Nepal has yet to provide enough water for drinking, irrigation and power generation, but many controversial myths pepper the discussion of the country's water resources.
A longstanding myth puts Nepal at the top slot among hydropower rich countries in the world, only next to Brazil. But nobody bothers to know how much hydropower Brazil generates.
In truth, Nepal is importing over 400 MW of electricity from India to end its long hours of load shedding. The country generates just over 700 MW.
Another myth makes Nepal noted for its riches in water resources. The reality, however, is that a large swathe of agricultural land relies on the erratic monsoon rains for irrigation, with only 20 percent of the land benefitting from a regular irrigation facility.
With the growing population, water demand has grown for religious and cultural purposes as well. The diversion of water for irrigation and hydropower has affected the rituals in the lower riparian belts. The increased level of water pollution has also affected the lifestyle of the people.
Similarly, more than twenty percent people are far from getting access to drinking water.
These circumstances have turned the refrains equating Nepal with hydropower and water resource rich countries into myths fraught with irony.
“Even though the stock of water resources overall is seen to be in abundance in Nepal, the resources have not been made available in the appropriate quantity where and when they are needed. It is certain that the pressure on this important resource will increase in the coming years due to the likely scarcity of water caused by the ever increasing population and climate change,” states the draft of National Water Resources Policy.
In a country where the mindset is built on the myths about the water resources, the formulation of the National Water Resources Policy has become a complicated issue. There is a huge gap between the genuine needs of water and the real water available in the country for tapping.
What is worse is that several ministries are there to dabble with the issues of water resources. Ministry of Irrigation, Ministry of Energy and Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation approach the issue differently. Bring Ministry of Local Development and Ministry of Agriculture to bear in the water equation!
Two more institutions, provincial and local bodies, as envisaged by the new constitution, will have their own stands on what to do with the elixir of life and how.
As Nepal prepares to go from a unitary to federal structure, the Constitution of Nepal has listed watershed, rivers and water resources under the jurisdiction of center, provincial and district levels. The constitution has also guaranteed safe drinking and sanitation as the fundamental rights.
In the midst of myths and multiple authorities in the water mess, two joint secretaries Keshab Dhoj Adhikary and Madhav Belbase of the Water and Energy Commission have recently presented a draft of the National Water Resources Policy for public discussion at a function, inaugurated by Minister of Energy Janardan Sharma Prabhakar.
Experts, civil society leaders, lawyers, government officials and representatives from various international organizations presented their views on the draft.
The first half of the session, moderated by joint secretary Adhikary, generated intensive discussion with different stakeholders raising questions and showing implications of the National Water Resources Policy in the changed context.
Some questioned the very need of the policy at a time when even the constitution is yet to be settled, with debates on the number of states and their boundaries still raging. They argued that there will be disputes over the upper and lower riparian rights in the use of water when the constitution gets implemented.
“The draft includes background, long term vision, goal and the basic principles of the policy. The policies and strategies have made the objectives of water use and propose clear. We will put all this on the website for discussion at various stages before finalizing the policy,” said joint secretary Adhikary.
The draft policies and strategies seek to make transparent arrangements for water sharing, based on evidence and scientific analysis, among various users for the achievement of maximum benefits from water resources in terms of drinking water, irrigation, agriculture and animal husbandry, hydropower, industrial uses, recreation and land navigation, and religious, cultural and environmental use. The water resources shall be developed and managed as per the integrated water resource management principles, by comprehensively considering each basis in its entirety. Concerned basins will have water transfer for the maximum economic, social and environmental benefits.
The document clarifies ways to utilize water resources and ensures the development and management of related infrastructure in view of maximizing benefits and settling the conflicts.
“The National Water Resources Policy needs intensive discussion as Nepal’s water resources also relate to the international treaties, as well as upstream and downstream benefits,” said water resources expert SB Pun.