“Extremes, not averages, more important in dealing with future water issues”

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At the National River Summit ‘Managing Rivers for Life’ held in Sunkoshi Beach Camp in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal from 20 to 23 September 2014, Dr Arun Bhakta Shrestha, Senior Climate Change Specialist at ICIMOD and Himalayan Adaptation, Water and Resilience (HI-AWARE) research team member, gave a presentation on ‘Managing Water Resources, Disasters and Sustaining Development: Challenges and Opportunities in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) Region’. Over 140 participants from academia, government, the private sector, civil society, and non-governmental and community-based organizations attended the Summit.

In his presentation, Dr Shrestha noted that due to melting glaciers and increase in precipitation, the overall river flows in the Upper Indus, Brahmaputra, and Upper Ganges (IBG) – three of the four HI-AWARE study basins – are likely to increase or remain constant during the period 2041-2050 as compared to 1998-2007. 

The total runoffs in these three basins will likely vary by -5% to +12%, 0 to +13%, and +1% to +27% respectively by 2050. He noted that “extremes, not averages” will be more important in dealing with water issues in the future. So the governments will have to be prepared to deal with unexpected floods and dry spells, despite greater water flows on an aggregate basis. 

He gave examples of recent flash floods caused by various factors – cloudbursts, landslide dam outbursts, glacial lake outbursts, and rapid snow melt. Flash floods, he said, result in higher mortality rates than other water-related hazards and are, therefore, of special concern to governments of the HKH region.  

Although floods are complex phenomena, and can sometimes cross borders as in the case of the Koshi floods of 2008, the risks they pose to human lives and property downstream can be minimized by proper infrastructure planning, land use policy, use of satellite technologies, cross border data sharing, and early warning systems. 

Dr Shrestha emphasized “end to end flood information systems”, including community-based early warning systems, for flood risk management.
He briefly touched on the ongoing HI-AWARE initiative, which is grappling with issues of vulnerability, climate resilience, and adaptation of populations living in the Indus, Brahmaputra and Ganges basins in order to influence policy and practice to improve their livelihoods. He also called for a need to mainstream climate change in river management in Nepal.

Partly supported by the HI-AWARE initiative, the National River Summit 2014 came out with the Sunkoshi Declaration, a 15-point recommendation aimed at the conservation and management of Nepal’s 6,000-plus rivers and surrounding ecosystems. 

The Declaration recognizes the role of flood risk management in overall management and conservation of rivers in Nepal. 

For more information contact

Ujol Sherchan,
Knowledge Management and Communications Officer, ICIMOD