Groundwater Governance Prospects and Challenges in Nepal

The set of framework and guiding principles that provide an environment for collective management of groundwater for sustainability, equity, and efficiency can be understood as groundwater governance. The groundwater resources vary widely with natural variation and geological heterogeneity. Therefore, governance must be adapted to the local context. Groundwater, being an integral part of the hydrological cycle, needs to be managed in conjunction with linked water and land resources. Over time, groundwater extraction in Nepal for different purposes has been growing gradually (driven by demography, technology, and changing lifestyles), resulting in threats to its sustainability. This indicates that sound governance is a pressing priority. However, the development and implementation of several components of the governance are creating a larger governance gap.  

 Er. Bhesh Raj Thapa
International Water Management Institute

In Nepal, intensive groundwater extraction, pollution by inadequate sanitation and wastewater treatment, pollution by industry and agriculture, inequitable allocation, inefficient use, and land subsidence are the key issues and challenges for groundwater management, mainly in bigger cities and the Terai area. In addition to this, the role of groundwater actors and their mode of interaction, regulatory and institutional framework, policies development, and their implementation is not well understood and not in function. Such frameworks and policies need to be revisited for good governance in the groundwater sector. Although several water-related laws and regulations focusing on groundwater have been made, groundwater has practically remained an unregulated resource in Nepal.

The cities like Kathmandu have been facing negative consequences like drying of traditional water sources, decreasing well yields, and declining groundwater levels due to excess extraction rather than recharge. Groundwater act, regulation, and policy exist, but the mechanism and dynamics of changes for sustainable management of groundwater have not been properly addressed till date. Overlapping responsibilities and sectoral conflicts in water institutions in most of the major cities are causing weak governance in the water sector. In addition to this, poor understanding of hydrological dynamics of conjunctive water use and local hydro-geological complexities are also major constraints for sustainable groundwater management through policy formulation and implementation.

Improving groundwater governance is not easy, hence the responsible local institutions have to make their judgement based on the regulation and policies to suggest feasible and effective measures in the current situations. All the relevant parties need to commit and cooperate towards a common goal for effective groundwater governance. Good governance will mainly be guided with four sets of principal and consideration: political and institutional (accountability, representation, consistency, institutional capacity etc.); socio-cultural (religious and spiritual traditions, social learning, social inclusion, ethics etc.); economic (price signal, groundwater storage condition, water quality impacts, willingness to pay etc.); ecological (storage, attenuation rate and renewability, land uses etc.). To improve the groundwater governance, it needs to be treated in a holistic approach and proper management instrument and measures need to be selected based on the local condition. Their effectiveness not only depends on the local physical, institutional, economic and social condition but also on the way these measures are designed and implemented. In addition to this, information and knowledge regarding local conditions need to be shared and awareness related to the baseline of the groundwater resources and their safe limit need to be raised for good groundwater governance. Reaching an effective level of awareness is the first step towards structural communication between decision-makers, planners, groundwater specialists and stakeholders. For adequate groundwater management, a powerful and effectively operating groundwater organization is a must. In addition to this, the laws related to groundwater allow for a connection between the policies of groundwater and those of the related field such as surface water management, land use planning, and environmental protections.

Note: ‘Young Researcher’ Issue 04 – Jan 2021

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