Until five years ago, Krishna Prasad Ghimire, 52, a resident of Panchkhal, 40 kilometers east of capital Kathmandu, grew vegetables after harvesting paddy. With water becoming scarce, he now thinks twice before planting vegetables during the dry session. Last year, his rice production also declined due to lack of water.
As farmers in villages upstream the river running in Panchkhal also started to grow vegetables and other water intensive farming, lower down the stream has less water to offer. The situation worsens in the dry session.
“The small water stream is the only one source for all of us. We share the water with the people living upstream,” said Ghimire. “As demands of water for drinking and irrigation increase at upstream villages, there will be lack of water downstream. As the rainfall in winter is virtually non-existent, the water level in the river has gone down.”
This is not a unique case of Panchkhal. In many places, disputes are growing over water sharing issue. Just a few days ago, two communities in Baglung district physically fought to control water sources. As the population increases, meaning more water for food production and drinking, conflicts like these are sure to intensify in the future.
The effect of climate change will hit the people badly in the future. Nepal’s two decades of temperature records indicate that there will be high fluctuations in the weather pattern. According to the records published by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, warming is more pronounced in the high and mid-hills of Nepal compared to the low land of terai. Summer temperature exceeds the thresholds of crops and fluctuations in winter temperature cause occurrence of pest and disease.
“We used to have rain during the winter. I have not seen rain during the winter in the last one decade,” said Ghimire.
According to a study, climate change impacts are observed in several sectors of Nepal, including the most affected water resources. Increased demand for water caused by population growth, changes in the economy, development of new technologies, changes in watershed characteristics and water management decisions are some of the other factors to be taken into consideration.
Statistics show that each individual drinks from 2 to 4 liters of water every day, however, most of the ‘drink’ is embedded in the food we eat: producing 1 kilo of beef, for example, consumes 15,000 liters of water, while 1 kilo of wheat ’drinks up’ 1,500 liters.
According to Water and Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS), the surface water available in Nepal is estimated to be about 225 billion Cusec Meter per annum or equivalent to an average flow of 7125 BCM, out of which only 15 BCM per annum is in use. Around 95.9 percent of 15 BCM has been used for agriculture, 3.8 percent for domestic purpose and only 0.3 percent for industry.
WECS reports say around 78 percent of the average flow of the country is available in the first category river basins, 9 percent in the second category basins and 13 percent in the numerous small southern rivers of the Terai.
Studies have shown that the first category rivers have surplus flow but the second category rivers have deficit flow in the dry season. Nepal’s economy is largely based on agriculture and it contributes about 40 percent to GDP and provides employment to two-thirds of the population. Nepal’s agriculture is mainly rain fed and agriculture production in both rain fed as well as irrigated areas are being badly affected due to droughts, flooding, erratic rainfall and other extreme weather events.
Nepal has a cultivated area of 2,642,000 ha (18 percent of land areas). Of which two thirds 1, 766, 00 ha is potentially irrigable. At present, 42 percent of the cultivated area has irrigation of some sort, but only 17 percent of cultivated areas has year round irrigation. According to an estimate, less than 8 percent of the country’s water potential is used for irrigation.
In addition to surface water, a large volume of water is available in the shallow and deep aquifers which are estimated to be 8.8 BCM annually, which can be used for irrigation and domestic water supplies.
Fluctuation in Rain
The recent precipitation trend analysis shows that the annual average precipitation over Nepal is decreasing at the rate of 9.8 mm/decade. As agriculture is the mainstay of Nepal’s economy, climate variability directly affects agriculture production. Agriculture sector is one of the most vulnerable sectors to the risk and impacts of global climate change and water shortage.
As the threat of temperature rises in agriculture and farming sector, the organizations like United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives have already launched a technical cooperation program on strengthening Capacities for Disaster and Climate Risk Management in two regions.
Water is the most precious resource on earth and its vital importance has been highlighted on 22 March every year since 1993 and Nepal too is no exception. The day was proclaimed by the United Nations to draw the attention to problems with scarce resources around the world.
Water is high up on the national agenda and will even become the key to success for all the UN Millennium Development Goals that depends on progress on nutrition, education, poverty and education. At a time the number of people suffering from hunger depends crucially on the development of irrigation in agriculture, reducing child mortality by two thirds can only be achieved if even more is done to overcome the problem of contaminated water.
Water is precious because it is unequally distributed around the world and across the country. All the people in Nepal don’t have access to safe drinking water and water for irrigation. Panchkhal has already indicated the possible conflict between people in the up and down stream areas. According to WaterAid Nepal, an International Non-governmental Organization working in water and sanitation sector, only 80 percent of the population has access to water. This means 5.6. Million people are yet to have access to water. Nepal needs to allocate annually 7.5 billion rupees to meet MDGs by 2015.
Is the competition for water increasing?
With population increase and economic growth, water demands for cities and for the industry are growing much faster than those of agriculture. In some regions, increasing competition for water is constraining both current availability of water for irrigation and further expansion of the irrigated area.
Increased competition for water often translates into loss of access to water for the poor and other vulnerable groups. For millions of smallholder farmers, fishers and herders, water is one of the most important factors of production: without water, they cannot make a living.
Food security is dependent on water and our water supplies are vulnerable to the activity of food production. Farmers will not be able to manage our water security effectively until they learn to measure the right things, in the right places, at the right times to be able to understand our watersheds as integrated systems.