Water buffering to sustain drinking water supply in Nepal
Aidenvironment, through its brand name RAIN, is one of the consortium member organisations of the DGIS funded WASH SDG program. In Nepal, in Surkhet and Banke Districts, the program aims to improve access to and quality of WASH services in four selected municipalities. The project area is situated near the southern border of Nepal with India. Long-term access to enough clean drinking water and water for sanitation is one of the key pre-conditions of a sustainable WASH program. But how to secure water supply to WASH users in this fast developing region, knowing that all sectors (besides WASH, also agriculture production, industry, energy) use more and more water every day. How to secure the quality of water needed to be suitable for the purpose of drinking water? And how to deal with the consequences of climate change?
First of all, understanding of the benefits of implementing water buffering interventions is needed. Those interventions in the landscape are needed to cope with negative consequences of climate change on water resource s in the region. Secondly, municipalities would like to be supported to embed integrated water resource management (IWRM) actions into their daily activities. The Nepalese Water Use Master Plan and water buffering (or WUMP+3R) approach can fulfil this need. By applying the approach in the WASH SDG program elements such as environmental sustainability, climate change adaptation and linkages of WASH with other user in the water sector are addressed.
WASH & Climate Change Risks: current water risks increased
RAIN completed a Climate Vulnerability Risk Assessment (CVRA). This study reflects on the current issues related to availability of fresh water in the program area as well as future threats related to climate change, with special focus on the risks for the WASH sector. In the selected districts major WASH problems arise from population growth, urbanisation, related increase in water use, unsustainable faecal sludge and solid waste disposal to degrading environment in general. Recent flood events (2014 and 2017) also indicate the current vulnerability of both districts to floods, as well as the vulnerability of WASH infrastructure (break down of major drinking water pipelines with insufficient spare materials). These existing problems have their impact on hydrological processes as well as on the quality of water presented in the environment. Climate change impact will enhance current problems. Projection of extreme precipitation events in the region shows that chance of extreme rainfall will increase in the future. Also, the chance of river floods will be enhanced. At the same time, the area already receives less rain and higher temperatures, especially in the dry winter season. The decrease of winter rainfall is already observed by people in the program area.
Impact of flood in Surkhet. Credits: M. Bhatta
Water buffering secures water resources in the landscape
To limit current and future water risks RAIN, together with its local partner HELVETAS, advised to implement water buffering interventions in the program area. Water buffering interventions store water within the landscape, to use it the other day. This helps to prevent droughts, but is also benefits downstream users, because flood risks are reduced as well. The implementation of water buffer interventions, through cooperating stakeholders in the program area (municipalities, entrepreneurs, households, cooperatives), can sustain the availability of water, necessary for the functionality of WASH facilities. At the same time water buffering helps to reduce damage to WASH infrastructure which is caused by floods and landslides, especially during torrential monsoon rains. An example of a water buffering intervention is spring conservation. In the program area many springs are connected to small piped schemes to provide drinking water to the communities. Especially in the hilly areas, water source and micro-catchment conservation sustains a constant supply of clean drinking water by those sources. It’s an example of how the program should address diminishing water resources and to be climate resilient.
A local approach towards integrated water management
Next to implementation of water buffering interventions the process of integrated water resource planning in het program area is equally important. Without proper integrated planning solving one issue in one place will lead to new issues in other places. In the program area, and in the country in general, water authorities or catchment management plans do not exist (yet). This leads to a fundamental lack of integration when it comes to understanding and resolving water management issues as well as associated environmental and social concerns. The large scale Bheri Babai river diversion project for example is constructed in one of the program area municipalities, without acknowledgement of their land and water rights.
Since 2017 by law Nepalese municipalities are responsible for water resource management in their respective area. How do they weigh different interests and requests on water? And what is the impact of water interventions of one municipality on the other downstream municipalities? Luckily the answer to those questions lays in the readily available Nepalese approach of WUMP+3R. This approach was developed in 1998 with the aim of participatory and inclusive water management planning at the local level, based on the integrated water resources management principles. It was adopted as an official approach by the national government, to be of use to every single village in all five regions presented in Nepal. The participatory WUMP+3R approach contains 4 phases to prepare for implementation of inclusive and integrated water actions (such as WASH interventions). The approach is there, now it comes to application and implementation of actions drafted and agreed upon by the various stakeholders.