Interdisciplinary approach to water resources management

Despite the abundance of water in most parts of Nepal compared to many other countries including our neighbours, a majority of Nepalese are facing problems related to adequate and safe water on a daily basis. Except for a few locations, starting from November of each year, the regular sources of water dry up or provide very little water.

Various attempts have been made to reduce water related problems; however, the results speak for themselves regarding the efficacy of the attempts. Several of these attempts have been meticulously planned, elaborately designed, and genuinely implemented and operated. Yet, the fate of a majority of Nepalese seems to be pre-destined for never-ending struggle either to stay away from unwanted water in the form of floods or to wander for precious drops of water.

A close look at many of the water resources development projects (WRDP) in Nepal, be it a hydropower project or a water supply project or an irrigation project, seems to suffer from a common problem - inadequate or complete lack of interdisciplinary approach in seeking the solution to water related problems. Uni-disciplinary approach still predominates planning, designing, implementation and operation of WRDPs. Various key players in any WRDP like the civil engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, geo-technical engineers, hydrologists, geologists, environmentalists, sociologists, economists, industrialists, investors, farmers and other water users talk in a language that only they and their close associates understand. An engineer designing an irrigation project, for example, rarely finds it necessary, or desirable, to consult a farmer on the prevailing design practices and associated irrigation related problems in the local area. A water resource development planner or an investor considers every drop of water in a river as exploitable, hates to release any water downstream, and thinks any water flowing downstream as ‘wasted or unused water’. The environmentalists seem to consider any disturbance or intervention on the natural flow of water in any phase of the hydrologic cycle as a sinful act, regardless of the positive impacts it can have on the quality of life of the people intended to be served by such interventions.

Experts and other stakeholders engaged in the development and management of water resources in Nepal and abroad in the last few years have realized the need to integrate the views of various related disciplines for successful implementation of any WRDP. Translating this realization into action is still confusing to most of the actors in this field. For this the Government of Nepal prepared the National Water Resources Strategy in 2002 and the National Water Plan on 2005. In an honest attempt to address the issues raised by different stakeholders from various disciplines in WRDPs, normally a multidisciplinary team comprising of one or more experts from each discipline, is formed. In practice, however, each of these experts expects everybody else to understand his/her view rather than attempting to understand and incorporate views from other

disciplines. The multidisciplinary team, although better than nothing, provided an illusion of integrated approach in solving water related problems. The lack of or low level of progress in successful implementation of WRDPs in Nepal continued to indicate a dire need of a better approach to deal with the problems related to water resources management.

The management of water resources is an art and science of interdisciplinary nature. As such, the approach to deal with the issues related to water resources management should also be interdisciplinary. The realization of this simple fact dawned on the minds of the water resources management experts and stakeholders rather recently. The establishment of the South Asian Consortium on Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies (SaciWATERs) at Hyderabad, India, under a Crossing Boundaries Project funded by the government of the Netherlands is a step in this direction. Under the SaciWATERs, which is currently headed by Dr. Dibya Ratna Kansakar of Nepal, various graduate level curriculum and research programs are being conceived, developed and independently implemented in Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka with an aim to produce human resources capable of fully appreciating the views of the all the relevant disciplines. The experiences of the human resources produced from this program in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are very promising. Since this program started in Nepal only in the year 2007, the human resources in this sector in Nepal will be produced only after about half a year from now. This new interdisciplinary approach in water resources management, although not a panacea, will certainly be able to actually integrate all the relevant issues in water resources management so that the future water resources development projects will be socially justifiable, equitable, environmentally acceptable, self sustainable, and bring better realization of the intended and desired results of the WRDPs in Nepal.

Prof. Dr. Shrestha is Vice Principal, Nepal Engineering College