Community to community cooperation in transboundary water management

River basin communities of both sides of Mahakali river, one of the transboundary rivers between Nepal and India, are now active to jointly solve common problems they face in their daily lives.

Leading newspapers Nagarik Daily and Gorkhapatra reported in December 2018, “Communities living in river basin of Mahakali river do not have easy life”. Despite the river flowing beside Binayak village in Pancheshwor-4 in Nepal, more than 200 households do not have easy access to drinking water. Farmlands are dry and do not have irrigation. People are compelled to put their lives in danger while collecting water from the river for drinking and basic household purposes.

Residents of Shivnath and Pancheshwor Gaunpalika (Rural Municipality), and Dashrath Municpality of Mahakali river in Nepal have been facing such problems. They are forced to live in fear in absence of proper mechanism informing about the danger of increasing water level of the river. ‘We are losing lives and property every year because there is no embankment and no mechanism of flood early warning system’ said Kamala Mangola, a residence of Dimbar, Pancheswor Gaunpalika 2.

Basanta Chand of Pancheshwor, who was married for just a year, was swept away along with her Gaagri “water-collecting vessel” while collecting water from the Mahakali river. Similar incident happened with a seven-year old Parwati Chand while taking bath. And, ninth grader Bir Chand and fifth grader Santosh Chand were also swallowed by the Mahakali River along with their cows as reported in the national dailies published in December 2018.

Junkiri Chand awaits every day for boat-service to commence so that she can cross the border and collect grass for her cattles. There is no bridge to cross the river. People of Pancheshwor-4 buy basic commodities such as salt, oil, rice from India. Food for their cattle are also transported through the risky boats, putting their lives in danger. Women cross the river in boats in fear recalling those tragic incidents. “Thank God, our boat has not overturned yet. Crossing the river in a boat as a porter carrying grasses for our cattle is dreadful,” shared Kuhira Chand, a local resident.

To find a way out to easily access and properly use river resources of Mahakali river, local representatives and communities of both the countries Nepal and India met for the first time to discuss transboundary water management issues on 21 December, 2018. This was a public campaign organized and led by RUDES[1], one of the TROSA[2] Nepal partners in Baitadi district. Members of women’s group called Women Empowerment Centre (WEC) of Nepal shared their common stories via Deuda[3] cultural programme to the representatives of the local government of both sides.

“Our cultures, languages, and lifestyles are similar, and even funerals and marriages are similar to the communities of India, as such social rituals take place between the communities. Therefore, problems we face are very similar. Governments hardly reach here to learn about our agonies” said Chandra Mangola from Pancheshwor 2 Gaunpalika of Nepal.

Affected local women of both sides raised the need of flood early warning system; drinking water and water for irrigation; and the problems they face daily to commute to the other side of the river at the campaign. “We discussed how we can maximize the benefit of multiple use of the river resources, and, also about what can be solved at the local level,” said Chandra Mangola from Pancheshwor 2 Gaunpalika of Nepal.

In the campaign organized in Binayak village in Pancheshwor Gaunpalika, around 100 community members, including 10 local representatives from India and Nepal gathered at the event.

"WEC at TROSA are formed, with special focus on transboundary rivers, to sensitize communities about their rights and responsibilities around riverine water resources, to capacitate in becoming leaders and involving them in transboundary water resources planning and decision making. Women share their problems and discuss how to solve them. They even lobby and advocate for it."

Communities also received strong commitments from the local government representatives of both Nepal and India to address the issues shared by them. One of the members of Pancheswor Gaunpalika-2 (Rural Municipality) Mrs. Kamala Chand openly committed to support and said, “Binayak cluster is in high risk zone, especially in the rainy season. 20-40 ropanis[4] of land get destroyed from flood each year. Around two to four persons disappears while crossing the river. Hence, I commit to endorse these issues at local level disaster risk management plan and ensure that decisions are made at the rural municipality meeting to solve these problem.

It seems there is no mechanism to warn about the flow of water level to the communities of Nepal. According to Govind Joshi, Executive Director of RUDES, Indian communities receive flood-early warning in their mobiles through SMS but Nepali communities do not receive such information. Thus, to share information with both the communities, this gathering also organized to create a network between the communities. The newly formed Saurya-Binayak Nepal-India Advocacy Network has five members (three from Haldugram sabha and two from Pancheshwor). This network will coordinate with each other and approach their respective government with their demands to address the identified common issues of the community. This network will further work with the Early Warning Committee to ensure flood early warning is communicated in timely manner.

“This is the first time that the river basin communities of both sides came together to discuss such issues”, said Krishna Chand, Chairperson of Halduram Sabha of Pithauragadh, Uttarakhand. He further assured that from now on the information Indian communities receive about the early warning system will be shared to its neighboring communities of Nepal.

On the occasion of 22nd International Day of Action for Rivers, the newly formed Saurya-Binayak Community-to-Community Advocacy forum is meeting again, today, 14 March 2019. This time to share stories of the women and their advocacy initiatives carried out in the Mahakali basin. The recently publish stories on International Women’s Day “Stories of the women from the Mahakali river Basin” will be shared with the local authorities of Nepal and India along with the other community members. The discussion on the stories will further support local level governments to bring programmes beneficial to basin communities.

The community to community cooperation will not only share the same ordeals of river and water induced disaster, but will also share opportunities and challenges brought about by the transboundary Mahakali river.”

 

 

[1] RUDES: Rural Development and Environment Management Society in Baitadi District, Province7, Nepal

[2] TROSA - Oxfam’s project funded by SIDA called TROSA (Transboundary Rivers of South Asia) for the rights of riverine communities for their right to access and control over river resources.

[3] Deuda: Group song is performed by a group of male or female, joining hands, singing and moving around in a circle in the same rythem. Participants of Deuda spontaneously create stanzas of song-lyrics related to their lives and share amongst each other. This is popular in the far western region of Nepal

[4] Ropani – 5476 sq feet Area