Water: Safeguarding It, Being Protected From It
Water security has long been a major concern in light of climate change, as too much or too little water, or water at the wrong time, is detrimental to local communities and their livelihoods. The vulnerability assessment of the Rapti river flood plain conducted by WWF Nepal in 2009/10 recognized water security as one of the major issues. On the basis of this assessment, nine community adaptation plans of action (CAPAs) were formulated in the river valley to build resilience and promote adaptation to climate change, including one for the Mahadeva village area where flooding is a major problem.
Implementing the CAPA with the support of the USAID funded Hariyo Ban Program through WWF Nepal, the Mahadeva CFUG has tackled the problem of flooding by establishing a tree plantation in an area of around 37.5 hectares at the edge of the community forest adjacent to the river, as a part of adaptation practice through bioengineering. It is hoped that the trees will hold the soil in place and prevent the river from cutting the banks away. To do this they restored a previously encroached area, and maintained a fence around it. Besides this, the Hariyo Ban Program is also aiding their efforts to maintain a vulnerable wetland in the middle of the community forest, which will not only help maintain a water source for the wildlife but also aid in regeneration of plants around the source.
Meanwhile, locals in nearby Ganga Paraspur VDC are strongly aware of the need to protect water sources. “I never remember a dearth of water when we were younger,” Bhandari says, “We dug a well in our courtyard 10 years ago, and water spurted out after 30 feet. For the last couple of years, the well has begun drying up during Baisakh (April-May). And while digging new wells, we need to go at least 40-45 feet before we reach water.” He is also quick to point out that many water sources have dried up, and even though houses have hand pumps, the water dries up intermittently. Worried by such changes and in line with their CAPA, locals have restored an almost extinct water source. They displaced squatters from encroached land, banned cattle grazing and planted trees around the water source. The once dry land now boasts a thriving green forest complete with a water source which locals have proudly maintained within a retaining wall. The water flow has increased at an encouraging pace, meaning that it could, in the near future, be used for essential purposes such as irrigation. This water source maintenance was partially funded by the Hariyo Ban Program through WWF Nepal.
A little farther off lies Kalapani in Sisainiya VDC, which was identified as one of the vulnerable areas by the vulnerability assessment. Local people here have displayed great caution in restoring a pond at the periphery of their village. The water source in the forest had all but dried up previously, but representatives of Narti Community Forest User Group convinced community members that their forests and biodiversity would be saved only if the water source was restored. Once forest grazing was controlled, the water source gradually began recharging and is today maintained as a pond. Along with DFID/PIPAL, this has been co-funded by the Hariyo Ban Program. “As a result of restoring the forest land, water sources can be seen all over the hills beyond the forest,” said Umanath Banjade, the former president of the community forest user group. Locals claim that the ban on grazing has helped the forest become healthy, creating a habitat for wild boar and deer. An elephant is reported to have roamed the forest area for two weeks during the last summer.
While protection of water sources is essential, community members of Bela VDC of Dang also need to protect themselves from water – the water that sweeps in from the river surrounding their village, and threatens to submerge their houses and fertile lands. The vulnerability assessment had identified Bela as a particularly high risk area and a CAPA was later prepared proposing measures to decrease vulnerability due to flooding. Following the identified adaptation activities from CAPA, the locals, under the initiation of Devisthan Community Forest user Group, have built check dams along the river. More importantly, they have made big efforts to restore the degraded land along the river through extensive plantations on both river banks. This WWF-supported activity has been going on for a number of years, with recent funding by Hariyo Ban. The efforts to adapt to climate change impact have borne fruit, for the banks now boast much healthier vegetation and there is less gravel and bare land.
The locals of this vulnerable region have well understood that as water can be both friend and foe, it is essential to safeguard important water resources while remaining safe from excessive flooding as climate change advances. In partnership with Mercy Corps, Hariyo Ban is examining opportunities to expand the use of bioengineering to reduce impacts of climate change such as flooding, through restoring natural systems and processes.
By Richa Bhattarai, Communications Associate, Hariyo Ban Program, WWF Nepal
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Disclaimer: The Hariyo Ban Program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this article are the responsibility of WWF and its consortium partners and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.