Combining top–down and bottom–up: Designing a watershed management plan for Dhankuta Municipality

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Dhankuta Municipality has adopted a proactive, solution-oriented approach to water governance, with particular focus on sustainable use of resources and improvement of livelihoods. The municipality had been addressing its annual water scarcity on  ad hoc basis. The local government and the Watershed Management Office (WMO) are in the midst of preparing a watershed management plan that will improve the overall health of the watershed and year-round distribution of improved quality and quantity of drinking water without compromising irrigation demands. ICIMOD has been involved in this process from an early stage, providing technical support in the formulation of this plan following a request from local government and community members. In February 2019, a multidisciplinary team from ICIMOD conducted a preliminary field survey that both social and biophysical aspects through focus group discussion, key informant survey, and spring mapping. 

In the first consultation meeting with the vice mayor, there was a consensus that the conservation of water sources is vital since their revival involves social and technical considerations that cannot be resolved with financial investments alone. With increasing water scarcity, there are growing tensions between upstream and downstream communities as the former claim control over the use and distribution of water from the source by virtue of their proximity to it. In other words, water – a resource that is supposed to be universally accessible – is turned into a commodity.

Preliminary discussions on preparing the Nibuwa and Tankhuwa sub-watershed management plan (Photo: Gunanidhi Pokhrel/ICIMOD)

To make sure that the available water will be conserved and properly managed, a committee consisting of representatives from the municipality, relevant wards, women’s groups, the Water User Committee (WUC), and the WMO was formed on 24 February 2019. This committee will oversee the implementation of the watershed management plan. Since the watershed extends beyond the jurisdiction of Dhankuta Municipality and covers two wards from the Chatra Jorpati Rural Municipality, representatives from these wards are also part of the committee. Local issues will be taken into account during the development of the watershed management plan to ensure sustainable and equitable distribution of drinking water in the concerned wards. For example, upstream community members have expressed the pressing need for a proper road to improve accessibility to different services and facilities. However, road construction may increase soil erosion, pollute the already-scarce water resources and decrease downstream water availability. Road construction may also jeopardize water availability by affecting surface and sub-surface hydrogeology. Therefore, balance between upstream downstream interests is crucial to ensure the sustainability and long-term availability of water. 

The ICIMOD team is currently supporting the formulation of the watershed management plan draft in consultation with the local government and the WMO office. The watershed management plan will use local social and biophysical information to improve ecosystem services in the watershed. The plan will also integrate key concepts from springshed management, the water–energy–food nexus, incentives for ecosystem services, and gender and social inclusion.