Changes in rainfall patterns due to climate change over the Nepali midhills and Tarai will also change the hydrology of Nepal’s rain-fed rivers. Drying midhill springs and declines in groundwater tables across the Tarai and valleys due to excessive extraction beyond natural recharge rates will stress the provision of basic water services and make their management more difficult. Though it is unlikely that all Nepali rivers will run dry immediately, seasonal scarcity due to changes in the hydrological regime will significantly increase.
The prevailing water paradigm, which focuses on irrigation, hydropower and drinking water in separate silos, prevents the successful management of these developmental and climate-related challenges. The current response to flood management, for example, is not only siloed but also episodic. Once the monsoon departs in September, we forget about floods. We accord little priority to consideration of the bio-diversity in rivers or to water’s central role in our cultures.
Climate risk to hydropower investment, Ajaya Dixit
Reservoirs of suspicion, Om Astha Rai
Hydropower development and inter-basin water transfer projects dominate the Nepali state’s imagination while ordinary people worry about when the next supply of water will be delivered. The beds and banks of rivers are unscrupulously mined to meet construction industry needs by a nexus of real estate promoters, truck cartels, politicians and bureaucrats.
These complex challenges around water will require structural changes and societal level solutions very different from business-as-usual practices. For management of water we need a new social charter that adheres to the following principles as sacrosanct:
- Water has multiple meanings, uses and users
- Rivers must have enough clean water in them to sustain biodiversity
- Rivers need unconstrained space to safely discharge flood water, including in urban areas
- Waste cycles and hydrological cycles must be different
- Flowing water has holistic value and is not a waste.
Without upholding these principles in all economic and social development activities, it is unlikely that water problems will improve with time. A commitment to their implementation will only be the starting point for balancing competing needs of multiple users of freshwater, conserving its quality and quantity and adapting to the impacts of climate change. When water is scarce, successful adaptation to the climate emergency will be only a mere aspiration. Its realisation will be close to impossible.