This study explored water commons in selected regions of Nepal in the context of the country’s agreement with India on the Koshi, Gandak and Mahakali rivers. The study sites lie in Nepal’s Sunsari, Morang, Saptari, Nawalparasi and Kanchanpur districts. Ten VDCs representing the head and tail ends of the canal systems from the transboundary projects were selected. The VDCs receive services in the form of irrigation and flood control measures.
The study examined how the projects affected livelihood of the riparian communities in terms of water use and disaster risk management. It collected people’s perspectives on perceived benefits, inundation problems, their knowledge on treaties and the support that communities received during disaster events. The study explored the civic action initiated by riparian communities and highlight issues of displacement, compensation and inundation.
The study touched upon the disputes regarding water use at the national and transnational level. The treaties, in principle, aimed to address the various challenges faced by the riparian communities of both countries – including their low socio-economic condition, food insecurity, and poverty. In their current form, the treaties do not meet these stated goals and are not sensitive to the challenges faced by the riparian communities. The present development approaches pursued within the context of the treaties have, instead, created problems for local communities particularly the poor.
People had mixed views regarding the transboundary projects. In all the study areas felt that India had benefitted more from the projects than Nepal. Flood was recognized as the major disaster in the study areas. People felt that hydro-engineering structures have blocked the natural drainage and elevated the riverbeds increasing instances of inundation. They were also displaced when land was acquired for developing the projects. Although compensation was provided to the affected families, no support was provided to help them re-establish their homes and build their livelihoods. Generally, the amount compensated was inadequate, low literacy level of the affected families, lack of adequate information and bureaucratic approach hindered compensation management.
In the future, the competition for water is likely to increase at the local, regional and transnational scale. Such competition will magnify disputes as water is allocated among different users. Cooperative development of rivers needs to be based on the principle of equitable sharing and distribution of benefits not only between the countries but also with the riparian communities within a country. The concerns and interests of riverine communities as well as the need to the river ecosystems that help local livelihoods are often neglected when governments agree on sharing river waters. Innovative approaches are needed to empower local communities so that their adaptive capacities to deal with various shocks are enhanced.