ICIMOD and IMHE jointly complete a field mission in the Koshi River Basin

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The Koshi River is a dynamic transboundary river that originates in high-altitude areas of China and Nepal and flows through the mountains to the Indo-Gangetic plains of India before merging with the Ganges River. The Koshi basin covers a broad spectrum of climate, soil, vegetation and socioeconomic zones. The basin suffers from numerous water-related hazards, including glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF), landslides, debris flows, flash floods, riverine floods, drought, soil erosion, and sedimentation. These natural hazards have caused severe social and economic damage in the past years. In 2013, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), along with the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment (IMHE), launched the Koshi Basin Project under the Koshi Basin Programme (KBP), which is jointly implemented by China, India and Nepal with support received from the Australian Government through its Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio for South Asia. The project aims to improve research on water-related hazards, ecological and environmental changes and regional economic development in the context of global climate change in the Koshi River basin.

From 14--17 June 2014, ICIMOD, in partnership with IMHE, organized a four-day field visit in the part of the Koshi River Basin shared by Nepal and China. The field visit was followed by a two-day KBP Partners’ Forum. The purpose of the visit was to share experiences and examine key issues and opportunities identified by the programme for follow-up actions. Experts from ICIMOD and IMHE assessed the current status of the Koshi River basin, in particular the distribution of water-induced hazards, land and water resources use, biodiversity, and regional economic development in the upstream of the basin. 

Tthe team also visited ICIMOD’s HKH-HYCOS Hydrological station in Barabise, Nepal, and two landslide exposed areas near the Bhote Koshi, and observed the construction site of Nepal’s new custom house near the Nepal-China border town Zhangmu. The site will later serve as the main trading hub between the two countries. In Zhangmu, the team investigated landslide ruins, as well as recent landslide sites that have been consolidated and managed well with IMHE’s technical assistance. It is hoped that the experience will later be shared in Nepal and other downstream countries that face similar hazard risks. The team also made a special visit to the Cirenmacuo site, where a GLOF had caused massive destruction in 1981, destroying the China-Nepal highway (over 40 km) between Zhang-Zang-Bo Gully outlet and the Barhabise Bridge, killing 5 people and injuring 191 people, and damaging 41  houses in Nepal. While direct losses from the event were estimated at over 60 million Nepali rupees, the highway reconstruction cost USD 3 million and took three years. Later, the team travelled to the Mt Everest base camp area, observing local livelihoods and wetland use in the region for future studies on freshwater ecosystem services and the upstream-downstream linkages. 

Through the field mission, the team has gained first-hand information on the Koshi Basin’s water-induced hazards, ecology and environment and regional economy in both China and Nepal. This will provide a solid foundation for future research work. It will also help set up a demonstration site for natural hazard risks management in Nepal, thus promoting the use of Chinese expertise on natural hazards management in South Asian countries. In the near future, the team will focus its work on GLOF early warning system, technology promotion on landslide and debris flow risks reduction and management, and precipitation monitoring in the upstream region of the Koshi River basin in China.