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Nepal is part of:
Asia & Pacific · Southern Asia ·
Water Basins of Nepal:
Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna · Indus ·
Facts & Figures edit
Capital Kathmandu
Neighbouring Countries China, India
Total Area 147,181 km2
  - Water 4,000 km2 (2.72%) / 272 m2/ha
  - Land 143,181 km2
Coastline 0 km
Population 27,132,630 (184 inhab./km2)
HDIA 0.530 (2007)
Gini CoefficientA 47.2 (1995)
Nominal GDPB $12,640 million
GDP (PPP) Per CapitaB $1,000
National UN Presence FAO, UNDP, UNHCR, WHO, UNICEF, UNESCO, UN-Habitat
Land UseC
  - Cultivated Land 24,226 km2 (16.92%)
     - Arable 23,009 km2 (16.07%)
     - Permanent Crops 1,217 km2 (0.85%)
     - Irrigated 11,700 km2
  - Non cultivated 11,025 km2 (83.08%)
Average Annual RainfallD 1500 mm
Renewable Water ResourcesE 210.2 km3
Water WithdrawalsF 7.94 km3/yr
  - For Agricultural Use 96%
  - For Domestic Use 3%
  - For Industrial Use 1%
  - Per Capita 417 m3
Population with safe access to
  - Improved Water Source 90%
     - Urban population 96%
     - Rural population 89%
  - Improved Sanitation 35%
     - Urban population 62%
     - Rural population 30%
References & Remarks
A UNDP Human Development Report
B CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia
C CIA World Factbook Country Profiles
D Aquastat - FAO's Information System on Water and Agriculture
E CIA World Factbook
F Earthtrends

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Country Profile: Climate, Geography, Socio-Economic Context

Country Profile: Water Bodies and Resources

Nepal has a wealth of water resources, with a mean annual rainfall of 1500 milimeters and hundreds of rivers, lakes, and streams. The country has five river basins. Three major river systems – the Koshi, Gandaki, and Karmnadi – originate from mountain glaciers and snow-fed lakes, traverse Nepal, and drain into the Ganges River in India. The steep gradient of the rivers flowing out of the Himalayas creates significant potential for hydropower, and small- and medium-scale hydropower systems have been built to serve remote communities and urban areas.

More than 96% of Nepal’s water is used for agriculture, roughly 3% for domestic purposes, and less than 1% for industrial use. Nepal’s groundwater resources have not been fully assessed but appear to exist at good levels. The country has 200 cubic milimeters of annual internal renewable water resources and the highest level of water resources per capita in Asia (7051 cubic meters). Ninety-four percent of the urban population and 87% of the rural population have access to improved water resources, although delivery is often interrupted and water pollution is a growing problem. Access to drinking water can be limited in the hills and mountains, especially during the dry season.

Nepal’s major rivers feed large irrigation systems in the Terai and smaller systems in the hills. The total irrigated area is estimated at 1.1 million hectares, which is about half the area that is potentially irrigable. Most irrigation systems rely on surface water. Irrigation systems include: (a) traditional farmer irrigation systems developed, owned, and managed by communities; (b) systems developed with full or partial support of the government; (c) large-outlay surface irrigation schemes; (d) government-developed tube well irrigation schemes; and (e) individually owned and operated tube wells and pumps (mostly utilizing shallow aquifers, streams, ponds, and dug wells).

Unequal access to water has caused tension in the country, especially where competing water-uses (e.g., irrigation, drinking water, hydropower, and industrial use) vie for access to water resources. In some areas of the Terai, some wealthier irrigation users have tended to benefit more and pay proportionally less in maintenance fees and time than poorer users, causing disputes.

Water resources are often stressed in the Kathmandu Valley. During long dry spells, wells in the Valley dry up and drinking water is limited. Discharge of untreated sewage and industrial waste pollute the valley’s rivers, causing outbreaks of waterborne diseases. Climate change is expected to impact the entire country; global warming is predicted to accelerate glacier melt in the Himalayas, increasing flooding and ultimately decreasing river flow and freshwater resources as the glaciers recede.

Country Profile: Legal and Institutional Environment

Legal Framework

The 2007 Interim Constitution provides that state has the responsibility to use existing natural resources, including water resources, in the interest of the nation. The Interim Constitution further provides that as the state mobilizes natural resources in the interest of the nation as a whole, the state shall also pursue a policy of giving priority to local people.

The Water Resources Act (1992) and Water Resources Regulations (1992) govern the use and management of the country’s water. The Water Resources Act provides that the state owns Nepal’s water resources and prioritizes domestic use, irrigation, and other agricultural uses of water over other water uses. The law provides for the formation of water user groups for collective management of water resources. Other water uses require licenses. The Water Resources Act prohibits water users from causing damage and prohibits polluting or degrading water resources.

The Soil and Watershed Conservation Act empowers the government to declare any area as a protected watershed to limit degradation of land by floods, waterlogging, salinity in irrigated areas and acceleration of siltation in storage reservoirs, and to allow for proper management of the watersheds.

Institutional Framework

The Ministry of Water Resources (MOWR) has primary responsibility for the management of Nepal’s water resources. The Ministry includes the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, which is responsible for water resources assessment and monitoring. A separate Ministry of Irrigation (MOIR) is responsible for all aspects of the country’s planning, design and implementation of major and minor irrigation systems and the sustained operation and maintenance of some of the completed systems. The Water and Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) is a consultative body of the Government.

Nepal has well-established institutions for the management of the thousands of Farmer Managed Irrigations Systems (FMIS) in the country. Most of the FMIS are in the hills, while Government Managed Irrigation Systems (GMIS) in the Terai commonly cover tens of thousands of hectares, with thousands of users and established water user groups.

Government Reforms and Interventions

The Government’s 2002 Water Resources Strategy and 2005 National Water Plan recognize the country’s need for an integrated and comprehensive water policy and river basin planning; the need for improvement of water delivery in rural areas; the creation of plans for water pricing and cost recovery; and the establishment of water quality standards. The Strategy and Plan articulate the following objectives: (1) adoption of measures to manage and mitigate water-induced disasters; (2 ) sustainable management of watersheds; (3) provision of adequate supply of potable water and sanitation; (4) appropriate and efficient irrigation systems; (5) cost-effective hydropower; (6) economic use for water for industry; (7) support for regional cooperation regarding water resource management; (8) enhancement of water information systems; and (10) development of a legal framework and supporting institutions.

In its 2002–2007 five-year plan, the Government set a target for increasing electricity production from small hydropower to provide off-grid electricity to 12% of the population. By subsidizing decentralized micro-hydro schemes, the GON planned to provide electricity to underserved communities. As of 2008, 2200 micro-hydropower plants had been installed.

Country Profile: Water Sector Coordination

See Sector coordination sub-page for detailed description

Country Profile: Trends in Water Use, Management and Sanitation

Country Profile: Challenges and Opportunities

Donor Involvement

USAID/Nepal programs have helped 64,000 households to adopt micro-irrigation systems (treadle pumps, drip systems, sprinkler systems, and low-cost water storage) and provided technical assistance to more than 3600 farmer groups (55% women members) in 2008–2009. In 2006, USAID funded a hygiene improvement project, “Bringing Consumers to the Table: Perceptions and Practice of Household Water Treatment Methods in Nepal.” USAID has also provided funding support for the construction of two micro-hydropower plants providing electricity to nearly 5400 households and 20 community enterprises, developed the Nepal Electricity Authority’s capacity to improve cross-border power trade with India, and supported an Alternative Energy Promotion Center to establish a regional center of excellence in micro-hydropower.

The World Bank-funded Irrigation and Water Resource Management Project, which began in 2008 with US $48 million, has been extended through 2013 with an additional US $14 million in funding. The project objectives are to help the GON improve agricultural productivity, improve management of selected irrigation schemes, and improve institutional capacity for integrated water resources management. As of 2009, the project had helped the Government form water user associations in 73 project areas and had started construction of 18 irrigation schemes, with farmers contributing labor. The project is helping the GON strengthen the Water and Energy Commission Secretariat with water resources information and investor assets, and has developed water user association training programs. The project is complemented by the US $96 million World Bank-funded Poverty Alleviation Fund Project II (PAF II), which has a component focusing on supporting Government irrigation and water supply projects (in addition to livestock and social service projects) for socially marginalized groups. Despite implementation setbacks, the project has reached 10,000 community.

The US $41 million Second World Bank-funded Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project (2008–2013) is designed to support the Government’s efforts to improve rural water supply and sanitation sector performance and support formation of local water supply and sanitation user groups that can plan, implement, and operate drinking water and sanitation infrastructure. As of 2009 the project had helped form water and sanitation user groups in 1166 scheme areas, constructed 55,304 household latrines, and provided improved water supply facilities to about 433,000 people through 589 schemes. Another 1782 schemes are in development stages.


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Projects and Case Studies

Projects in or about Nepal

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Who is Who

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