HARVEST: High-mountain Asia - building Resilience to water Variability using Experiments, Surveys and accounts of Tradition.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Geography

Abstract

The glaciers and snowfields of the Himalayan mountain range provide meltwater that is critical for the many millions of people living in downstream areas, in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan for example. Their predominantly subsistence, agriculturally-based economies are entirely dependent on this supply of water during the dry (winter) season. These natural reservoirs are receding in the face of a warming climate, threatening food security in years to come. It is critical that vulnerable communities start to plan now for future water shortages, and develop simple but effective methods for harvesting and storing water during the rainy season, for use when the river discharge is low.

At the present time, how the contribution of meltwater to river flows varies through space and time is poorly quantified. We need to know this to be able to identify those communities that will experience the greatest reductions in water supply in the future. We also know relatively little about the communities that depend most on this resource - those in the mountains, generally marginalised from wider society and the national economy. We need to better understand their needs so that we can work with them to develop adaptation solutions. Our understanding of the history behind their current methods for irrigation and water capture and the politics and arrangements that determine their access to water is also very superficial. This needs to be better defined so that we can respect community heritage and offer adaptation solutions that are successfully integrated into current practices and are, ultimately, sustainable.

HARVEST will explore the methods with which we can close these knowledge gaps. Our team comprises scientists, social scientists, an environmental historian, an engineer, and an expert in public health. Critically, we are working with Practical Action, a leading international NGO based in Kathmandu, with expertise in grassroots development and poverty alleviation.

The scientists will take river water samples at different times of the year and at different locations, and use the concentration of stable isotopes (i.e. chemical signatures) to determine how much of the flow comprises snow and ice melt. This will provide quantitative data to identify those communities that will experience the greatest future water shortages. The social scientists will design and implement a household survey that will explore current issues of water use in the mountains, as well as irrigation and water harvesting/storage methods. The environmental historian will explore the British and Nepali archives for information on water use in Nepal, and establish the political and social contexts on which current access arrangements operate. Our engineer will work with the health scientist and Practical Action to identify adaptation measures that have been used in the past in rural mountain communities, and establish mechanisms by which the findings of the research team can be best used within these communities. Rather than offering particular solutions at this stage, the HARVEST team will have gathered experience and knowledge that will form the foundation of a broader-scale project across the Himalaya in a future funding call.

Planned Impact

The primary beneficiaries of our work will be our in-country partner through capacity building and knowledge transfer, and the communities in which we will work, who will gain preliminary data on water availability within their catchments and ideas for adaptation based on their survey response data and our historical analyses. Practical Action will benefit from the inclusion of one of their main staff members in our research, by being exposed to new working methods from a broad range of disciplines (science, social science, environmental history, engineering and health) and from strengthening their position as a leading NGO in climate change adaptation through their association with the project activities. The results of our scoping survey will be available to our project partners, and to other NGOs in Nepal, helping them to better understand water-related hazard and resilience. As well as informing practical work, such research might provide evidence for humanitarian advocacy. The communities in which we work will benefit from robust data on the water sources they rely on, and how this changes through the seasons. We will work with Practical Action to ensure these data are disseminated appropriately so that they are accessible for all, regardless of literacy or dialect. They will also benefit from a synthesis of the survey data that we collect, which will help community leaders to identify challenges and problems across a much broader spatial scale than is currently possible.

In the longer-term, the beneficiaries of our work will be the millions of people living in downstream areas of the Himalaya who rely on water originating in the mountains for their irrigation, sanitation and drinking needs. HARVEST will establish a firm platform on which we will build future funding applications that will contribute to climate change adaptation across the entire Himalayan range. Through our longer-term project aims, in-country environmental managers (e.g. the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology) and practitioners (e.g. UNICEF, WaterAid) will be able to access well-constrained forecasts of how water supplies will change in the face of future climate change, understand the needs of stakeholders and the political and historical context in which they currently develop coping strategies, and design and build appropriate adaptation and resilience strategies. This has been identified by existing collaborators (e.g. WWF Nepal as well as Practical Action) as a key need in the region and we will ensure our outcomes are made available to them through general (website) and targeted (personal communication, publication material provision) activities.

A larger future project (based on the findings of HARVEST and looking beyond Nepal to include the Himalayan region as a whole), will have significant impacts. It will seek links with governmental and civil society stakeholders in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Through regional and/or UK stakeholder workshops, stakeholders from different countries will have a unique opportunity to jointly work on issues of transnational concern. Most importantly, by working with partners such as Practical Action, our work will directly feed into government discussions on climate change adaptation and ultimately secure investment in the most vulnerable communities experiencing water shortages in coming years.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description 1. We have tested the use of chemical isotopes as a method for quantifying how important snow and ice melt is to Nepali communities with increasing distance from their source;
2. We have, through household surveys, characterised the politics and traditions governing access to water in Nepal's mountain regions, and the methods currently used to harvest and store water supplies;
3. We have explored archival data for information on how water availability, use, and methods of extraction and storage have historically developed in Nepal; and
4. We have characterised the extent of pharmaceutical compound presence in the urban watercourses of Kathmandu, Nepal's capital.
Exploitation Route We anticipate water managers in Nepal may use isotopic methods to characterise water supply on a broader scale than we have been able to during this short (9-month) grant and pair these data with household surveys to quantify risk. We anticipate environmental managers may wish to take our pharmaceutical data and implement new regulations on waste-water treatment in an effort to clean-up urban water courses.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

 
Title Archive syntheses 
Description Syntheses of archival data on history and politics of water use in Nepal. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact None as yet. 
 
Title Household surveys 
Description Household survey data and focus group interviews from community members in Annapurna 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact None as yet 
 
Title Isotopes 
Description Isotope data for Annapurna region rivers and water sources 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact None as yet 
 
Title Pharmaceuticals 
Description Measurement of pharmaceutical compounds from urban river samples in Kathmandu 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact None as yet. 
 
Description Collaboration with Kathmandu University, Nepal 
Organisation Kathmandu University
Country Nepal 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The research team has worked with two members of Kathmandu University in the field, one of whom also spent time at the University of Leeds on a placement (see relevant section).
Collaborator Contribution Kathmandu University have provided a member of staff to undertake ground penetrating radar surveys at our field site, and provided the equipment to be able to do this, as well as providing a postgraduate student to assist in fieldwork.
Impact No outputs at this stage.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Collaboration with Practical Action, Nepal 
Organisation Practical Action
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Research into questions and problems that are core to the activities of Practical Action - specifically relating to water use and conservation.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of logistical expertise, manpower, and translation services in support of our research in the Annapurna region, Nepal.
Impact One co-authored publication (see publications).
Start Year 2017
 
Description Collaboration with Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu 
Organisation Tribhuvan University of Nepal
Country Nepal 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We organised fieldwork for a group of MA students studying at Tribhuvan University collecting household survey data in the Annapurna region of Nepal. We trained them in social science surveys and basic elements of data analysis.
Collaborator Contribution Tribhuvan University provided our project with a group of MA students to help collect household survey data in the Annapurna region. They spent more than a week in the field yielding a dataset that characterises water use in the mountain region and local scale politics governing access to water in times of stress.
Impact A dataset of household survey responses from the Annapurna region of Nepal.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Partnership with ICIMOD, Nepal 
Organisation International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)
Country Nepal 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have included ICIMOD as collaborators on one major bid made through the University of Leeds.
Collaborator Contribution ICIMOD have made intellectual contributions to one major bid led by the University of Leeds.
Impact A Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two institutions.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Stakeholder workshop, Kathmandu 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact We held a one-day stakeholder workshop in Kathmandu including delegates from across South Asia including researchers, students, school children, community members, policy makers and politicians. We ran a 'community cafe' where all delegates were invited to talk about their experiences of water use and management in their country, feeding into a pool of questions and issues to focus on for future grant submissions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017