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Water sources are disappearing at an alarming rate

Water sources are disappearing at an alarming rate

A recent study has revealed that approximately 20 percent of water sources in Nepal have vanished within the past year. The depletion of these vital resources has been attributed to a blend of climate change and human activities. This crisis not only poses a threat to the environment but is also unleashing a series of economic and social challenges that are affecting the most vulnerable sections of society.

An analysis of studies conducted by International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMO) and few other organizations shows there is a pressing need to immediately implement intervention measures to stop water sources from drying up. 

Madhav Prasad Dhakal, a watershed researcher with the ICIMOD said climate change and human activities share equal blame for the desiccation of our water sources. “Rising temperatures, fueled by climate change, and erratic rainfall patterns have disrupted the hydrological cycle, wreaking havoc on our water supplies,” he added.

While climate change shoulders a significant portion of the blame, experts assert that human activities are equally culpable. “Approximately 20 percent of the water sources that were thriving a decade ago have now vanished, and water flow has dwindled in roughly 50 percent of the sources,” Dhakal said. He further elaborated that during the dry season, from September to December, flow from watersheds and natural springs has plummeted, adversely affecting millions of mountain and hill residents who rely on these sources for their daily water needs.

About 10m people in the mountains and hills depend on natural springs for water. According to Dhakal, a natural spring supports around 20-25 households. There are several instances of people migrating due to drying up of water sources. “There were reports of such migration in Ramechhap, Bhojpur and Dailekh,” said Dhakal. “We are witnessing a shift from prolonged, gentle rainfall that allows water to trickle into groundwater and recharge our aquifers to intense, short bursts of rainfall that prevent proper recharge of our water table.”

Human activities such as mining, along with the protracted effects of low snowfall, have compounded the problem, causing ponds and natural springs to wither away. Likewise, natural springs near hydropower tunnels are also drying up, studies show. There are several instances of natural springs near hydropower tunnels drying up in Rasuwa.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, development projects are beginning to allocate funds for water source rehabilitation. Dhakal stressed, “We don’t need complex scientific methods to revive old ponds; we simply need mechanisms that allow monsoon rains to trickle into the ground for four months.”

A study conducted by Sanot Adhikari and his team revealed that approximately 20-25 percent of water sources in the Karnali and Mid-Karnali Watersheds have dried up. Local residents are experiencing significant hardships due to the depletion of water sources in the Boktan, Lagam Karnali, Jhimruk, Rangun, and Mid-Karnali regions. These areas collectively have a total of 4,222 water sources. The water discharge from 70.7 percent of these sources is decreasing, while 1.57 percent of the watershed area has suffered destruction.

Variations in annual rainfall patterns also exert a significant impact on water resources each year. Unplanned construction of roads, the alteration of traditional lakes and ponds, the erection of walls, and the use of concrete and piping to divert springs have all contributed to the drying up of essential water sources. According to the study, if these trends of resource depletion persist at a rapid pace and if proactive conservation measures are not implemented, local communities may soon confront a severe crisis. The mid-hills region, in particular, could find itself grappling with extreme water scarcity.

Karishma Khadka, a springshed management associate with ICIMOD, highlighted the acute water shortages faced by communities in certain Himalayan catchment areas, particularly during the winter season. “Land use changes, rampant deforestation, hasty development projects, the depletion of traditional resources, and natural disasters have all taken a toll on our watershed,” she added.

As dependence on natural springs for daily water needs remains high, the communities residing in mid-hill and mountain areas bear the brunt of this crisis. A study by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has also indicated that those living in multidimensional poverty are at particularly high risk. Additionally, the Hindu Kush Himalaya region grapples with the dual challenge of excessive rainfall leading to floods and prolonged droughts. 

“Climate change is poised to impact both water availability and the very hydrological cycle that sustains our way of life,” Khadka added.