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