Addressing local water conflicts through innovative systems – Vijaya Sthapit

01 Nov 2018
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Vijaya Sthapit has worked on the Community Based Adaptive Learning in Management of Conflicts and Natural Resources (CALCNR) project in Nepal since 2014 where increasing frequency of water shortages was resulting in competing claims in rural communities. He discusses the adoption of a multiple-use water system and how it resulted in conflict being transformed into cooperation.

Hilly regions of Nepal suffer from acute water shortages, a result of a changing climate and altered precipitation patterns. It is here in the underdeveloped parts of the country, where rural communities rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, that conflicts are intensifying are the people are increasingly vulnerable.

The CALCNR project conducted research on ways to better manage the finite resource in a manner that reduced or avoided conflict and provided an innovative solution to foster cooperation.

Conflicts over scarce water in the villages of Dhikurpokhari, Lumle and Majhthana were prevalent both at the inter-community and the intra-community levels. The community members also had issues of access, often walking one to two hours daily to collect water costing them time and energy. The community’s crops relied solely on rain, and with changing precipitation patterns, this technique made their livelihoods difficult. The size of their Agricultural plots was relatively small, and required significant manual labour to be maintained. Thus the water issue magnified the challenges these community already faced in terms of achieving a high agricultural output despite small farm sizes, and the labour required to maintain a good output.

CALCNR initiated dialogue and negotiation between conflicting communities and developed their linkages with government stakeholders. These initiations have enabled them to identify multiple-use water systems as an important mechanism to addressing the water problems.

The multiple-use water system is an improved small scale water resource management mechanism that uses technology appropriate for the needs of isolated and marginalised populations relying on subsistence. Generally, the system is designed for 30-40 households depending on geographical aspects. Traditional irrigation systems are incompatible with the unevenly distributed farms and small land  holdings common in Nepal; however the unconventional multiple-use water system is highly effective. This system integrates socio-economic development of community members with the conservation and efficient use of water in order to resolve conflicts and promote effective water management.

The dialogues started by the researchers resulted far-reaching support from different stakeholders and the establishment of a committee to manage the system and to ensure it was maintained appropriately.

The committees were trained on the operation, maintenance, and repairing of the system to encourage sustainability and ownership. Furthermore, a trained technician on each committee was been employed to maintain the system for the benefit of all users, resulting in greater cooperation between the stakeholders and improved management of the water for both agricultural and domestic purposes.

Key Benefits of multiple-use water systems:

  • Provides sufficient water for both domestic needs and irrigation,
  • Enables farmers to cultivate high value crops that are best suited to changes in the prevailing climate and provide additional income,
  • Saves labour, increases agricultural output, and facilitates farming during dry season,
  • Reduces the workload for women and girls who carry water from distant water sources,
  • Enhances community-level climate change adaptation and reduces conflicts over access to water,

The benefit of this system is that it helps reduce two common climate change-related issues; water scarcity and water-related conflicts, making it a valuable tool when working in conflict-prone areas that suffer from acute water scarcity.

Vijaya wrote this blog following a training given by The Centre For People and Forests in Bangkok, Thailand on Transforming forest landscape conflicts for better governance”. CALCNR was one of seven research projects that formed part of the DFID-funded, NWO-WOTRO managed Conflict and Cooperation in the Management of Climate Change programme, which concluded in September 2018.

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