Watershed development projects serve to achieve multiple objectives, which call for integrating and balancing various concerns, such as environmental conservation, productivity, participation and sustainability in its operational strategy.

The overriding consideration behind watershed development projects has been degradation of land and water, and the need to restore the disturbed ecological balance.

Since watershed development projects are land-based development activities, they help in raising the productivity of the farmers, although this has largely benefitted the large land holders who are able to manipulate project management.

In reality, watershed development is not possible without proper watershed management, which is a socio-technical process that provides for the conservation and utilisation of the natural resources of a watershed, such as land, water forest, wildlife and human, which are interrelated. Presently, such programmes are dominated by the bureaucracy, resulting in their poor performance.

So far, the economic factor has been under played in designing most watershed development projects, perhaps, because of the obsession with engineering environmental dimensions.

Since poverty is both a cause and effect of overexploitation of nature and resources, successful watershed development projects will result in sustainable poverty reduction. But most watershed development projects in Nepal lack productivity orientation. Actually, only watershed management that is both integrated and participatory helps raise the living standard of the poor.

But the difficulty lies in enlisting local community institutions at the micro watershed level for effective participation of all stakeholders in the projects.

Before embarking on any watershed development project, making it beneficial to the people living there, enlisting maximum people's participation and offsetting costs to increase coverage and maximise benefits to the community are some of the concerns. Nepal's physical divisions into plains, hills and mountains have affected watershed development projects. Despite some efforts, the rugged terrain crisscrossed by mountain ranges, rivers and forests has not only isolated the villages, districts and regions from each other but also hindered watershed development activities.

In recent years, there has been an increasing demand for watershed development projects in Nepal because they help improve the standard of living of the local people. For watershed projects to be sustainable, community managed systems are essential.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 9 2021, of The Himalayan Times.