Migration causing water shortages in Nepal

As frequent floods force people to migrate from Nepal’s mountainous regions, putting pressure on water resources, hydrologists call for China to set up joint early warning systems along shared rivers.

Nepal is one of the world’s most water-rich nations, with over 6,000 rivers and huge hydropower potential. But it is also one of the world’s most disaster-prone regions.

Nepal lies in the southern foothills of the Tibetan plateau, where many of its rivers originate. Dry winters and wet summers, combined with the unstable geology of the Himalayan region, mean that landslides and floods are common.

In August 2014 a major landslide near the Nepal-China border killed over 150 people and in October dozens died in an avalanche caused by heavy snowfall. Risks of disaster, compounded by other factors such as water shortages, are forcing people to move from the mountains down to the plains, further intensifying water shortages.

Dr S. M. Wahid and Dr Arun Shrestha, hydrologists from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), argue Nepal needs regional cooperation on disaster warning systems and development of water resources.

chinadialogue (CD): Nepal has plenty of water, yet there is a shortage of water for domestic and agricultural use. Why is this the case?

S. M. Wahid (SW): Nepal is a mountainous country with ample water resources but the majority of these resources cannot be used, as they are made up of, for example, concentrated rainfall or torrents created when ice dams break.

Nepal has a monsoon climate and its winters are very dry, with hardly a drop of rain. Then in summer there is a huge quantity of rain. This means the country has 40,000MW of hydropower potential – 153 times what we currently import from India.

The problem with managing water in Nepal is that if the wet season becomes wetter, we will suffer more floods, while if the dry season becomes dryer (according to IPCC scenarios) there will be even less water for farming.

For the complete interview, please see china dialogue.