HI-AWARE Researchers Learn about Climate Vulnerability Issues in the Nepal Part of the Gandak Basin

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Between 5 and 11 August 2014, the HI-AWARE team comprising researchers from ICIMOD, BCAS, TERI, PARC and Alterra-WUR took stock of a potential study basin in central Nepal with field visits to:

  • Benighat, the confluence of the Budhi Gandaki and Trishuli;
  • Mugling, the confluence of the Trishuli and Marsyangdi; 
  • the Marsyangdi Hydropower Station in Abu Khaireni; 
  • the Chitwan National Park; and
  • Devghat, where the Kali Gandaki and Trishuli meet to form the mighty Narayani river, and which is also a holy site for Hindus. 

The Narayani flows through the Shivalik foothills and plains of Nepal before entering India at Triveni from where it flows some 300 km through Bihar as Gandak river. The river eventually meets the Ganges near Patna, India. Collectively, this transboundary area is called the Gandak basin, one of the four HI-AWARE study basins, where the team is set to conduct research and pilot activities on physical and social drivers of vulnerability to climate change, climate resilience, and adaptation.

The team learnt that the Gandak basin is vulnerable to climate change as well as other anthropogenic changes. The Thulagi glacial lake upstream of the Marsyangdi is one of the potentially dangerous glacial lakes in Nepal and requires constant monitoring. The devastation caused by the 2012 Seti river floods is still fresh in everyone’s mind in Kaski district. There are plans to build micro-hydels and mega hydro plants in central Nepal, including roads to connect hitherto inaccessible villages with district headquarters. All these developments will have implications for the fragile environment and the communities who depend on it. The sand and silt carried by the Marsyangdi river, along with its changing morphology, have lowered the capacity of the Marsyangdi Hydropower Plant from 69 MW to 65 MW during peak time. The monsoon rain-induced landslides cause blockades on major highways, which are the lifeline for Nepal as it depends on India for its supplies. Food and fuel prices rise when highways are blocked for an extended period. The Chitwan National Park’s burgeoning tourism, while it brings much-needed revenues for the locals, comes with its own set of management problems arising from overdevelopment, noise pollution, poaching, bio-piracy, and human-wildlife conflict, to cite a few factors.  Growing urbanization in Chitwan – a major bread-basket of Nepal - means less and less acreage for farming, with implications for food security. Migration of able-bodied men and boys to the urban pockets of the country as well as to foreign countries has increased the workload of women at the household level, and also resulted in the feminization of agriculture, leading to their increased exposure to climate risks. How to mainstream climate change adaptation in development at all levels continues to be a challenge.

The IPCC report states that the frequency and severity of extreme events such as floods, droughts and heat waves will only increase in future. If there is a heavy continuous rainfall or breach of dams in Nepal, it may cause large-scale devastation in the flood plains of Bihar, India, as happened in 2008 in the Koshi basin. This is a real possibility. When the HI-AWARE team visited Devghat on 11 August 2014, the daily average water discharge in the Narayani river was about 3,500 m3/s, but within days, this had increased more than threefold to alert and danger levels[Figure below]. Sharing hydrological data in real or near real time with the downstream disaster management authority is hence imperative to avert riverine flood disasters of transboundary scale.

HI-AWARE is going to conduct research on the water-energy-food-health issues, including water-induced hazards and other extreme events, in the transboundary Gandak basin to help build the climate resilience and adaptive capacity of the poor and vulnerable people on either side of the border by influencing practice and policy.