Not much in consideration

  • Rigorous basin planning exercise needs to inform wider policy in the country

Sep 11, 2018-

As climate change predictions warn of more variability in future rainfall, communities in Nepal’s Kamala River Basin are already experiencing ‘too much water in the rainy season, and too little in the dry season.’

This extreme water experience was addressed by participants in a Workshop in July 2018, organised by the Nepal Government’s Water and Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) in partnership with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and its partners. The Workshop was part of a participatory forum of the basin stakeholders to contribute to a basin level water management strategy. The participants at the workshop included several newly elected local government officials as well as central government officials, leaders of water user associations, journalists and NGO workers, coming from different parts of the lower and upper basin of the Kamala River and different levels of Nepal’s water governance.

Kamala River basin

Situated in east-central Nepal and cutting across three of the seven newly constituted provinces of Nepal, the 2100 square kilometer area of Kamala Basin covers fifteen municipalities and eight Rural Councils of Siraha, Sindhuli, Dhanusha and Udaypur districts. Over six hundred thousand people of various diverse ethnic groups live in the basin. Unlike other major rivers which are fed by melting snow high in the Himalayas, the KamalaRiver originates from the Mahabharat Range and Chure.

Assessments show that the river flow varies from 1.1 cubic meters per second in April to 53.2 Cu m per second in August (based on the calculation of monthly average between 1956 and 1980).  Kamala is located in a rainfall regime that results in too little and too much water in different seasons (and this is true with many other rivers in South Asia). People attribute this water problem to both social and environmental causes. Many participants raised the issue of Chure Hills degradation as a major cause of floods in the river.

Too little water in the winter is also a major cause for concern. There is an irrigation project in the middle part of the Basin, but it does not get enough water from the river during the dry season. There is also the problem of water leakage along the canal, as an engineer participating in the workshop disclosed.

Participants also highlighted the social roots of the water problem. As a Deputy Mayor of a downstream municipality mentioned: “All people need water but for a variety of purposes. If people in the upper basin divert water in the winter for irrigation, people in the lower basin will have difficulty in getting drinking water.” Clearly, basin-level coordination is lacking, and this was precisely the topic of the workshop.

Men and women are differently impacted by the water problem. A local CSIRO partner researcher mentioned that women have been forced to spend more time fetching water for families, as water sources are declining. Women’s workloads are further exacerbated by the increasing trend of male out-migration. For households living inpoverty, even the drinking water project has little meaning, as they are unable to afford the water tariffs, as the Deputy Manager reported from her municipality.

The way forward

In separate interviews, I asked several participants what solutions they think are needed and what they can do themselves. The Mayor of an upstream municipality singularly emphasised the need for creating dams across the river for a variety of benefits. He argued that thousands of bighas of land can be reclaimed if dams are built. Participants also suggested that, in addition to the surface water, groundwater should also be considered for irrigation, especially in the lower basin. The Deputy Mayor also pointed out that policy level clarity is important on how water allocations should be madewhen there is a conflicting demand for different purposes.

Almost all participants agreed on the need to conserve Chure Hills to stop flooding. This, participants hope, will also augment the flow of water during the winter. Some community leaders also emphasised the need to make smaller earthen canals concrete, to make the best use of available water in winter and also to reduce the flood risk in the rainy season.

After listening to these ideas for solutions, I wondered which government agency would eventually absorb and assimilate these into an operational plan. This is particularly critical as problems and solutions are framed very differently by different groups. When I posed this question to one of my college friends acting as one of the provincial government secretaries, he responded: “We are creating two watershed basin offices soon in this province.”Obviously, Nepal is moving fast on the federal political reform, and rigorous basin planning exercise like this has the opportunity to inform wider policy and practice of river basin management in the country.

Ojha is public policy expert and works in forest and water resources management in South Asia. @ojhahemant1

Published: 11-09-2018 07:55

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