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19 Feb 2016 | News

Reducing Koshi Water Vulnerability

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Discussing solutions around water security and water-induced disasters in the Koshi basin, specialists from the Koshi region gathered in Patna, Bihar on 4 February 2016 for a two-day forum. After years of devastating floods in southern Nepal and Bihar, the forum emphasised regional cooperation and collecting evidence-based data that can be translated into policy.

Floods and related disasters are a perennial concern in the Koshi basin, where seasonal monsoon rains and glacial melting frequently lead to dangerously-high water levels in the Koshi River. Bihar, where the river merges with the Ganga, is India’s most flood-prone state, with 76% of residents in the northern regions vulnerable to recurring floods. Bihar annually suffers losses of life, property, infrastructure, and agriculture due to floods. According to the Bihar State Disaster Management Authority, floods displaced as many as 33,200 people in 2014.

The forum comprised some of the region’s most prominent experts in disaster and water management, and promoted knowledge sharing across fields of expertise. Currently, disaster preparation and response is on an institutional-level and lacks coordinated regional strategy. The forum speakers emphasised the need to overcome this challenge, and link science, policy, and practice across borders. They also recognised the potential water has to act as a larger catalyst for economic development.

‘The future is bright, but it is complex’, said Asit Biswas, a visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. ‘Knowledge generation is not enough, we also need knowledge synthesis, and a way to bring this knowledge into policy discussions’.

Anil Sinha, Vice Chairman of the Bihar State Disaster Management Authority, followed up with Biswas’ comment, noting knowledge generation should specifically include evidence-based data, which can be incorporated into the region’s wealth of indigenous knowledge. He highlighted the importance of the knowledge forum in reaching this goal and recommended it become an annual event.

The event’s technical sessions had presentations by Koshi Basin Programme partners that highlighted new research findings. Professor Nilabja Ghosh from the Institute of Economic Growth expanded on findings that suggested that geographic location within the basin has an impact on whether rainfall will have a negative or positive impact on crops. Ghosh found that due to the basin’s slope, while rainfall is usually beneficial to crop yield in upstream communities, further downstream, rainfall can be detrimental to crop yield. Additionally, Dr Biplab Dhak from AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies presented research on livelihoods and food security in the basin. He found that migration is emerging as a prevalent coping strategy in the basin: surveys show 38 percent of households in the study area have at least one out-migrant. During the session on geo-hazards, Professor Rajiv Sinha from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur suggested that a better understanding of erosion processes and sediment dynamics would help to mitigate water related hazards in the Koshi basin.

The final day of the forum had further technical sessions on disaster risk reduction. Participants discussed evidence-based tools and strategies, and the potential for converting regional and local knowledge into actionable policy. The forum ended with suggestions for the future: water management should work across national boundaries; and it should bring together both traditional and scientific knowledge in a way that is people-centric and locally contextualised.

‘The fate of our three Koshi basin countries is interlinked,’ said Vyasji, the Principal Secretary of Bihar’s Disaster Management Department. Participants hoped that the forum would be the first of many such similar events to come.

Representatives from more than 20 institutions included the Bihar State Disaster Management Authority, AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, the Institute of Economic Growth at Delhi University, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Beijing, and the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chengdu, China. It was supported by the Government of Australia, and facilitated by ICIMOD’s Koshi Basin Programme.

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