourage travel in high-risk areas, maintaining constant communication with the teams on the ground to ensure their safety and receive updates on the situation. Depending on the circumstances, some projects may be postponed, while others, such as environmental mitigation, or creation of large garden plots necessary for food security, are carried out in coordination with the team on the ground and the local authorities.

Bhimsen Raut Chhetri, a Vehicle Operator in Nepal for many years, shares the obstacles posed by the poor quality of the roads, exacerbated by bad weather and landslides:

“Among the biggest obstacles are the constant need to clear the road by moving large stones, the many situations where vehicles have to be pushed and pulled, and even the digging out of roads. In such situations, we often rely on the help of members of the community. As well as the physical stress, there is also considerable mental tension, as we fear damaging the vehicle and putting the safety of our passengers at risk. Once we get stuck, there’s no turning back, which intensifies the feeling of responsibility.”

Urbashi Pradhan, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager in Darjeeling, India, explains:

“When I can’t go out into the field, I work on the documentation assigned by the reporting officer. I also concentrate on office tasks that can be carried out indoors, such as data entry, data organization and telephone follow-up with volunteers, community mobilisers and beneficiaries. Requesting quotes from suppliers for various items is also one of the tasks I can complete when I’m not in the field.”

Turning disaster into opportunity

The situation creates strategic questions that show the way forward for our responsive organization. Umesh says:

“Reflecting on our experiences we, at Karuna-Shechen, we recognise the urgent need for   a comprehensive disaster risk reduction plan. Such a  proposal would include the village and the municipality, empowering local committees to take charge of its implementation. By raising awareness and promoting preparedness within the communities, we can mitigate the effects of the monsoon by protecting lives and livelihoods.

Despite the challenges, there are positives for farmers here. The rainy season makes it easier to grow rice and millet. In addition, water levels in dry springs rise during the winter, eliminating the shortage of drinking water. The careful management of water reservoirs benefits the whole community.”

Such a proposal would include the village and the municipality, empowering local committees to take charge of its implementation.

Umesh Nakarmi, Program Coordinator in Nepal

What’s more, although the monsoon poses many difficulties for those living in mountainous regions, it is one of the most eagerly awaited seasons for those villages in the plains such as Bihar and Jharkhand. The harsh summers get worse every year, and the extreme heat poses increasingly serious health risks. Hundreds of people lose their lives every year due to the heat. The local government implements travel restrictions to ensure the safety of its citizens.

During this period, schools and colleges are temporarily closed. With the arrival of the monsoon, people are relieved as the intense summer heat is mitigated by the rain. The rain showers make the plants greener and cooler. The monsoon fills rivers that have been severely affected by drought. The vast arid lands are filled with lush green rice paddies and it’s the perfect season to start vegetable gardens.

“Despite all the inconveniences, I prefer to work during the monsoon. I don’t have to worry about the heat, because it’s so mild outside. Fresh vegetables are also plentiful in our beneficiaries’ gardens at this time, and I can reach more people through our food security initiatives. “ 

Unpredictable and destructive, the monsoons are not going to get any milder over the next few years. Climate change will make them even more violent. One of the keys is to exploit the positive aspects of these extreme changes. For example, while monsoons pose problems in terms of damage to roads and crops, they guarantee greater quantities of water in countries suffering from drought. Karuna cannot have an impact on nature, but the teams are dedicated to mitigating the destructive impacts. We will  continue to empower communities to increase their climate resilience.

Supporting communities in India and Nepal to become more resilient in the midst of climate disruption