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A project in Nepal’s middle hills works to address problems of water scarcity
In Tinpiple, a village in Kavre District approximately one and a half hours by car outside of Kathmandu, Nepal, a group of adolescent girls gathered around a tap that connected to a natural spring. They washed their hair, collected water in plastic and metal jars, and gossiped among themselves. Coming to springs like this one is a daily chore for many of the girls in Tinpiple, as many families in the village rely on these springs to provide water for drinking, irrigation, and livestock. Up until about a year ago, however, the landowner kept this spring locked up to outsiders because it did not have enough water to go around, and girls like the ones at the tap had to find water elsewhere.
While some areas such as Tinpiple’s adjacent pine forests have always been dry, other parts of Tinpiple have become drier in recent years. At the bottom of the area’s rolling hills lie streams and rivers; not only it is difficult and expensive to pump the water uphill, but the water can only be pumped when the village is not experiencing its daily scheduled power cuts.
When pumped water is unavailable, residents usually rely on groundwater from springs to fulfil their daily water needs. Yet these springs can also be unreliable because they have the tendency to dry up if the source is overused – the reason why springs in Tinpiple were locked up.
In 2013, ICIMOD began working with the Nepal Water Conservation Foundation (NWCF) in partnership with residents from Tinpiple and Dapcha, both villages in Kavre District, with the intention of tracking local water processes and finding ways to best use water in order to replenish the drying springs. The team started to map the springs around each of the villages and collect information on how much water is released from each spring and which springs dry up in the dry season. As the project demonstrated, in order to flourish, the springs need high levels of groundwater, which gets replenished by the monsoon. However, in earlier times, groundwater was also replenished by large ponds that residents kept to wallow their buffaloes.
These ponds are particularly vital for collecting rainwater during the dry season, when groundwater levels become low. In recent years, as livelihoods have shifted away from keeping buffaloes, many of these ponds have dried up or have been abandoned. The government, worried about the spread of malaria, also discouraged use of these ponds. Today, though, malaria has been mostly eradicated in Nepal. The team decided that one way to replicate this positive effect on groundwater levels would be to dig ponds at multiple points on the hillsides around each of the two villages. These ponds would collect monsoon runoff that would otherwise be lost downhill, and allow it to seep back into the ground.
With the help of the locals, NWCF built a total of six ponds in Tinpiple and Dapcha. This included a pond above the spring that had been locked up. In the months that followed the building of the pond, the groundwater level became higher, and the spring began to release more water. Eventually the owner unlocked it. It is now used by at least 50 families each day. Other locals also noticed the difference the ponds made on the springs, and started to dig ponds on their own land. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Nepal on 25 April 2015 did not break any of these newly-built ponds, but it did shift the ground enough to affect the springs: some dried up, while others became more plentiful. “We will have to start mapping the springs all over again”, said NWCF’s Binod Sharma. “Our understanding of the area’s water dynamics will now be divided into two periods – pre-earthquake and post-earthquake.”
In December 2015, local government councils in Dapcha met to decide on yearly water management projects. The councils wanted to make spring rehabilitation a central part of their plans, and decided to construct and rehabilitate a number of ponds in the area. In one area alone, the councils identified eight potential sites for future work. The projects will be implemented in the coming fiscal year.The tap at which the girls from Tinpiple gathered was one of the springs where water has increased. “I used to go to a spring closer to my home, but the earthquake dried it up”, said one girl as she lathered her hair. “I come three times a day, and have a longer walk now. But I don’t really mind – it gives me more time to talk with my friends.” The other girls started laughing, and splashed her with water.It will be important in the future to integrate scientific knowledge with community knowledge and local governance in order to best manage local water resources. ICIMOD hopes that aiding communities in Kavre to gain a deeper understanding of local springs is a valuable place to start.
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