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Anticipating Cold Waves in the Terai Region, Nepal

  • by Max Wilder
  • 26 Jul 22

Start Fund Nepal


Blog Post

“I filled out a voucher form to indicate what I need to survive low temperatures. I expressed my family's need for blankets, sweaters, thermos, rice, salt, oil, lentils, and sugar. A few days later, I got a call to collect the items that I choose. This paper voucher was easy for me."

Rita, a community member from Terai shares her experience during Start Fund Nepal's anticipatory response to the cold wave in January 2022.

Nepal is one of the many countries affected by climate emergencies. The changes to Nepal’s temperature patterns affect the three physiographic regions of Nepal (lowlands, hills, and mountains) differently throughout the four Nepali seasons.

In Terai, a lowland area, cold waves have been occurring annually since first being recorded in 1990, between mid-December and mid-January. Cold waves are lasting longer now and the impact is becoming more severe. Cold waves in Nepal are caused by a stagnant blanket of thick smog caused by air pollution. which covers the Nepali plains and coincides with increased westerly winds; causing the maximum and minimum temperature to decline.

Cold waves in the Terai region are therefore not a natural phenomenon and are the direct result of human activity.

Anticipating cold waves in Nepal

Cold waves have become a major threat to residents in the 23 districts of Terai, claiming the lives of some 46 people in the past three years through hypothermia. Cold waves also have negative impacts on agricultural activity, in turn affecting livelihoods. To date, there have been no standard measures to identify the potential occurrence of a cold wave in Nepal and no triggers to initiate a response, which has resulted in a lack of preparedness activities and not meeting the needs of people in time.  

On 28 December 2021, using forecasting data from Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology and India’s threshold for a cold wave, Start Network member agencies alerted Start Fund Nepal to act in anticipation of a January 2022 cold wave in two provinces (Madhesh and Lumbini) in Terai and one province (Karnali) in the Mountain region.

These agencies coordinated with the local government municipalities, Palika, and community-level disaster management committees to assess the potential impact of the cold wave, identify at-risk families, and develop a response plan. Standard operating procedures were developed, endorsed, and approved by respective municipalities and the Local Disaster Management committees to ensure everyone was prepared by the time the cold wave was predicted to hit. 

Members selected a consortium led by CARE Nepal, consisting of Mercy Corps, ActionAid, and national implementing partners, Karnali Integrated Rural Development and Research Center (KIRDARC), National Farmers Group Federation (NFGF), Bheri Environmental Excellence Group (BEE Group), and Kamaiya Mahila Jagarana Samaj (KMJS), and awarded them GBP 200,000 to act ahead of the forecasted cold wave. 

Before implementation, the consortium conducted a rapid needs assessment to identify the most vulnerable 1,500 households in 8 districts and their most urgent expected needs.  

CARE Nepal, Mercy Corps, and ActionAid, along with partner NGOs coordinated to meet the needs of at-risk municipalities. CARE Nepal supported through the provision of food (that communities obtained through a printed voucher) and non-food items including winterization kits, to 572 households in the districts of Banke, Siraha, and Saptari.  

Mercy Corps supported 650 households in Jumla, Kalikot, and Mugu districts with non-food items, winterization kits, and food through electronic voucher distributions. ActionAid utilized funding to distribute food and winterization kits as well (including tarpaulins, blankets, warm clothes, and other items) to 312 affected households. The winterization kits distributed were in-line with guidelines developed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and shelter clusters in Nepal.

Throughout this Start Fund response, children, older people, women, and other vulnerable individuals from marginalized Dalit and Mushahar communities, as well as ethnic minority groups, were protected from the worst impacts of the cold wave. The winterization kits were delivered to these communities before the cold wave hit and the three agencies were able to secure a month’s worth of food for use by the at-risk populations.  

Key lessons from the response 

Start Network agencies highlighted during a learning exchange that the absence of long-range weather forecasts, paired with a lack of formal triggers or thresholds for anticipating cold waves, limits the capacity of agencies in Nepal to prepare to meet the needs of the at-risk population before the crisis occurs.  

It is therefore essential to establish a constant monitoring system for tracking weather data and to develop an appropriate mechanism to activate alerts for cold waves and other climatic hazards. 

At-risk communities in Nepal are often scattered throughout remote areas and therefore, local markets cannot always provide appropriate food options and winter materials promptly.  

To ensure that community needs are met in time, it was recommended that agencies pre-identify and have standby agreements with vendors for the prompt delivery of goods and services. 

Anticipatory action is relatively new to many municipalities in Nepal. For continued effective collaborative efforts in anticipating disasters and mitigating their effects, local governments, community members, the private sector, and development partners must be made aware of the possibilities to pre-emptively respond, along with developing appropriate standard operating procedures and guidelines for context-responsive anticipatory or early action. 

See what crises Start Fund Nepal has responded to

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Start Fund Nepal Anticipation

  • by Max Wilder