KATHMANDU, NEPAL - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved loan and grant assistance of $30 million to improve the river health and management of Nepal’s stressed Bagmati River Basin.
“The Bagmati River has huge cultural and economic value for the people of Nepal but it is suffering badly from rising demands for fresh water and serious pollution, which has left it biologically dead in the Kathmandu Valley,” said Arnaud Cauchois, Senior Water Resources Specialist in ADB’s South Asia Department. “This assistance will aid ongoing efforts by the Government and civil society to implement the Bagmati action plan that was approved in 2009 and will help clean up the holy river, while balancing competing demands for its resources.”
Rising demand for water ― caused in part by the rapid and unplanned expansion of Kathmandu City ― as well as pollution from a lack of solid waste and wastewater treatment facilities, are causing health hazards. That has also undermined cultural and recreational activities, including ritual ceremonies practiced at many temples along the river banks.
During the dry season about 80% of the upper river flow is diverted for domestic use leaving little for irrigation, while a lack of storage facilities for surface water means groundwater is being used at an unsustainable rate. The river provides most of the city’s drinking water from its upper basin, hydropower generation in the middle basin, and large-scale irrigation in the lower basin.
The Bagmati River Basin Improvement Project will invest in setting up a river basin organization with the capacity to plan and manage the basin water resources in a fully integrated manner. It will finance an upstream water storage dam system to increase the river flow in the dry season, and other improvements such as riverbed oxygenation weirs to boost the river’s self-cleansing capacity.
These measures, combined with waste water treatment plants to be installed under the recently-approved Kathmandu Valley Waste Water Management Project, will substantially improve the water quality of the Bagmati River in the valley and allow safe bathing in the river at Pashtupatinath Temple during major festivals.
ADB’s funding will also finance river bank beautification from Ghokarna Temple to Sinamangal Bridge including river walls, walkways, and rest places using traditional Nepalese architecture and materials. To counter the threat of natural disasters, an existing flood forecast system will be upgraded, while a new early warning system will also be put in place.
The project represents Nepal’s first attempt to apply the concept and principles of integrated water resources management since it was adopted in the national water plan in 2005. It will also provide a model for resource management that can be replicated in other water basins in the country.
The project is expected to be completed by May 2019.