Keeping Nepal's Waters Flowing

ADB is helping Nepal’s remote mountain communities manage their water resources in the face of climate change challenges.

People in Nepal’s remote western districts are used to coping with changing seasonal patterns in their water supply. Most communities have settled near natural springs that provide enough drinking water except in the driest months. Yet, while fluctuations in water flow are a part of life, people are becoming more concerned that water sources may be declining steadily over time.

Villagers who depend on traditional water sources and are accustomed to making livelihood decisions based on regular seasonal patterns are now facing the challenge of having to manage these resources more carefully. Reliable information on the impact of climate change on water supplies and guidance on best practices are crucial factors that can help communities manage water resources better.

ADB is helping communities in the Karnali River Basin in the far west of Nepal access more reliable water resources by improving the climate resilience of watersheds in mountain eco-regions. Financed through the Climate Investment Funds, this project is one of five components of Nepal’s strategic program for climate resilience..

A hard look at the problem

There are different factors that make a watershed vulnerable to climate change. These include exposure to climate hazards, variability in temperature and rainfall, and the adaptive capacity of the local population measured by poverty levels, social and income inequality, and access to basic services. Getting a reliable picture of all these factors is a necessary first step to better understand the types of interventions needed.

A study analyzed what water conservation techniques would be most effective in improving water availability, providing important information to help communities find the most appropriate, long-term solutions to water resources management.

ADB commissioned a study to the International Water Management Institute on projected climate change impacts in Nepal's mountain eco-regions, which ranked the Karnali River Basin watershed as the most vulnerable to climate change of all the watersheds in Nepal’s Middle and High Mountain eco-regions. A supplementary, more detailed analysis of climate change projections in the West-Seti Sub-Basin was also commissioned. The studies reported that there is a problem, as water availability in the region will become less predictable than in the past.

Water flows to sustain livelihoods

The West-Seti Sub-Basin spans some of the poorest districts in Nepal. Ensuring watersheds are climate resilient is critical to lifting people out of poverty, particularly women. As well as tending to the house, children, elderly, and livestock, women are increasingly farming the land, as emigration of males is common in the region. They are also learning how to generate income through initiatives such as organizing cooperatives that market vegetables when prices are high. But having reliable water flow is essential to sustaining these gains. In fact, performing daily tasks like filling and carrying of water can take an inordinate amount of their time during the dry months.

Strategies are being developed to help about 100 villages in six western districts have better water supply. A study analyzed what water conservation techniques would be most effective in improving water availability, providing important information to help communities find the most appropriate, long-term solutions to water resources management.

One key strategy is improving the reliability of traditional water sources through watershed protection. Communities will prepare catchment management plans that include ways to regulate grazing and collection of fodder and firewood, restoration of vegetation and forest cover, and development and protection of water intake areas.

Targeting the greatest need

Another key strategy is water storage, as tanks for drinking water at springs or stream intakes are built to ensure that water is available in the dry season. This means that waiting times for water collection are expected to decrease as even small flows of water can be stored overnight to meet the peak demand for drinking water in the morning. Where excess water is available, it may be stored in ponds for livestock or irrigation.

Water-saving land-use techniques such as terracing and micro-irrigation are also promoted. Local officials receive training to implement community awareness programs on water conservation practices, cultivation techniques for retaining soil moisture, and regenerating vegetative cover for sustainable grazing and fodder management.

Don’t wait for change

Along with advise for interventions at a local level, Nepal’s Department of Soil Conservation and Watershed Management also receives technical support to improve its sub-watershed management planning through geographic information systems.

This planning process is a starting point in building the capacity of community members and local officials to rethink how to manage their valuable water resources as the climate changes. Rather than accept climate change as an inevitable threat to their water supply, people in West-Seti Sub-Basin will have an opportunity to plan and implement strategies that will ensure a more stable water flow in the future.