Bad Weather? No. Connecting people with nature.

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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

Madhukar

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Test of skills and expertise

In contemporary Nepal, if there is anything that matters to the commoners is how and when the government begins to make them feel that it is seriously working to live up to its promise of building a ‘prosperous Nepal’. With the elections of federal, provincial and local assemblies leading to the formation of the governments at three levels, the long political transition mired with bloody insurgency and long drawn political unrest has ended. The commoners have finally been able to heave a sigh of relief because the constitution is expected to have put to rest the political transition that was stressful, unpleasant and undesirable. People are also hopeful that the new governments in the federal structure have the authority to do anything they consider necessary towards fulfilling the wishes of people.

Additionally, the clarity in the terms of reference (at least in the constitutional sense) and the deliverables that each tier of the government has to deliver, has ended the era of having to wait for the orders and approvals from the central authorities to carryout local development projects. And with that the era gripped with the tendency among officials of evading responsibilities by showing reasons such as lack of authority or budget or required skill workforce has also ended.

The new governments can make their own rules, regulations and even acts required to generate funds, formulate plans, design projects, hire skilled workforce to implement projects of their choice. However, it is easier said than done. There are several areas that require immediate and simultaneous attention. One of the areas that has been either not understood adequately or ignored deliberately as it does not sound high enough to further political agenda is the deteriorating (or changing as some naturalist would like to call it) natural environment in general and water source in particular.

 

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Concrete Rings: Industries making them to build wells where surface water has depleted have spread rapidly into the hinterlands.

The government, in June 2017, published the findings of a survey it conducted to examine the impacts of climate change in the last 25 years in Nepal. The findings, besides indicating the climate change impact, also perhaps describe the extent to which our natural environment has degraded affecting a large number of people that still depend on the biomass-based economy. Among the 5060 households interviewed, nearly 85% reported of having experienced significant decrease in the amount of surface water, while 86 % households reported experiencing draught.  A majority of households in the mountain and hilly regions reported complete drying up of springs. The situation in the high altitude area is even worse.  Surprisingly, all households there have experienced increase in draughts, landslides, avalanches and disease/insects.

Significant changes have been observed in the composition of natural vegetation and wildlife too. About 92% households have observed increase in invasive species of shrubs, while 50% have experienced a significant decrease in the number of trees, shrubs, medicinal herbs, non-timber products, aquatic plants, wild animals and birds. A majority of people (97 %) observed an increase in diseases/insects and sporadic rainfall, and 60% observed new diseases in crops.

Sadly, the survey results have not drawn the attention it deserves compared to the hype with which emerging threats of climate change have been portrayed for almost the entirety of the past decade. There is hardly any place left in all hills and mountain where food is not imported from outside. And yet, it has not been part of our discussion about environmental problems. Our knowledge about natural resources has not been able to help us understand how various components of resources interplay among themselves and produce a particular ecosystem service.

As mentioned earlier, serious environmental changes have occurred over a long period of time and they are the results of a complex natural system of the Himalayas, which, I argue that we still have not understood well. Drying up of springs and water sources in the hills and mountains cannot simply be a result of devegetation (as believed by many) or increased temperature or some changes in rainfall or land use. Water sources have reduced or disappeared across various ecological zones suggesting big changes occurring in the region, which could be due to combination of factors that we are not fully aware of.  But let’s leave the task of finding the exact reason(s) behind loss of water to the researchers. What is crucial at this stage is to give solutions to the problems that governments at local level can begin to implement.

It’s time for environmentalists or natural resource experts to face the challenge of providing answers to water problems with acceptable level of certainty. Experts have, for years, talked about rainwater harvesting as a solution to water problems. With widespread loss of springs and increasing droughts, the time has come to test these measures. The big question we need to ask is can we expect the experts and specialists that have suggested rainwater harvesting to come up with a modality of doing it that can guarantee the results?  The local people (and governments) have not asked for this guarantee directly yet, but sooner or later they will, and at that time the challenge for environmentalists would be to prove that the measures they pushed for years are based on well founded understanding capable of producing  desired results.

The dream of building a prosperous Nepal will remain limited to slogan if we fail to achieve; i) reduced vulnerability of biomass-based economy to environmental stresses; ii) production-based food security; and iii) improved knowledge of how natural resources degrade.

Last but not least, the changes (in water and vegetation) seen in the last 25 years are only increasing. Without doubt, the failure of regular development programmes to address even few of them only shows how removed have our development plans been from the reality that affects the commoners. No wonder, increasing number of people have been displaced where water sources have dried (https://www.npc.gov.np/images/category/Displacement_report.pdf).  The changes also indicate that the increased amount of public funds being pumped in to build infrastructure has not, and probably will not, strengthen the very foundation of our economy (biomass-based), which is beleaguered with environmental problems across the country.

With support from Irene

Until Next

Madhukar

Lifelong learning

I have been following the state of a particular stream called Jhiku Khola in Panchkhal Valley in Kavre district, where water scarcity is progressively becoming acute in the last more than a decade. Jhiku Khola, which used to be the lifeline to the economy and livelihood for hundreds of farming families in the valley, has ceased flowing except after rainfall events causing tremendous hardships to the people. This being a serious case (often expressed as a case to give anyone goose bumps) of changing ecosystem services against the rising demands for it, I began taking masters level students of environment management at the School of Environment Science and Management (SchEMS), every year, to observe the changes for themselves. This I have been doing since circa 2008 and I feel that each trip with a new batch of students has helped change the perception of at least half of those who attend the field visit about how things are changing in the real world. Today, I take the liberty, with due acknowledgment, to share what the students, who made a visit to the valley last month, felt when they saw the almost-dead Jhiku Khola of Panchkhal.  Here are some of the reflections in their own words (with only minor editing).

Sad and surprised

 ‘’I was expecting to see irrigated fields in the valley with lots of vegetables and other crops as the valley has been known as one of the key vegetable supplier to Kathmandu since long time. But the first sight of Jhiku khola made me speechless. What I saw was beyond my imagination. I was shocked to hear that people are at a state of war with their neighbors for water. There is almost no water in the river.’’ Prabita Makaju

‘’I felt really bad for the local people. The farmers near the Khola are somehow managing but what about the communities away from Khola who are seriously affected by water crisis. Those who have money are buying from elsewhere, but what about the marginalized people? We cannot even imagine their sanitation. My biggest question is how they are managing water for different purposes such as cooking, cleaning, bathing, washing clothes, for domestic animals and so on.’’  Pragya   Sherchan

‘’I was surprised to see the condition of the Khola. Actually, I didn’t expect the condition of the river to be that worse. I felt bad for the farmer and wondered how the farmer managed to cultivate vegetables and other crops from the last remaining drop of water as the real Khola is already dead. While talking to a farmer I felt that he is seeking help to restore Khola. It did not take me long to realize that farmers are putting such a hard work in even in such a worst condition since they are emotionally attached to the land. ‘’ Sumi Rai

 ‘’The first thing that came in my mind was how farmers are irrigating their farms.  I felt and still feeling sad that ̔Panchkhal̕ which used to supply varieties of vegetables is now facing water scarcity that may lead to serious problem later.’’ Deepkala Rai

Change in the perception

 ‘’It felt like lying when we say that Nepal is rich in water resources after observing the drying Jhiku Khola and listening to the farmer struggling for a single drop of water. Even when the main source of water is drying up they are not leaving farming yet. They are trying to make some water available by digging river bed. At one time this place was known for potato and other vegetables but now they have to leave some land fallow due to lack of water. People are buying water [for domestic use] from Tankers with the money they earn by selling milk.’’ Sarita Tamang

 ‘’When I reached the site and saw the condition of Jhiku Khola, the first question that struck my mind was why it dried up? Is it the impacts of climate change or is it due to the accelerated erosion that seriously affected the local hydrology. Interestingly, forest cover in that area is quite good but the sources of water dried up progressively. This is the main concern for students of environment.’’ Bishnu Thapaliya

‘’I have regularly visited the Panchkhal and vicinity and the bridge over Jhiku where I spent time observing the river and the lusty green vegetable farms; brought those veggies home couple of times as well. In last two decades, there have been dramatic changes, as it is hard to see free flowing Jhiku. I rather take this phenomenon being quite abnormal. The surrounding forest cover has increased and yet the water in Jhiku has disappeared. Our belief that forest cover enhances watershed quality, seems contradicting in the case of Jhiku. There must be something else contributing to this change.’’ Sudeep Panta

Hope against hope

  ‘’When I saw the drying Jhiku, I tried to visualize its state 20 -25 years ago with sufficient water. When we were talking with a farmer, I saw some hope in his eyes, THE HOPE being some solution we may bring to help them, because he was answering each and every question without getting angry and being irritated, although he knew  that every year group of students visit and talk about it  and haven’t done anything till now, and still he was calm and composed, and still he has hope, may be this time  we will do something.’’  Purnima Rai

 ‘’When I saw the drying Jhiku Khola, I was thinking how the villagers will sustain their life. The Khola will be dead soon making the valley like a desert in coming years. The plight of farmers touched my heart. Then I realized that the farmers of Panchkhal are producing vegetables for us with great effort. Prompt actions need to be taken with the collective efforts of various stakeholders and actors in coordination with local government.’’ Jayaram Karki

 ‘’Jhiku Khola is dead, but why has no one suggested measures that can save river. The situation is getting worse, and farmers are not confident to practices new agriculture practices to get maximum yield with minimum input(water). There is gap or lack of knowledge among the farmers regarding the technology that actually can save them.’’ Suraj Shrestha

Who knew it already

‘’Being a resident of the same area, Panchkhal is not a new for me and I knew that water scarcity is becoming severe. The only stream in the valley – the Jikhu Khola provided water for almost every activity including livestock and agriculture. The valley was the largest producer of fresh milk in the country, which has now become a history.  I had never expected that people living nearby riverside would have to struggle so hard. And now it has changed my perception about water availability and its implications.’’ Damodar Dhital

‘’I already had an imagination of Panchkhal area as I had seen documentaries, videos, and news about drying Panchkhal. The drying state of Jhiku Khola is worst, but it did not surprise me. Pakchkhal had been suffering from drought for five years since 2009. What used to be Kathmandu’s vegetable basket is turning into a wasteland. Farmers are responding in individual ways by digging trenches in the dry riverbeds. I think only elite farmers can do farming and survive in present situation. Migration of people will be inevitable in future.’’ Pratibha Bastola

Unanswered questions

 ‘’So many questions came simultaneously in my mind when I saw the drying khola. Who is responsible for this? Why the government has not addressed this chronic situation effectively? What will be its impact on children? How will vulnerable people of this locality tackle this tragic situation? What if the people of this locality shifted to new place, will the new place bear the stress and demand of newly added people? And why don’t we (students of environmental science) come together to put our efforts to transform our theoretical knowledge into practice? ‘’Birkha Sunar

Until next

Madhukar Upadhya

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.

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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.

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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

Madhukar

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

Madhukar

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

Madhukar

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.

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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).

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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

Madhukar