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25 Jan 2019 | Koshi Basin Initiative

River Basins in the Age of Federalism

Experts recommend a collective and collaborative response to river basin management
Nepal recently adopted a federal government system. The new federal structure is being institutionalized on numerous fronts, including the sustainable management of natural resources. Clarity on the governance and stewardship of these resources is urgent as millions of people in the country, especially the poorest, directly depend on natural resources and river basins for daily survival and for their livelihoods.

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Effective management of river basins for multiple benefits, such as the availability of water for domestic use, agriculture, and energy, is one of the key priorities of the Government of Nepal. The country faces multiple challenges such as degradation of land and water resources, increasing resource conflicts, and gaps in collective management and coordination of these shared resources. To address some of these pressing issues, the Department of Forests and Soil Conservation, Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoFE) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) are working together to develop a comprehensive framework that considers ecosystem health and the wellbeing of people to manage river basins across all levels of government.

To start this process, representatives from MoFE, ICIMOD, the local government, and the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, Forests and Environment for Province 1 came together for a “Symposium on Koshi River Basin Management in a Federal Context: Efforts and Opportunities” in Biratnagar on 21–22 December 2018. The event brought together over 70 policy makers, senior government officials, academics, and practitioners from Province 1 and across Nepal to discuss effective approaches to river basin management under the new federal structure.

Vice Chairperson of the Provincial Planning Commission, Subodh Raj Pyakurel, commended the initiation of a river basin management system which links not only upstream and downstream communities but also institutions and governments at all levels. He emphasized the need for collective response in terms of policy interventions, institutional support, and research. Such a collaboration, he said, will shape effective ways of managing river basins in the new federal system.

Director General of the Department of Forests and Soil Conservation, Ram Prasad Lamsal said, “The Government of Nepal has established dedicated river basin management institutions in all four major basins in the country. In doing so, it has adopted a river basin approach to which respective provincial governments are also committed. A high-level team under the leadership of Nepal’s National Planning Commission is working to suggest a possible modality on river basin management in light of the new federal system.”

Provincial Secretary for the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, Forests and Environment for Province 1, Badri Dhungana, highlighted the need for inter-provincial collaboration for policy coherence, especially in the case of managing the shared Koshi River basin.

Secretary for the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure Department, Province 1, Sagar Kumar Rai, applauded the initiative, while Senior Divisional Engineer from the Water and Energy Commission Secretariat, Maheshwor Shrestha, highlighted Nepal’s new water resource policy, which explicitly emphasises an integrated river basin management approach.

Representing the local government, Mayor of Triyuga Municipality, Baldev Chaudhary stated, “The local government has already formulated local-level policies on environment and watershed management, which federal and provincial governments are yet to fully formulate. Policy coherency at all three levels will be essential.”

Kanchan Shrestha, Programme Coordinator of the Koshi Basin Initiative at ICIMOD, said, “A collaborative approach with the Government of Nepal is necessary for integrated river basin management of the Koshi. Such a collaboration must be founded on strong evidence-based decision-making supported by data and regular monitoring at different scales.”

Moving beyond river basin management, the symposium also discussed the inherent linkages between land use and ecosystems. Governance and policy issues, institutions, and social change were also discussed at a more macro level and the associated complexities debated. Through such discussions over the two days, the participants identified possible management options and opportunities, and gained key insights into managing complex interactions among various actors who work directly or indirectly in the Koshi basin.

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