Concerns of Watershed Management as Reflected in Water Resource Strategy - Nepal 2002


Environmental degradation and poverty are inseparably linked in a vicious and negative cycle. The physical environment is closely linked with conditions in the watersheds of Nepal's river systems.  Many of these watersheds are over-exploited and degraded. Human activity, combined with natural factors such as steep slopes, fragile geology and intensive monsoon rains, result in extensive soil loss and siltation of rivers and dams. This, in turn, increases the risk of severe flooding, deterioration of the overall environment, displacement of people and economic losses. The rapid urbanization in some valleys has led to serious water pollution and uncontrolled exploitation of groundwater. Given such pressing concerns, the Government has enacted relevant legislation but has yet to formulate or implement mechanisms to control pollution, protect and conserve sensitive environments and enhance watersheds and river systems.

Achieving the sustainable development of water resources is one of the most important challengers facing Nepal. Meeting this challenge requires emphasizing the development of the country's water resources from a holistic perspective that brings environmental considerations into the mainstream of the Water Resources Strategy and subsequent implementation.

In the next five years, the emphasis will be to strengthen institutional capacity for watershed and aquatic ecosystem protection and management. Department of Soil Conservation and Watershed management (DSCWM) and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) will be designated to act as lead agencies for the design and implementation of programs for critical priority watersheds and aquatic ecosystems identified for inclusion in strategic pilot scale programs. A participatory environmental mitigation program will also be implemented as a component of all water resources projects. In the subsequent ten years, watershed and ecosystem management activities will be implemented in full scale in all priority watersheds and aquatic ecosystems. This should result in improvement in the quality of stream flows, increasing their ability to meet the long-term requirements of social and ecological sustainability in the priority watersheds. Within 25 years, major watersheds and aquatic ecosystems will be managed by all the users in a sustainable manner. Development projects in all sectors will be in full compliance with strategic and project-specific EIAs, which will specify effective environmental protection measures to be carried out during, construction and operation phases.


To carry out the Strategy and achieve these targets, the following nine activities relating to management of watersheds and aquatic ecosystems in Nepal will be undertaken:


1. Improve environmental database system.
2. Map important, critical and priority watersheds and aquatic ecosystems.
3. Develop water and wastewater quality standards and regulations.
4. Implement a water conservation education program.
5. Implement watershed and aquatic ecosystem protection, rehabilitation and management programs.
6. Develop and implement Strategic environmental Assessment in water resources management.
7. Ensure compliance with environmental regulations.
8. Promote community participation.
9. Enhance institutional capacity and coordination.


DSCWM will be appointed as lead agency for the second and fifth activities.
The second activity is intended to prepare environmental sensitivity mapping for important watersheds in Nepal. This mapping activity will be a useful tool in the identification of priorities for environmental protection, conservation, management, development and mitigation, and for the evaluation of prioritized activities and strategic policy revisions, if necessary. It will also provide input to the environmental database and information relevant to the strategy for water pollution control. The scope of activities will include mapping of human activities, pollution sources, ecological sensitivity and trends in the principal wetlands of Nepal. This activity will also lead to the identification of data gaps, opportunities and priorities for water management.

The DSCWM will be appointed as lead agency to initiate, coordinate and implement activities in consultation with other relevant and non-government agencies.


These will involve:


  • Identification and justification of principle watershed basins;
  • Definition and selection of parameters to be mapped;
  • Completion of data tables after all available information has been collected; and
  • Preparation of Geographic Information System (GIS) sensitivity maps


Under the fifth activity it is stated that while numerous government and other agencies are working to improve the situation, there is a dire need to streamline and coordinate their efforts, improve the formulation and enforcement of policies, and increase efficiency in the implementation of priority watershed protection, conservation and management activities.


The objectives of fifth activity include:


  • Implementation of watershed protection programs to improve downstream surface and groundwater quality and availability;
  • Compulsory implementation of watershed protection restoration and enhancement activities for all major development projects; and
  • Increased cooperation among agencies.


The activity will identify, design and implement programs starting with pilot watershed in which aquatic ecosystem protection, rehabilitation and management will be demonstrated (e.g., Kulekhani watershed). Following completion of the pilot project, this activity will be propagated nationwide with vigor and intent.

DSCWM and DNPWC will be the lead agencies for the design and implementation of both pilot and full-scale programs to enhance watersheds and aquatic ecosystems. MOWR and MOPP&W will identify priority watersheds with substantial water resource development activities and areas where watershed rehabilitation and management programs will have the greatest benefits.

The following indicators have been identified to track whether the outputs have been achieved:


  • Nepal has competent institutions that are able to enforce standards;
  • There are high levels of stakeholder participation in program;
  • Watershed and aquatic ecosystems are meeting environmental standards; and
  • Rivers have improved stream flows to meet the long-term ecological and social demands of the river basin.

The one key pre-condition to the implementation of this component of the Strategy is that institutional capacity be created to actually carry out, rather then simply design, the necessary programs. Such capacity should be developed at the central, district and community levels. A major risk is that continuing poverty will divert people's concern for protecting or enhancing the environment. The Strategy assumes that awareness programs and adequate funding will enable all communities and relevant stakeholders to actively participate and cooperate in the environmental and water conservation programs.