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Competition for spring water: Increase in land grabbing and private holding of springs in the mid-hills of the Gandaki River basin
28 Jun 2016

Springs are considered lifelines in the villages of the mid-hills of Nepal, as they are very important for survival: they are important sources of drinking water for humans and livestock, and they are used for irrigation, especially during the dry months. However, the discharge from various springs in this belt has changed over the time, most noticeably after the 2015 earthquake, perhaps disturbed the hydrogeology underneath the Earth’s surface, which caused the complete drying out of some springs, a decline in the discharge of many others, as well as the emergence of new springs. In this context, the HI-AWARE initiative under ICIMOD’s regional programme on River Basins is undertaking springshed management research in Charghare VDC of Nuwakot in the Gandaki River basin, as part of its Research Component 3: Research into use.

Recently, a research team organized a seven-day field visit to Charghare VDC as part of the first step of an on-going research. Between 23 and 29 May 2016, the team from ICIMOD and Practical Action comprehensively mapped 43 springs in water tower located in the VDC, including various types of springs mostly used for drinking and domestic purposes: dried-out, perennial, seasonal, and newly emerging. The team selected the particular springshed in Chargahre for study based on secondary literature review and earlier research findings and reports from the HI-AWARE initiative. Multiple agencies had also recommended it as one of the most water-scarce areas in Nuwakot.

The field investigation suggests that the degree of water scarcity has intensified in recent times and so has the competition for water, especially during the four dry months of the year, making life difficult in this region. Although the Water Resources Act of Nepal, 1992, states that all water sources are owned by the state – even water sources such as springs on private land – field observations indicate that water rights seem to be based, by and large, on land ownership in the case of private land and on the rule of priority – ‘first in line, first in right’ – for springs located on public land. All of this has led to increased competition for spring water, resulting in an increase in practices such as land grabbing and the private holding of springs. Although the research does depict good water-sharing practices among some of the wards in the VDC, it is uncertain whether such practices will continue as the springs continue to dry up.