Bad Weather? No. Connecting people with nature.


Have you met a person in the city who loves a rainy day? Hmm….  We all love a “bright and sunny day”. Sitting in the sun, hang around, play with kids in open, and take a stroll in the garden, a sunny and bright day means fun. Of course, that is only when one has something to cool off with as well. A  water bottle in hand to quench one’s thirst, a swimming pool close to the neighborhood and enough water in the overhead tank at home to take a shower after a hard day at work or an evening walk. Water, readily available to most if not all city folks, comes in many forms to a growing metropolis drenched in capitalism.

Bottled water these days is available in every small and big store. It has probably become the most popular consumer items of the urban centers that have guaranteed market and unfettered access to homes, offices, restaurants, business houses, temples, and tea shops, because everyone needs it and the supply is declining. There are increasing numbers of investors ready to invest in putting bottling plants, in fact more than those investing in manufacturing or other industrial plants. Undoubtedly, water market has huge profit to attract investors.

It is a fact that exposure to radiation for long hours may lead to some form of cancer. To this I add, exposure to urban living for a long period of time may lead to ignorance.  I say this because we take the water we have in our hands for granted.

We don’t see that a huge amount of water is required to produce the variety of food we eat, the beverage we drink, and the garden we enjoy, even though  common sense would tell us that without adequate water we would not get fresh vegetables every morning we so relish, and the eggs without which we can’t think of a healthy breakfast. And yet, we stay happy as long as the weather is bright and sunny, a water bottle is available in the nearby store and the overhead tank is full. We tend to take the rest (if one ever goes so far as to think of ‘the rest’) as the responsibility of a farmer somewhere in a remote poor village to produce food.

A groundwater reserve is exactly like a ‘current account’ of a bank. For you to be able to withdraw, you have to first make a deposit. For nature’s water account – the groundwater reserve –   bad weather days do the depositing for us. But, unfortunately, we don’t like bad weather.  To add to that, we crave urbanization without understanding the ecosystem processes. This has created obstacles in nature’s process to refill groundwater reserve. We have sealed the surface by making concrete structures and taken the rainwater (part of which is supposed to go underground) away from our homes and roads through drains as quickly as possible.  This is one reason why water is becoming dearer by the year and probably will be very hard to find in adequate quantity in the decades ahead. We must ponder over our urban ignorance and become aware that for water to be available in the bottle that we buy in the supermarket or in farmers’ field that supply our food, we need many days of bad weather.

If you really want your grandchildren and great grandchildren to enjoy the abundance of water as you did when you were a child, you have to help nature.  You have to live with nature, connect with it. Your relationship with nature must be a symbiotic relationship rather than parasitic. The first step that you want to take is probably to make sure that, next time when it rains, do not  call it a bad weather, but a refilling day that deposits water in the groundwater reserves, emptied by bottling plants to bring water to the supermarket or farmers who have pumped up to irrigate vegetable farms.

With critical support from Irene

Until next



Time to Address Damaged Land and Displaced Farmers

The land in the picture below (picture 1) is from the village of Bhardeo in south Lalitpur in central Nepal, which was hit hard by floods and landslides in 1981. The boulder mixed debris brought by the flood buried and destroyed entire farmlands in the valley and pushed the farmers out of their jobs. When this picture was taken in 1988, seven years after the disaster, more than 50 percent of the damaged land was still waiting reclamation. Farmers did not have the capacity to fully reclaim the land and were forced to look for other employment opportunities to feed the families. The state, unfortunately, never had any programme to reclaim the land damaged by floods or debris deposit and bring it back to production, nor did any agency show interest in land reclamation in Nepal. The farmers have been left all along with two options; either rebuild the damaged land and continue farming or abandon it and look for a different job elsewhere.


Picture 1: Partly reclaimed flood damaged land (1988)

The second picture (picture 2) is from a village in Bardiya in Midwest Nepal, where the farmland is buried under the silt brought by flood in Babai River in August 2017. The maize plants are all killed and paddy is buriedunderseveral feet of silt deposit. In this case, the land is not badly damaged but the crop of this year is destroyed making the investment made by the farmer a mere waste. Failure of one crop pushes the farmer into a labyrinth of poverty making them poorer. The farmer will have to sow the next crop in the new silt which, depending upon the texture and the nutrient content, may or may not be productive.


Picture 2: Farmland buried under silt deposit in Bardiya (2017)

When I took the second picture of the damaged land in Bardiya last week, I was riddled with sadness by the fact that, despite witnessing several events of floods and landslides across the country between 1981 and 2017, we haven’t made significant progress when it comes to addressing the issue of damaged or destroyed land which is a result of floods and landslide events. We do not know the extent to which the farmlands have been destroyed and the. subsequent number of families forced to look for other forms of employment.

The official figures of the Ministry of Home Affairs provide rough estimates of the damaged land. The Ministry of Agriculture has also begun providing some estimate about the loss in agriculture. Sadly, there is no information on the number of farmers that have been pushed out of farming. Therefore, the information on the extent of reclamation of the land damaged by previous disasters is not found. And, I believe that hundreds of thousands of hectares are abandoned after each flood and several hundreds of farmers are removed from agriculture across the country.

The state began focusing on emergency responses in a coordinated manner after a major flood event in central Nepal in 1981. Natural Calamity (Relief) Act was promulgated in 1982. Since then, the emergency responses have continued to dominate the disaster issues. The fact is that the flood and landslides were (and still are) rampant and continue to be an impediment in our socioeconomic development, but it has largely hovered around relief and rescue. The national efforts of addressing disasters, presumably including recovery and reconstruction, were reinforced when the UN designated the 1990s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR).

This IDNDR was a global call to create awareness and take concerted actions to reduce loss of life, property damage and social and economic disruption caused by disasters. For the first time, the socioeconomic disruption was mentioned as key aspect in disaster responses. In the same decade, when IDNDR was observed, we witnessed one of the deadliest flood and landslide disaster in 1993. The life in the capital was affected following the collapse of several bridges disrupting the supply of essentials to the city. The event reminded every one of us of the urgency with which we must address the issue.

The IDNDR laid the foundation for Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015), which aimed at sustainably reducing disaster losses by 2015 by building the resilience to disasters. However, the 2017 losses showed that we haven’t done well to build the expected resilience. Now we have a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction called the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. The Sendai Framework sets certain targets including reduction in loss of lives and damage to properties by 2030.  These global calls do not mean much and perhaps will have the same result as the Hyogo Framework, unless we are effective in addressing our problems.

One may argue that we have been through a persistent political transition since the 1990s and therefore have not been effective in achieving what was planned. But that argument does not hold ground, because it was during the same period that the country established a very well functioning and effective early warning system, which, many believe, helped reduce loss of lives in 2017 disaster. The fact is that we have remained passive in addressing issues ofdamaged land and displaced farmers. The issue has not received the attention it deserves.

It needs to be told again and again that we don’t have the luxury to expand agricultural land. Moreover, the rapidly expanding urbanization is already turning the limited farmlands we have into settlements around cities and towns. In the hills, we are progressively losing land to landslides and gullies, while in the valleys it is the floods that are destroying farms, often beyond recovery.

Let’s pause for a minute and think, what future will we have when the foundation (the land) of our agriculture that contributes to about a third of the GDP and engages almost two third of the population including the poorest of the poor is continually damaged or diminished by floods and landslides?

With support from Irene

Until next


Options for Local Governments

The constitutional provision of local governments (LGs) is meant to provide excellent opportunities for local development to take roots, but the sudden shift of responsibility from the better-staffed and resource-full central government (CG), which was responsible to deliver development, to yet-to-be fully functional LGs leaves an array of uncertainties for some time to come. How fast will the picture be clear will depend on which one of the two possible sequences of events will  the LGs follow.

Sequence 1:

As the funding grants received by the LGs will not freeze, there should be absolutely no hurry to start implementing projects right away. The LGs can take time to formulate local development plans and gradually address issues facing the communities through a broader consultation with the local population and those who have had experiences in specific sphere of development in the area. The LGs are also well placed to improve coordination with agriculture, forestry, water resources, and road sectors; who in the past had to work mostly under the ministerial guidelines and policies that sometimes were conflicting and hindered integration of works in the field. The fact that the LGs can continue using the unspent money onto the following year would help them deal with local political pressure too. But, for all this to happen, the elected leaders have to convince the voters that only a well thought out development plan would result in a meaningful development of the area, for which they need to work together. But the likelihood of this sequence of events happening is less, and alternately, the actionsand the haste may lead to the second sequence of events.

Sequence 2:

With no prior guidelines and in a hurry to keep the promises made during the election, the leaders are likely to end up implementing infrastructures projects, emulating exactly the kind of projects that CG supported in the past. It will basically be following the traditional way of implementing projects in which a huge gap existed between local needs and the projects. Therefore, despite huge investment in agriculture, water source development, and natural resource protection, we see a steady increase of reliance on income from remittance to support families. This needs to change. However, should the gaps continue in the LG administered development, things will not differ much from what we have seen so far. It will particularly be true in improving the state of agriculture and access to drinking water both of which depends on available water.

20160507_161217About 4 percent of the national budget goes into providing irrigation and drinking water. In addition, the local governments and the NGOs also invested in these two sectors. The official figure for the coverage of drinking water supply is more than 80%.  What this figure does not include is the drinking water systems that have stopped functioning either because the system is damaged by landslide caused by a rural road, or because the water source has dried. The functioning system at any point in time would be hardly 50% of what has been reported. No wonder, these two sectors have remained a priority for last several decades and yet the demand seems to be rising consistently.

The case of irrigation is even worse because most of the systems use open canals to deliver water to the farms. Unlike drinking water systems, which are used every day and reported on damages immediately when it stops functioning, the irrigation canal is used only when it is planting season and when there is no rain for longer period. If the rainfall occurs when needed, no one pays attention to the canal. Unused canal are usually damaged by rodents and crabs making holes through or by cattle walking through canals. In such a situation, the canal is usually broken and not functioning when needed.

The drying of local water sources in the hills has added a new problem. Many tap stands across the villages are seen in dilapidated conditions where sources have dried. Increasing number of families in such areas are abandoning their homes and migrating to new places where water is available. Similarly, the groundwater has depleted in the valleys and plains. Small rivers are flowing low, and even smaller ones remain dry for most part of the year rendering the irrigation canals useless. The water agencies have expertise on transferring water from one place to another using pipes or canals, and when the sources dry out, they look for alternate sources to tap the water from.  In villages where springs have dried, the water agencies are investing in making drill holes to draw water from the lower aquifers.  There is no agency to follow drying springs or dying streams and ask question about how did the water that flowed for so long gradually disappeared. Instead they drill deep down to tap water from the lower aquifers which when dries out, there will be no other source to fall back on, and this is perhaps the biggest environmental question we all should be asking.

Will managing local sources such the springs and streams figure out in the development priority of the LGs? Probably not, if they follow the sequence of events 2. Additionally, environmental issues and management of natural resources in the last several decades centered around narrowly defined areas such as promoting greenery by protecting trees and reforestation. It was and still is believed that more trees would bring more water. Therefore, maximum that the LGs would do is plant trees and protect forests and expect the springs to flow again. Or worse, blame it on climate change and implement programs on reducing carbon concentration in the atmosphere, which despite being right will not help revive the local water sources. For LGs it is not the global agenda, which is important, but localizing the global agenda to see how it is linked with well being of the people.

The Economic Survey (2016/17) published by the CG (Ministry of Finance) has broadly identified the cases of drying springs as an emerging problem in the mountains. LGs need to be specific and start giving due attention to rising problem of loss of water sources, which is seen in most part of the country. It is for the LGs now to see how much focused they can be in their plans to address real issues facing the local economy and livelihood. Hope the LGs’ actions follow sequence 1. It will be a missed opportunity if they failed to do so.

With support from Irene

Until next


From CG to LG: Transition likely to be long

With the establishment of the newly elected local governments (LGs) being handed full authority, development has now become the responsibility of the LGs. For this the central government (CG) in its budget for the year 2017/18 has set aside 225 billion rupees to be provided as grant to the LGs. The LGs will now have to focus on everything ranging from building infrastructures to managing natural resources with their own plans. But how much and how well the local concerns will be reflected in their responses is yet to be seen. Similarly, how will they share responsibility to meet national commitments made by CG in the global fora.  The early signs from a few cases of the declared projects are not very encouraging.

This year is important for development because for the first time the LGs will be planning and implementing their own development plans without having to wait for approval and orders from the CG. LGs will formulate the plans and mobilize technical people to design and implement their development work. They will put forth their demands for fund and the workforce from the CG. But, this is where problems seem to surface from.

For those in the CG, who have been exercising power in planning and implementing projects including fund management so far, it will mean giving up the power and adjusting to a new system where one has to learn the rules of the game. They will have to start listening to those who listened to them in the past. It’s a complete reversal of the wheel, a situation for which one year may not be enough to get accustomed to.  A longer transition, however, would mean less time left for the elected leaders of their 5 year tenure to deliver on the promises they made to their voters. They would like to do things as fast as they can. Therefore, even in absence of any program the newly elected leaders in some municipalities announced popular programs such as increasing the allowances of the senior citizens and making public parks.  The CG objected to this and sent circular preventing the LGs from using the grant on any project that they feel like spending on. The CG is busily working on making the rules for the LGs, which the LGs argue is not in line with the constitutional provision that provides the LGs full autonomy in exercising their rights to formulate rules and plan activities.

The thing might get messier in the days ahead, because the LGs need support of engineers and resource managers (experts), who are with the technical departments of the CG.  Since the administrative restructuring has not happened yet, it is not clear how the LGs will get help from these technical departments. The financial federalism is directly linked with how the administrative restructuring will shape out, and if one takes the word of the chief secretary of the CG, financial federalism is a difficult task.  Now, the LGs have money but no plan, no technical workforce nor legal frames and guidelines to implement the projects. The natural resource and financial commission that is supposed chart the legal basis has yet to be formed. Technically the LGs can hire their own staff, but the CG has to adjust over 70,000 of its staff and therefore will ask the LGs to rely on CG for the entire workforce it needs. And this brings to another problem.

While deputing its staff to the LGs, the easy way out for CG would be to send the district staff to the LGs. The staff that the districts had earlier will now have to be distributed among the LGs, which are anywhere between 5 (Mustang) to 17 (Morang) in the district. This simply means the number of staff will not be sufficient to be deputed to all the LGs. And who will they (the deputed staff) be accountable to – the LG or the parent ministry- is another puzzle to solve. Naturally, the CG staff will want to maintain the status quo and stay under the command of the ministries. Most agencies and the people responsible within the CG are clueless about how it would be settled. Due to lack of sufficient homework and consultation, a well intended act of devolving power to the LGs through federal structure and give the required impetus to the local development, could end up with numerous compromises which might dampen the spirit of the whole restructuring.


With support from Irene

Until next


Lessons from the past


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A great amount of knowledge lies in villages but we rarely think about reaching out to the locals for this knowledge when we try to address the problems they face.


The name of the pond in the picture is ‘budhaa le khaneko pokhari’ literally meaning a pond dug by old man. I was more than thrilled when I saw this pond in one of my field trips to Kavre. Though the ponds in the villages have some kind of local names such as sano pokhari (small pond) thulo pokhari (big pond) and so on, but it was the first time that I came across a pond with a sign post, named after the budhaa who dug it. The reason why it had a nicely written sign post is because the pond was right at the entrance of an army post that helped preserve it along with its name.

In recent days, the importance of dug-out ponds has increased more than ever before, and will continue to be so, because the local water sources and the springs in the hills have been progressively drying or have already gone dry in many places when the demand for water is increasing by the day. Change in rainfall pattern, change in land use, and most importantly utter disregard to the age old way of managing rainwater have perhaps collectively led to depletion of water yield in all local sources. As a result, the conventional technique of bringing water from far away sources using pipes, which has been a major programme of all development plans of the last 4 decades, has also been unfeasible in many places because the sources have shrunk all over. In addition, people are more concerned about sharing their water sources with others. Therefore, water managers find it increasingly frustrating to operate water projects and provide required water to the users in the face of reducing yield in the sources.

Despite tons of material and information produced by thousands of researchers in the last several decades about how to manage water, we have landed in a situation with water problems  becoming acuter in the period when a substantial amount has been invested in water projects and its research.

Water is a local issue. It is as diverse as the landscape. Where would one find diverse landscape than in the hills, which are not just naturally raised area of land but a complex system of geology and topography that regulate water flow within a watershed boundary? Without understanding the local geological complexity, managing local water will not be easy. In essence, we have yet to understand how water is regulated by every watershed (they are all different because of their diverse nature).

We are fortunate enough to still have some of the work done by people like this self-motivated budhaa who had knowledge of water conservation and energy to dig ponds, which lasted for decades and continued to provide water to the local sources.  But we failed to understand what they did for the larger good of the community, and perhaps of the nature. Therefore we built roads where ponds existed before (picture below).


A great salute to this selfless ‘Budhaa’ (who is no more now) for leaving something to learn about the importance of ponds by digging this one.

The army post deserves appreciation for preserving it for us to observe.

But a big question remains: with the rising rate of depopulation in the hills do we still have selfless ‘budhaas’ to continue digging ponds?

With support from Irene

Until next

Madhukar Upadhya

Highs and Lows of the ‘Spout of Wisdom’

Stone spouts were, and in some cases they still are, key water sources for communities in the major urban areas in Kathmandu valley. Many of them have either been neglected after the piped water system came into existence about 5 decades ago or were damaged by various types of construction. They dried out completely.  A glaring example is that of the stone spout of Sundhara (the golden spout), which ceased to flow after the construction of a commercial building nearby.  Many others turned into scum ponds when the holes that drained the spout water were blocked or damaged while foundations were dug for commercial and residential buildings. However, there are still many which provide water to the local community, though their condition has gradually deteriorated.

Good or bad, dirty or clean, maintained or dilapidated; the level of water discharge in the stone spout is important for local people who depend on them for their daily water needs.  But the discharge is not always same like in our kitchen taps which most of us are used to. During monsoon, the discharge is high whereas it declines gradually as the winter progresses. The rainfall that we get in winter, which is believed to be about 20 percent of the total annual rain, does not contribute to the water flow of the stone spouts.  When the discharge shrinks it not only affects access to water but also creates conflict among people who are already tired of standing in line for hours to fill their jars. A higher discharge is good news because it serves many people in a very short time.

So, just out of curiosity, I wanted to assess the seasonal discharge between summer and winter in Gyandhara, a popular stone spout of Gyaneshwar. Gyandhara literally means ‘spout of wisdom’. It yields 15 times more water during the rainy season  than it does in winter.  To be exact, the discharge is a liter per minute in winter (picture on left: May 2016) while it is 15 liter per minute during the rainy season (picture on right: September 2016), which starts to decline towards October and becomes quite low in May-June.

I have seen how crowded Gyandhara used to be until the 1970s. After the municipal supply from Sundarijal provided private connections, the number of users declined. However, even today, there are a reasonable number of people who collect water from this spout. In winter, when other sources dry out, the number users rise exponentially. People from faraway places also come here and that is when the discharge becomes a liter a minute.

In an age where we are constantly aware of what is happening around us locally as well as globally in areas of environment and climate change, politics and economics, social justice and individual freedom; unfortunately, these traditional sources of water are gradually slipping out of our conscious minds. Today, we literally learn from the world every second of our passing lives, yet we have failed to learn from the ‘spout of wisdom’.

With support from Irene

Until next



Race Against Time: Jhiku Khola in Panchkhal

For our regular annual field visit, last week we visited Panchkhal. This was our 10th visit to Panchkhal in the last 10 year, which we have been doing every summer since 2007 to study the water problem in the area from below the town of Dhulikhel to the valley of Panchkhal. The incentive for us to visit the same places and talk to the same families every year is the fact that one could see the progressive decline in water availability in the area year after year, and examine the responses being made from national to local level to solve the water problem.

Every year the mere sight of drying springs and wells gave us goose bumps; it made us realize how fast the water has been disappearing in the area. We kept asking where had the water gone? The visit this time, however,  was quite depressing because the stone spouts that had gone dry after the earthquake near the village of Khawa  did not flow even during the monsoon last year. The farms and the homestead garden of the villagers have turned into barren slopes. We realized that the aquifer that provided water to the stone spout has been squeezed so tightly by the Gorkha Earthquake of April 2015 that it will probably never flow again. We can only wait to see what happens this monsoon.

In the same place, there is a well dug by a local entrepreneur in a rocky slope on the road side. This well was dug two years ago by shear chances. It so happened that the owner, a hotel entrepreneur, was cutting the rocky slope to make space to open up a road side restaurant.  While cutting through the rock, he saw some water seeping out of the cracks in the rock, which he was so happy to see in a water scarce hill slope. He then built a well about 30 feet deep using concrete rings in the same spot, which is now in the kitchen of his restaurant. The well provided water to him and his neighbors until last year. This time, the well has almost dried and it barely yields enough water for his family and restaurant.

Further down at Tin Piple, there is a small well on the road side that was kept under lock and key since 2013, when the water in the well decreased substantially. The local people would open the well twice a day to distribute whatever water was collected in the well in the morning and evening.  About 20 households would queue up before the village leader would open the well to distribute the water. This arrangement continued for about two years until the Gorkha Earthquake of April 2015. Meanwhile, several other initiatives were taken by the villagers, including a weeklong recital of Bhagwat Gita (in Nepali saptah lagaune) to generate funds to drill a deep well in the hill, which they did in hopes of bringing enough water to the village. Not only did they not yield enough water through the new well, but the water also didn’t taste very good. Therefore, they continued to use the old drying well which they had kept under lock and key as their source of drinking water until the earthquake.

After the earhquake, when we visited the Tin Piple area in May last year, the drying well did not have the lock and metal door. They were removed because the water yield had increased so much that not only did it fill the 2 feet deep well, but it was flowing out of the well.   Obviously, there was no need to keep the well locked. The only reminder of the water shortage pre-earthquake was a small metal frame that was wielded around the well hole, was still hanging there. Everything else including the locking hinges and metal door has been removed.

But this time the well was in a dilapidated condition. It was almost dry and hardly yielded few buckets in a day. A well that was an accessible source of water on the roadside for the villagers as well as to the drivers on the highway, is now in ruins.20160514_125527

The Jhiku Khola, the lifeline of Panchkhal,  which was fed by thousands of wells and springs like the ones described above have ceased to flow even in the monsoon (see photo), precisely because the springs have dried out gradually over the decade. With this, the vegetable farming has dwindled and income of farmers has dropped substantially. All hopes of reviving the water system through local efforts have consistently failed. Putting new wells has become the only remedy left for the local people to draw water from shrinking water source, which will reduce water availability further rapidly in the days ahead. The impact of the EQ on overall water sources and aquifers is anybody’s guess, and will be clear only with the passage of time.

During each visit, we asked ourselves some questions. Who is it that the villagers can go and talk to in order to find a solution to the long term problem?  Which institution/s should be held responsible for, at least, taking note of the situation? There are at least four ministries that are closely related to water source development and utilization. The Ministries of Energy and Irrigation use available flowing water – the blue water. Ministry of Forest and Agriculture depend on available soil moisture – the green water. But none of them have any programmes to address the declining water sources.  In such case, which institution is it that would take initiative to restore water sources? And without flowing water, how would irrigation or energy or forests or agriculture further their sectoral objectives in Panchkhal? How is the state connected with this saga?

Slight showers have occurred in the valley since last week, which lowered the mercury and helped clear the valley air by reducing the dust blowing from unfinished road expansion work.  The light showers, in of itself, have been a respite for people who were hit by the scorching sun and polluted air. However, these rains have not reduced the problem for farmers waiting to sow maize. Nor did it help to augment water supply in places such as Panchkhal.

The bad news is that there is no institution to look after declining water sources. Future of millions of people in rural Nepal and Nepal’s economy largely depends on availability of water for farming. The emerging water context does not seem to be encouraging. It’s been more than a decade since the problem has surfaced in many parts of the country and has only grown deeper. Now, it’s turning into a race against time for people in places like Panchkhal.

Until next


Water Wars: The Crisis Awakens


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The El Nino of 2015/16 has been one of the strongest with severe impacts felt in many parts of the world including South Asia. In India, for example, water shortages in already water scarce areas of Maharashtra and Bundlekhanda have been quite  severe. In order to meet the minimal water needs of the people, the government transported water to the area using railway bogies. The situation in Nepal is not as severe but much more difficult to deal with due to its poor infrastructure, institutions, and resources.

In Nepal, water shortages have been seen from districts of Panchthar in the east to Bajura in the west and from Siraha in Terai in the south to Gorkha in the north. Most  small streams and springs in the mountains have dried. Water levels in the rivers have been at their lowest. Groundwater in Tarai has significantly depleted. Of course, nearly 31 districts in central Nepal were also affected by the 2015 earthquake which damaged or deformed the aquifers leading to a temporary rise in water discharge in the springs, but which have reduced and dried up thereafter. The water shortage across the country is, perhaps, an indication of an emerging problem which is not only large in size and coverage, but something that is poorly understood. Hence, the current water shortage needs to be looked at from a different perspective than just a normal dry period following a failed winter rain.

In city areas where the municipal water corporation supplies domestic water, water is supplied to the consumer through tankers, but the shortages caused by the drought is also affecting farming and other water consumers. There has been no plan of action on the government’s part to address such problems. Conflicts near the water sources in regards to the allocation of water have been common, but with growing shortages, it often turns into minor scuffles and physical spats.


Stone Spout in Gyaneshwar, Kathmandu. Only a tenth of the flow remains (1 liter per minute)

The critical thing that we need to realize is that our capacity, as a society, to deal with unprecedented events is very limited. The EQ has further illuminated the limitation of our institutions and bureaucratic machinery to plan and address problems when they happen over a large area affecting thousands of people, who need support both in the short and long terms.

Here is a need to focus on the following key areas.

A general understanding about water as a key natural resource has been that more trees equals more water. Therefore, deforestation was blamed for all floods and water shortages ever since the environmental movement began in the 1970s in Nepal.  The good news is that after the successful implementation of community forestry, the greenery has improved significantly and, as claimed by the latest survey of 2015, the forest covered has increased from 39.6% to 44.75%–a significant increase from the initial goal of 40% cover. But then, why is water shortage increasing despite a significant increase in forest cover? It only raises the question that we have misunderstood or exaggerated the forest–water relation. It is not as simple as it was believed to be without any evidence.

A recent study by South Asia Institute for Advanced Study (SIAS) in Roshi Khola watershed revealed that in a small watershed which has a forest cover of near 85%, the water discharge in the river has declined gradually.

The demand for water is increasing with increase in population as well as in economic activities and the change in lifestyle of people. Without an improved understanding of the degree to which the demand for water has increased and a blueprint of how has it put pressure on each of the local water sources in water scarce areas, it is unlikely that we will be able to solve the emerging water crises in the days ahead. The conventional approach of tapping into additional sources within the watershed or inter-basin water transfer to provide water to meet  the demand will not work because; i) there is less water in all possible sources because of a reduced yield across the country, and ii) there is already a growing sense of ownership of the resources and local people are unwilling to share water to the communities outside the watershed as they did in the past. The question of payment for water also may not be an answer because of visible decline in water at local sources and increasing demand.

The drought has not only caused a momentary problem but has also shown what lies ahead in the future and where our weaknesses lie in terms of institutions, policies and our understanding of water and its management. Gone are the days when we took monsoon rain for granted and expected it to fill all our aquifers which would continue to supply us with water throughout the winter.  Now, we need to realize that a major change has occurred in local water cycles. The August Springs (also called the Saune Mul in Nepali), which burst into life for a  month or so in August, are indicative of the fact that the aquifers in the hills have fully recharged and are capable of yielding water for a long period in the dry months of winter. Unfortunately, in many areas in the hills and mountains, the August Springs have not burst in the last decade. It only means that the aquifers have not been fully recharged to provide water in the dry period. The reason why the aquifers have not been fully recharged since so long is not known. It is definitely not deforestation as we have believed it to be for many years. Water in that sense has been a neglected field of development and always taken for granted.

We did enough of leap services. We marked many Earth Days and Water Days, and vowed to take steps to manage water. We talked brilliantly about managing and saving water. But, in reality, we have neither learned to manage water nor have we learned to save it, let alone actually doing it. Our understanding about water has not improved. The way we (mis)use water remains as it was when there was plenty of water for a limited number of users and limited economic uses. But things have changed and changed for good. Now, there are a lot more users trying to tap water from the same sources, which are declining in yield.

For people in the village of Bhakunde Besi in Kavre, water shortage began in 2007, when they failed to plant paddy due to insufficient rain and reduced flow in Dapcha Khola, which flows through the valley. They still hope that someday the river will have enough water for them to irrigate their farm.  There are many such areas where people have suffered due to water shortages for years and yet remain hopeful that the situation will improve one day. But the fact remains that their woes have only deepened further with the current drought and will continue to get worse with current management.

There is a need to look at the entire water issue more seriously and begin to prepare for what lies ahead, which is a more intensely amplified case of ‘too much’ water in the monsoon and ‘too little’ water during the rest of the year.

Unit next


Bayaasi maa ke hola (What will happen in 2025)?


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We all get involved in casual discussion every now and then and end up agreeing or disagreeing on issues without any obligation to own it or be part of it. When such discussion focus on subject such as environment or climate change in which one does not need to provide immediate answers to or show proof of, the discussion can drag on inconclusively to many possible directions. As a result, we fail to connect ourselves with real world, or find a common agenda. In a way, we only waste time.  But, sometimes while discussing issues without being seriously involved in, a sudden and unexpected casual question asked without much thinking can really set a point of reference for a serious discussion and force participants to look for answer that they would hardly have thought important.

A similar thing happened last week when a group of masters level students of environment management faculty were visiting Panchkhal to observe the state of drying Jhiku Khola – the only stream that provide irrigation water to the farms in the valley – and the springs, and learn from farmers about the plight they have been facing.  The purpose of the visit was also to meet farmers to learn about the ways they have adopted to cope with water problem. But before all of these, it was important to see if we really understand the problem. The objective was hence to see if we can try to understand what is going on in the local environment and what does drying water sources tell us.

On our way to the valley, we stopped at several places on the mountain to meet people and examine water sources around their houses. The first thing that we noticed was a local tap up in the mountain that had gone dry after the Gorkha Earthquake.  It was a confirmation that all the springs above that tap had dried following the quake.  The villagers still expect the tap to have water after the monsoon, which needs to be seen after the monsoon. The good news was that the water level in a well dug two years ago little below the tap in a rocky place has increased. People from around that village used the well water to meet all their water needs.

Further below at Tinpiple, the famous well located at the foot hill that had been under lock and key since last two years to save what little water it produced, had been  left open since April 25 because the water level rose more than a foot immediately after the quake. With this picture of increased water level in the springs at the foot hill, we expected an increased flow in the Jhiku Khola as well.   And so it was. When we reached the valley the Jhiku Khola was flowing high that day.  A farmer (seen in the picture below), who is fortunate to have his land near the bank of Jhiku Khola,  was using a kerosene operated water pump to lift Jhiku Khola water to irrigate his paddy field.

Farmer with Jhiku Khola in the background

Farmer with Jhiku Khola in the background

When we met the farmer, we were surprised to know that the Jhiku was dry until a day before and the water we saw was the first flowing water of this monsoon. Therefore, he was desperate to take it to his field. Before the flood, there were thousands of pits dug in the river bed in winter to collect water to irrigate. Each of these pits cost 10-15,000 rupees plus the operating cost of the pumps. Those, whose land are away from the river bank and cannot dig pits, need to pay 400 rupees per hour to pump water from these pits. Farming in Panchkhal has become more of an expensive and often frustrating venture to the farmers.

Like elsewhere, farmers in the valley were all subsistence farmers before Panchkhal was connected with Kathmandu by Arniko Highway in the late 1960s. With the highway, came all sorts of development experts and projects to help farmers improve their lives. Commercial farming began. This farmer that we met, moved here, like many others, from Nala village in the early 1980s to do commercial farming. He was proud of his progress and continued his vegetable farming.  But since the mid 1990s, the valley started facing water shortage. It was in 1995 (2052 Nepali year) that this farmer began using water pumps to pump water from the Khola when irrigation canals couldn’t bring enough water to his farm. Water shortage progressively deepened.  By 2005 (2062 Nepali year) the Jhiku Khola hardly flowed in winter, and that is when farmers innovated this technique of digging pits in the river bed to collect seepage water for irrigation. Since then, thousands of pits are dug along the Khola every year. And yet, only those who are located close to the Khola get irrigation water from the pits, the rest in the upland do not. He explained that even the pits do not yield enough water as they did in the past. An indication that water source in the valley is declining progressively. In 2015 (2072 Nepali year) only limited farmers could irrigate their farms with water from the pits. The farmers hadn’t even finished saying this, a student suddenly asked ‘Bayaasi maa ke hola?’ (in Nepali, what will happen in 2025 (2082 Nepali year)?).

We couldn’t possibly find any answer to this unexpected question –  Bayaasi maa ke hola? But, as a society and as a nation we must have some clue of what will happen to water sources in 2025. Despite decade-long efforts of people to inform the policy makers and with years of repeated reporting on the water crisis, water shortage in Panchkhal has grown from bad to worse in the last 20 years between 1995 and 2015. We may indulge in series of research and discussions, debates and experiments, but if we fail (like we have in the past) to find answer, who will this farmer turn to in the next ten years?

Until next