Meeting Nepal's water challengesThe efforts to address water scarcity and water-induced disasters have been futile.
Water scarcity is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention. It threatens every aspect of our lives, from food security to public health, economic stability, and political power. Sustainable water management is crucial to sustain different sectors, especially with the increasing demand and climate change impacts. Without it, water resources may decline, compromising public health, causing economic losses, and threatening food security. Prioritising water sustainability as a key policy component is crucial to ensure a healthy and prosperous future for our societies.
The achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6), which aims to ensure clean water and sanitation for all, holds immense significance not only in terms of sustainable water resource management but also in the realisation of several other SDGs. The 2023 UN conference on water held on March 22-24 marks a watershed moment in almost 50 years, providing a pivotal platform for governments, businesses, and communities to make significant commitments towards securing a sustainable future for water and hence achieving global water and sanitation goals.
UN world water conference and its outcome
The conference was held against the backdrop of several pressing issues related to the global water crisis, including the latest World Water Development Report, IPCC reports, UN Water Action Decade 2018-28 and other relevant data. Nearly three out of four natural disasters are linked to water, and a quarter of the planet lives without safely managed water services or clean drinking water. The theme of “Partnerships and Cooperation for Water” set the stage for the release of the UN World Water Development Report 2023, unveiled on the eve of the conference. Addressing the challenge of securing water, food, and energy while promoting sustainable water management, universal access to water and sanitation, and mitigating climate change requires collaboration from all stakeholders. Each person has a role, and partnerships among all actors are crucial.
The conference came to a close with the adoption of the Water Action Agenda, an ambitious and collaborative plan aimed at safeguarding the world’s most valuable shared resource. The agenda comprises nearly 700 commitments, ranging from enhancing monitoring and data systems to bolstering infrastructure resilience through capacity-building efforts. This landmark action plan has garnered over $300 billion in pledges, which could unlock socio-economic and ecological gains worth at least one trillion dollars. However, the non-binding nature of these commitments raises questions. It was reiterated to prioritise water at the forefront of the global political agenda. The Water Action Agenda represents a critical step in ensuring future water security. Through the prioritisation of science-based actions and innovative solutions, this initiative has the power to revolutionise how we manage and protect our most precious resource. Alternative food systems to reduce water use, global information system for SDGs, early warning systems for safety were also highlighted.
Nepal’s water management issues
The erratic distribution of water resources and the uncertainty of climate patterns, population growth, and anthropogenic activities have left water resource planners and policymakers grappling in recent years. Although Nepal has emphasised the concept of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) in its National Water Resources Strategy, National Water Plan, and other water-related policies, it still lacks a proper institutional arrangement and plan implementation framework to address IWRM across the water resources sector. As a result, Nepal’s effort to address several water-related challenges, including water scarcity, deteriorating water quality, and water-induced disasters remains futile. Therefore, there is a need to restructure the institutional arrangement and implementation mechanism to enable effective IWRM practices and ensure sustainable management of the country’s water resources. The River Basin Planning report being prepared by the Water and Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) has the potential to be a pivotal document that could shape Nepal’s water resources management in a significant way.
Nepal’s focus on the water resources sector has been primarily on water utilisation and infrastructure development, with less attention to water management and conservation plans and programmes in terms of both scale and budget allocation. Without a greater emphasis on water management and conservation, the country may face significant challenges in meeting its future water needs and ensuring water security for its citizens.
The devastating consequences of climate change, disasters and water scarcity are leading to forced migration, leaving entire villages empty and vulnerable. As we face rapidly changing water resource challenges, conventional and routine approaches to management are no longer sufficient. Instead, we need to adopt a broader perspective that draws upon past experiences, community engagement and technological innovations to ensure that we achieve our sustainable development goals. To address water management challenges effectively, capacity development for professionals at all levels of government and the private sector, as well as collaboration among different sectors at the national and international levels, and science-based actions are essential.
Nepal has been globally praised for its remarkable success in community forestry, but despite various policy provisions and programmes, the community’s involvement in water management has been declining in recent years. Given the current changing socio-economic and political circumstances, it is imperative to reconsider water management strategies that keep communities at the core. The 2020 Water Resources Policy of Nepal outlines 11 strategies to achieve sustainable and optimal use of water resources to support the nation’s socio-economic transformation. These strategies are not only tailored to address Nepal’s water resources challenges but are also aligned with global trends, making them crucial for achieving sustainable and optimum utilisation of water resources. The effectiveness of these strategies, however, hinges on the timely implementation of corresponding acts and regulations as well as institutional strengthening.
Water is irreplaceable and demands diverse stakeholder engagement for sustainable management. The UN Water Conference 2023 aimed to tackle various aspects of the global water crisis, including water scarcity, pollution, disaster management, and climate change and re-establish water as a global common good. Nevertheless, the ultimate objective remained constant: Securing the sustainability of our valuable water resources. Whether through effective policies, innovative technologies, or community-based initiatives, the focus remained on preserving water availability and quality for ourselves and future generations.
Appropriate interventions at the local and national levels can effectively address many of Nepal’s challenges in sustainable water resources management, and international cooperation should be reserved for tackling issues that exceed national capacity. To attract global attention and secure financing for water-related initiatives, Nepal must focus on developing reliable water governance, implementing innovative ideas, enhancing capacity building, and strengthening institutions. By doing so, the country can demonstrate its commitment to effectively managing its water resources and gain the trust and support of the international community. Nepal needs to do its homework in these areas to build a solid foundation and be better positioned to address the challenges of water scarcity and climate change. The international community is looking for reliable partners committed to finding innovative solutions, and Nepal has an opportunity to demonstrate its potential in this regard.