Earthquakes greatly disturbed water availability in Nepal. Underground layer was displaced with significant damage to aquifers resulting in dry season water deficiency
There is no dearth of traditional knowledge on water conservation in Nepal. Our forefathers developed a beautiful system to conserve water and maintain its availability year-round which helped maintain our biological diversity. However, our generation failed to preserve those ideas. While fertile land in some parts of the world has already turned to desert, we are still blessed with natural resources such as water and mountains. But if we continue to exploit our natural resources, we may be in for similar desertification. Some previously water-rich regions of India and Pakistan have already become dry.
Planting Peepal trees in hills for Chautara to provide shade for travelers, building tiny ponds close to temples were some of our ancient conservation and management methods. Destroying these structures and failing to establish new technologies raise serious questions about our adaptability. Over the years, things have only gotten worse. Wetlands particularly marshy lands are shrinking as a result of unplanned urbanization, deforestation, and uncontrolled water loss due to runoff. Water level in lakes and ponds is also decreasing each year.
This year, winter rain was neither sufficient nor timely. As a result most farmers aren’t expecting enough returns from their winter crops such as wheat. Many farmers may blame their fate for this, but with majority earning their living from farming they ought to have access to the water. Despite having an abundance of freshwater, we could not develop infrastructure to channelize water to farms for agriculture. On the other hand, huge population in cities is faced with a severe drinking water crisis. Rivers flow along villages and settlements, but all they can do is watch the flow downstream and regret not being able to harness it.
Many believe that unequal treaties between Nepal and India are responsible for under-utilization of our water resource to our advantage. This is one of the main reasons for frustration of Nepali youths and growing anti-Indian sentiments among them. Water conflict in this region is not restricted between Nepal and India. It’s between Bangladesh and India too. Globally, there are bigger conflicts owing to water.
Water crisis is among the grave risks facing the modern world. As world population increases, so does the demand for water, food and energy. Since 50 percent of all obtainable water is transboundary, lakes or groundwater systems of two or additional countries and cooperation over water usually becomes troublesome. Around two thirds of world’s trans-boundary rivers lack agreements between countries that share them. According to UNICEF and other related intergovernmental organizations and INGOs, around 2.6 billion people lack proper sanitation due to unavailability of enough water and 1.1 billion people have no access to fresh drinkable water.
Third world’s sorrows
Farmers in developing countries like Nepal rely on rain-fed farming. Only 17 percent of the cultivated land has year-round access to irrigation. They used to manage it with their ancient way of farming. In recent years, temporal order of cultivation practices like transplantation, weeding, flowering and fruiting is being disturbed by climate change, another sorrow for the third world. Less could be done for mitigation of climate change, but rich nations are developing enough infrastructures to adapt to the water crisis due to climate change. Thus catastrophe owing to climate change is primarily targeting the poor nations. Climate change affects the precipitation pattern and vegetation that ultimately have an effect on the water availability in numerous regions.
Such risks of inconvenience and unavailability of quality water build pressure owing to climate change. Alongside climate change in Nepal, water availability was disturbed to a great extent by the 2015 earthquakes that not only claimed thousands of lives but also destroyed homes and other important infrastructures. Earthquakes also caused displacement of underground layer with significant damage to the aquifers resulting in dry season water deficiency.
Other underdeveloped countries like Bangladesh and East Timor are also facing extreme water crisis. Top three countries facing water crisis are Yemen, Libya and Jordon. Among the top countries with water scarcity, Singapore is working hard to supply its dense inhabited population with the regular water system. They manage to use advance rainwater harvest system that contributes up to 20 percent of the national demand, 40 percent is imported from Malaysia, 10 percent is being supplied from desalination process and 30 percent is being maintained by utilizing gray water. Since Singapore doesn’t have enough natural water sources, it is dependent on Malaysia for water. If there is a tension between the two countries, Malaysia might disrupt water supply to Singapore. Similar tension was seen between Israel, Syria and Jordan over Jordan River. Tensions like this are sure to increase due to water stress across the world.
In national and global context, politics will revolve around water and its resource management for the next few decades. Water scarcity will trigger hunger, disease, poverty and drought resulting in conflict between different parties and nations. Some of these issues can be solved in local or regional level. Technological advancement could help. Energy efficient plant could be established to purify water.
While dealing with tensions related to water, we need to consider water rights and rights of both downstream and upstream people. Multi-government organizations like SAARC have failed to deal with such problems. We need different forum to deal with it. Let’s hope world leaders will work together to resolve this tension by developing innovative solution and through diplomatic means.
The author is assistant professor at Agriculture and Forestry University in Rampur, Chitwan