Published: Sept. 7, 2015

Photo Essay by Sierra Gladfelter

Climate change is expected to express itself in South Asia in numerous ways, including through an increasingly unpredictable and more intense monsoon. Already, floods triggered by relentless rainfall, associated landslides, and the failure of man-made dams, account for a greater proportion of deaths and damages than any other natural disaster in the Himalaya.

Rajapur, an island that sits between two flood-prone arms of western Nepal’s Karnali River just a few miles above the Indian border, is no exception to this trend. In August of 2014, an unprecedented flood struck Nepal’s Bardiya and Darchula districts, claiming 100 lives, destroying over 14,500 homes, and displacing nearly 80,000 people. While many individuals have still not directly received assistance in recovery, the Nepali government has responded by initiating a multi-year river training project to embank over 40 kilometers of the Karnali’s bed. Non-governmental organizations have also funded interventions in the region, including an early warning system that relays river level and rainfall data from an upstream gauging station to vulnerable communities downstream via mobile phone. This network, which serves 52,000 people in Nepal’s lower Karnali basin alone, is also being extended across the border into India to support rural communities living on the margins of Uttar Pradesh.

These photos, taken during fieldwork for my Master’s thesis in July 2015, document the impacts of inundation in the Kanali River Basin and the creative ways people have adapted to live with floods. While both embankments and early warning systems each have a role to play in mitigating the impacts of flooding, they certainly do not solve everything. My goal then—in both this essay and my broader project—is to identify the places where people remain very much on their own in adapting to floods, while also seeking to understand the complicated ways in which the impacts of climate change and development become entangled in a specific place.