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More power for women in water decisions needed

The climate threat is real, but its impacts on water resources are further compounded by socioeconomic and demographic pressures, especially on women. This is the reality today in Koshi River basin.

Researchers, policy makers, and development practitioners in China, India, and Nepal need to actively collaborate to improve and share knowledge on managing water resources in the Koshi River basin by integrating livelihoods and gender as core aspects into water resource management. This was the key message during a two-day regional workshop, ‘Water-livelihoods-gender nexus to advance Koshi Basin Management,’ which concluded in Kathmandu last Friday.

Over 70 participants from Australia, China, India, and Nepal, including senior government officials, academic scholars, and development professionals, took part in the workshop jointly organized by the Government of Nepal’s Department of Irrigation (DOI) and Department of Agriculture (DOA).

The event was hosted by the Koshi Basin Programme (KBP) of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) with support from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The co-organizers were HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and Farmer Managed Irrigation Systems Trust (FMIST).

“The Government of Australia is proud to be supporting improvements in livelihoods in South Asia, where 40 million live in Koshi basin”, said His Excellency Glenn White, Ambassador of the Australian Embassy in Kathmandu. He added that the three countries that share the transboundary Koshi basin had much to learn from each other, and that this workshop created a common platform to share and exchange valuable information.

“With increasing pressure, especially on women who are taking a larger role in farm-based livelihoods with rising male outmigration, their role as decision makers needs to be stressed”, said David Molden, Director General of ICIMOD.

“The workshop brought together a diverse group of experts and partners with specialities in key sectors of the water-food-gender nexus”, said Ashok Singh, Deputy Director General of DOI.

The nexus approach integrates key cross-cutting issues into the sustainable management of the Koshi basin. One of the distinctive features of the nexus is the high degree of dependency between upstream and downstream communities for dry season water for irrigation and hydropower, drinking water, soil fertility, and nutrients. Linkages between these communities are critical to food, water and energy security.

Experts from HELVETAS shared how water use master plans (WUMP) have been instrumental in forging such linkages in the Koshi basin. “Rural communities are now actively involved in water planning processes with an inclusive and democratic practice to manage water for drinking water and irrigation”, said Bharat Pokharel, Nepal Country Director of HELVETAS.

ICIMOD and its partners through KBP have been sharing knowledge through a bottom-up approach at the regional level between China, India, and Nepal.

“We generate knowledge at the local level and take it to the policy level, with the aim of supporting the livelihood strategies of local communities in the Koshi basin”, said Shahriar Wahid, coordinator of the Koshi Basin Programme.

Experts also suggested that research and analysis had to be more practical for policy makers.

“What we need is specific, policy-relevant analysis, which will help a variety of responsible actors work towards gender equitable development”, said Tira Foran from CSIRO.

“In the Koshi basin, there is water surplus, yet we have water poverty. To address this paradox, we need to better understand how water management works,” said Golam Rasul from ICIMOD.

The meeting included technical sessions and group work on the challenges to resilient livelihoods in the Koshi basin. Participants presented on good practices, including riverbed farming, local water use master plans, micro-irrigation technologies, solar pumps, and collective farming. After discussion, the participants suggested ways to improve water management, including raising more awareness and advocacy of women’s issues, and translating gathered knowledge into tangible policy interventions.

“If our decisions do not make a difference on the ground, then they do not matter. We need to ensure the actions we take result in positive change for communities living in the Koshi basin”, said Eklabya Sharma from ICIMOD.

“This meeting was an excellent platform for the exchange of knowledge to support future action in the Koshi basin”, said Yubak Dhoj GC, Director General of DOA. “The Department of Agriculture will take forward key recommendations from the workshop to further scale up and scale out our programme”, he added.

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