Natural scenic landscape and biodiversity, high Himalayas, incomparable cultural heritages and other numerous peculiarities have made Nepal well-known in the world with a distinct image. However, we cannot ignore few realities which have overshadowed its spender. The facts like: poor performance in Environment Performance Index, massive deforestation and destruction of resources along the Chure range, massive disasters, loss of biodiversity, etc. have become our eternal problems. And, climate change has become an undeniable issue at present impacting nook and corners of our country. In fact, Climate Change Risk Atlas (2010) has ranked Nepal as the fourth most vulnerable country in terms of the impacts of climate change. Though its impacts are observed in several sectors of Nepal, water resources is one of the hardest hit sectors.
Water is the most plentiful natural resources in Nepal, major sources being glaciers, rivers, rainfall, lakes, and ponds. 42% of the people reside in major basins, 18% in medium and 40% in Terai covered by Southern rivers, this basin wise distribution of population and water availability has resulted in some basins having excessively surplus water availability and some with water deficit. The glaciers of the Himalayas ensure a year round water supply to millions of people in South Asia but climate change has impacted glacial systems tremendously; 67% of glaciers being retreating at a startling rate as per Yamada (1996) and Fushinmi (2000). Moreover, it covers 2.86% of Nepal’s area.
Terai village in Rapti valley, Nepal. Photo: Paul Smit
There are many reports stating that the glaciers in Himalayan region will vanish within 40 years due to global warming. This accelerate melting will cause increase in river levels over next few decades initially leading to higher incidences of flooding and landslides but in long term, as the volume of ice available for melting diminishes, a reduction in glacial runoff and river flows can be expected. This will also affect the 23% of our area which lies above permanent snowline of 5000m. Other visible impacts are observed in decline in drinking and irrigation water supply (drying of springs, ponds, and rivers), outburst of water borne diseases (health hazards), and decrease in the potentiality of hydropower (as they are disrupted both by Glacial Lakes Outburst Flood and sedimentation). In fact, various areas of Dhading, Ramechhap, Kathmandu, etc. are in the grip of severe water scarcity.
A number of impacts on water resources and hydropower are directly related to raising temperatures that have already been observed and are projected (with high confidence) to increase further over the coming decades. This includes glacier retreat, flooding, landslides, and sedimentation from intense precipitation events, as well as greater unreliability of dry season flows that possess potentially serious risks to water and energy supplies in lean season.
Other impacts are the increase in warming days, unpredictable precipitation patterns, changing of the season, increase in the drought frequency and windstorm, decrease in natural water sources, etc. These impacts have become quite visible in our community and have created a feeling of uncertainty amongst us. For instance, in Salyantar VDC of Dhading district, water scarcity is a severe problem which results in outmigration, decrease in large mammals and as a whole a very difficult livelihood.
Panoramic view of West Rongbuk Glacier and Mount Everest, taken in 1921 (top) by Major E.O. Wheeler and in 2009 (bottom) by David Breashears. (Photo courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society)
In Nepal, climate change has not just impacted the agriculture but directly exaggerated our drinking water problems. Furthermore, the decrease in the production of winter crops has created the extreme food deficit in various food store areas of Nepal. And, this has ultimately affected the biodiversity, tourism, and eventually our Gross Domestic Product.
The anticipated changes in hydrological cycle and the depletion of water resources are some of the top environmental challenges Nepal is going to face due to climate change. Taking this in concern, Water resources and Hydropower sector is kept amongst the highest priority in the NAPA (2010) document as well as various measures to cope with its impacts are outlined in the Climate Change Policy (2011). Furthermore, a number of desertification specific responses are outlined in the national reports like integrated watershed management, community based soil and water management technologies are measures for climate adaptation risks. However, the number of communities who are in the grip of severe water scarcity is increasing day by day. Hence, demanding an urgent action to conserve the available water resources and promote the community-friendly water adaptation technologies.
Climate change simply disrupts the natural hydrological cycle which impacts the water availability and hence our living. Increased demand for water caused by population growth, economic and technological interventions, and changes in watershed characteristics are some facts to be taken into consideration to act against the impacts of climate change.
A Case of Salyantar Village Development Committee, Dhading District
Salyantar Village lies in Dhading district, located in the Central Development Region of Nepal. It lies on flatland “Tar” of river deposition raised like a table, spreads from 27.990 N to 84.810 E. Administratively delineated as Salyantar Village Development Committee (VDC); the village settlement area covers 17.98 km² and has a population 7893. The male and female population in Salyantar is 3539 and 4353 respectively (CBS, 2013). Surrounded by fascinating mountains, the village lies in Budhi Gandaki basin and is bounded by four rivers viz. Budhi Gandaki in West, Netrawoti (Aankhu Khola) in South, Haping River in East and Kaste Khola in North; but, it is severely water scarce. The Haping Khola, which was the major source of drinking and irrigation water few years back is in the stage of drying at present hence affecting the livelihood of the whole village. One of the reasons behind this drought is climate change.
The villagers have perceived the increase in temperature and decrease in precipitation which is a general pattern for Nepal excluding few places. In case of Salyantar, the hydro-meteorological data analysis also showed that the maximum temperature was increasing at the rate of 0.0390C per year with statistically significant trend whereas, there was a steady increase in minimum temperature with the rate of 0.0060C per year and for precipitation, the rate of decrease, 22.99 mm per year was statistically significant.
Also, the maximum contributor of rainfall, monsoon season also faced the decreasing precipitation trend which exaggerated the water scarcity problem in Salyantar. Similarly, monthly flow discharge of Haping River, which was the major source of water both drinking and irrigation was found quite low and water level in source was also decreasing. The moisture content in soil sample was found less at present and compared to past 30 years, it was decreasing in each decades with increasing soil temperature. Number of Aahals as well as large livestock especially buffaloes were decreasing in a very high fraction. As most of the people depend upon agriculture, it affected them severely.
From the survey it was observed that there has been significant impact of climate change such as drying up of water sources, reduction in number and water volume in springs and decreased crop productivity. The GIS analysis of land-sat images too supported this noticeable decrease in water resources i.e. 28.93% (1990) to 6.47% (2010) and moisture content of soil (Temperature Vegetation Dryness Index ranged between 0.01to 0.7).
To cope with the drought, people had identified various new sources of water, constructed new ponds, installed tap, mobile water tanks, etc. Though there were very few households adopting rain water harvesting technology but almost all the house had traditional system of rain water collection. Though many households had constructed small pond just nearby the tap to collect the excess water, only one household had successfully implanted two plastic ponds in the whole village and many people were planning to construct it in future.
Besides of these attempts, the village faced severe water scarcity as a result, the large mammals like buffalo were decreasing and people were migrating from the village in large number. Likewise, most of the farmlands are left fallow and are encroached by invasive species. This village is in blatant need of sustainable adaptation strategies to cope with the impacts of climate change especially in water resources.