The river can be viewed through the lens of Hindu mythology where Lord Vishnu is the creator and Lord Shiva the destroyer. As a key lifeline to the inhabitants of the village and its surroundings, the people and their livelihoods are completely at the mercy of this stretch of water.
A local resident, Dev Naryan Daha happily obliged to be interviewed about his observations during his fifty years of local residence. In his time, he has witnessed socio-economic, cultural, political and also significant demographic change in the village. Less than 80 years ago, the entire area used to be forested. In the course of human migration, people were drawn towards the water and began to replace forest with farmland through the cultivation of traditional crops such as maize, paddy and mustard. Soon, the rearing of animals was added to agricultural production and livestock became a major part of the settlement’s self-sustenance, combined with its agricultural yield.
As the possibilities within agriculture and animal husbandry began to be realised, government institutions, as well as NGOs such as Plan International and RADO Nepal, aided the village with irrigation system management and by advocating the importance of crop diversification. Coupled with the extremely hard work of the village’s backbone, its farmers, this has contributed to its hugely increased productivity and prosperity.
My interviewee also told me that most of the villagers believe this has only been possible because of the availability of river water throughout the year. The diversion of the river water to the fields through irrigation channels has made it possible to fully engage in agriculture and sole credit is popularly bestowed upon our friend and creator, the khola.
We mustn’t forget that the khola is also a foe, with an unforgiving side that cannot be ignored. Every year, during the monsoon, it swells unrecognisably. Monumental floods have been recorded approximately once every ten or twelve years, the most recent two being in 1993 and 2004 respectively. Now in 2016 and currently in the peak of a high rice and potato yield, the fear has far from dissipated.
Although the community is more prepared now and have shifted their homes to higher ground where possible, there is still a great vulnerability of prime agricultural land to flooding. As Raleigh volunteers are happy to call Bhalu Khola home, this exposure to natural disasters, climate change’s newly unpredictable weather patterns and the relentless fear of flooding in particular, makes our work here in livelihoods development all the more potent. We are working on limiting the impact of natural disasters such as flooding and landslides on local livelihoods, whilst aiming to help enhance the copious natural benefits of the life-giving river.
Written by Nepali volunteer Sashi Kumar Thapa