To learn about IRHA’s New Integrated Water Resource Management Project in the Kaski District of Nepal, Rachel Nisbet (RN) spoke with Kanchan Nepal's Team Leader, Gajendra Singh Pun (GSP).Having built rainwater-harvesting systems to supply his household with water, Mr Pun is convinced of the value of using rain as a water resource. He has never had to buy water from a tanker since installing his rainwater harvesting system, and would like to see people in the urban centers of Pokhara and Kathmandu benefit in the same way. Having worked in the water and sanitation sector for years, he also recognizes that groundwater is also an important water resource in many parts of his district. So he has refocused Kanchan Nepal's projects, to ensure that rainfall is retained within catchments, using structures including ponds, or as they are known locally, pokharai.
RN: What is a pokhari?
GSP: Pokharis are traditional way of collecting water when it rains, if there is flooding, or to stock water overflowing from natural springs. This water can be used by livestock, and for washing clothes or dishes, for example. The pooled water can be used in the irrigation of crops as well. However, typically, pokharis are useful during the dry season for cattle rearing.
RN: How do you remember pokharis from your childhood?
GSP: There was a pokhari in the middle of my village. It was used for cattle rearing in both rainy and dry season. We used to swim and play with our cattle (buffalos) in the ponds, riding on their backs, as buffaloes love to swim in the pokhari. During the rainy season the pokhari used to be 8-10 feet deep. Actually, we learn to swim in that pokhari.
RN: How have pokharis have changed?
GSP: To make a pokhari stable, we had to let the buffaloes play in it. These days, people have fewer cattle than they used to have before. So the movement of the buffaloes is less nowadays with these pokharis. Most of these ponds have dried out and hold no more water in the dry season. Even the local community overlooked these changes and failed to conserve these pokharis. Climate change is another factor that affects the status of the pokharis. The local government has tried to preserve them. But a lack of understanding about the role of the pokharis within local ecosystems, and an engineering approach, using cement to shore up the ponds meant they could not restored. Road and huge infrastructure development nearby the pokharis, accompanied by improper drainage systems also contributes to the ponds’ drying out. Communities’ lack of knowledge about groundwater recharge meant they could identify the importance of restoring the traditional pokharis.
RN: What impact will restoring pokharis have in the region?
GSP: Our intervention area is one of the most water scare in the Kaski district. Kanchan Nepal have been working to improve water and sanitation in this region of the Mid-Hills since 2008, through interventions including Blue Schools. Yet south facing hillsides no longer have active springs, they are all dry. Existing water sources like pokharis and springs are also drying up at higher altitudes in this part of the Mid-Hills. Our Integrated Water Resource Management project will help to restore existing water resources. The project includes rainwater harvesting, spring protection, the construction of small check dams, pokhari rehabilitation and the plantation of forest sections to slow rainwater runoff. Infrastructure built as part of this project will retain water for longer and so increase the volume of water that infiltrates the subsurface to recharge our ground water resource.
Local, indigenous knowledge guides how we will restore the pokharis. We will actively discourage the construction of concrete structures to retain water; this is a poor attempt to imitate the function of pokharis (the water just evaporates more quickly and can’t infiltrate the subsurface). We are encouraging the local community to participate directly in this endeavor, as restoring the ponds will increase the water table and improve everyone’s access to water. I have much hope in this initiative, which will have a significant impact on local community well-being, and create many good stories for us to share.