Flooding has always been a major cause of natural disasters in a mountainous country like Nepal. Among the many natural disasters that affect Nepal, the recurring floods during the monsoon season have catastrophic consequences every year. Nepal’s fragile geological conditions and complex topography combined with frequently occurring extreme rainfall during the monsoon poses risks to communities living along the flood plains. In order to ensure good flood management practices and the development of long-term water management strategies a good understanding of key hydrological processes and the ability to simulate future changes in streamflow is a prerequisite.

During recent years, FutureWater has done many projects in collaboration with NGO’s, INGO’s and academic institutions in Nepal. This is the first time FutureWater collaborated with the Institute of Forestry (IOF), Nepal to provide their teaching faculty and researchers a training on “Use of open source platform for hydrological modelling of data sparse regions in Nepal”. The Tailor Made Training (TMT) was fully funded by NUFFIC’s Orange Knowledge Programme (OKP) and took place from 8 April to 24 April 2019 in Pokhara, Nepal.

Essential skills, in particular modelling of hydrological processes are currently lacking at IOF, hampering the capacity to gain deep understanding of the present and future flood management situation in the region. Therewith IOF faces difficulties in developing long-term strategies to deal with climate change impacts for Nepal’s water resources. Further, the lack of ground-based measurements in the Himalayan region imposes an additional level of complexity while modelling the hydrological characteristics of this region. The use of readily available open source satellite-based data can augment the limited ground-based observation in the region.

Overall, the training fulfilled all the needs of the IOF, and was positively evaluated by the participants. This training program has encouraged the faculty members from IOF to use open source data and platforms in their future research and teaching.

The SREB is part of the Belt and Road Initiative, being a development strategy that focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries. Essentially, the SREB includes countries situated on the original Silk Road through Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The initiative calls for the integration of the region into a cohesive economic area through building infrastructure, increasing cultural exchanges, and broadening trade. A major part of the SREB traverses Asia’s high-altitude areas, also referred to as the Third Pole or the Asian Water Tower. In the light of the planned development for the SREB traversing the Third Pole and its immediate surroundings, the “Pan-Third Pole Environment study for a Green Silk Road (Pan-TPE)” program will be implemented.

The project will assess the state and fate of water resources in the region under following research themes:

1. Observed and projected Pan-TPE climate change
2. Impacts on the present and future Water Tower of Asia
3. The Green Silk Road and changes in water demand
4. Adaptation for green development

In irrigated agriculture options to save water tend to focus on improved irrigation techniques such as drip and sprinkler irrigation. These irrigation techniques are promoted as legitimate means of increasing water efficiency and “saving water” for other uses (such as domestic use and the environment). However, a growing body of evidence, including a key report by FAO (Perry and Steduto, 2017) shows that in most cases, water “savings” at field scale translate into an increase in water consumption at system and basin scale. Yet despite the growing and irrefutable body of evidence, false “water savings” technologies continue to be promoted, subsidized and implemented as a solution to water scarcity in agriculture.

The goal is to stop false “water savings” technologies to be promoted, subsidized and implemented. To achieve this, it is important to quantify the hydrologic impacts of any new investment or policy in the water sector. Normally, irrigation engineers and planners are trained to look at field scale efficiencies or irrigation system efficiencies at the most. Also, many of the tools used by irrigation engineers are field scale oriented (e.g. FAO AquaCrop model). The serious consequences of these actions are to worsen water scarcity, increase vulnerability to drought, and threaten food security.

There is an urgent need to develop simple and pragmatic tools that can evaluate the impact of field scale crop-water interventions at larger scales (e.g. irrigation systems and basins). Although basin scale hydrological models exist, many of these are either overly complex and unable to be used by practitioners, or not specifically designed for the upscaling from field interventions to basin scale impacts. Moreover, achieving results from the widely-used FAO models such as AquaCrop into a basin-wide impact model is time-consuming, complex and expensive. Therefore, FutureWater is developing a simple but robust tool to enhance usability and reach, transparency, transferability in data input and output. The tool is based on proven concepts of water productivity, water accounting and the appropriate water terminology, as promoted by FAO globally (FAO, 2013). Hence, the water use is separated in consumptive use, non-consumptive use, and change in storage (Figure 1).

Separation of water use according to the FAO terminology.

A complete training package is developed which includes a training manual and an inventory of possible field level interventions. The training manual includes the following aspects: 1) introduce and present the real water savings tool, 2) Describe the theory underlying the tool and demonstrating some typical applications, 3) Learn how-to prepare the data required for the tool for your own area of interest, 4) Learn when real water savings occur at system and basin scale with field interventions.

Hasta el momento no existe una metodología ampliamente aceptada para cuantificar el impacto del riesgo climático en proyectos de recursos hídricos que son apoyados y financiados por el Grupo del Banco Mundial. El Grupo de Evaluación Independiente (IEG) en su informe de 2012 titulado «Adaptación al clima Cambio: Evaluar la experiencia del Grupo del Banco Mundial», reconocía que «los modelos climáticos han sido más útiles para establecer el contexto que para informar de las mejores opciones de decisión política y de inversión” y que «a menudo tienen un valor agregado relativamente bajo para muchas de las aplicaciones descritas». En el informe se reconoce que «aunque el sector hidroeléctrico tiene una larga tradición para gestionar la variabilidad climática, el Grupo del Banco carece de herramientas de orientación específica y de metodologías apropiadas para incorporar las consideraciones del cambio climático en el diseño y la evaluación de los proyectos hidroeléctricos».

Tras su publicación en 2015 («Confrontando la incertidumbre climática en la planificación de recursos hídricos y el diseño de proyectos: El marco del árbol de decisiones»), el DTF se ha aplicado a diferentes proyectos del Banco en seis casos piloto de diferente índole (generación hidroeléctrica, suministro de agua, y riego) y financiado con fondos del Water Partnership Program. Este esfuerzo continúa en el marco de este análisis para dos proyectos adicionales que reciben financiación del Fondo Fiduciario para el Crecimiento Verde de Corea (KGGTF) y que se centran en aumentar la resiliencia y seguridad hídrica frente a inundaciones y el aumento del riego en la cuenca del río Nzoia en Kenia, y en la aplicación de la Guía de Resiliencia Climática del Sector Hidroeléctrico, basada en el DTF, para la central hidroeléctrica de pasada de Kabeli-A en Nepal.

FutureWater contribuye al proyecto mediante la ejecución de tareas específicas encaminadas a evaluar el riesgo de ambos proyectos mediante la modelización de cultivos y de asignación de agua en el caso de estudio de Nzoia, y la modelización hidrológica para cuencas de alta montañas en el caso de estudio de Nepal.

HI-AWAREHI-AWARE is one of four consortia of the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA). HI-AWARE aims to contribute to enhanced adaptive capacities and climate resilience of the poor and vulnerable women, men, and children living in the mountains and flood plains of the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra river basins through the development of robust evidence to inform people-centred and gender-inclusive climate change adaptation policies and practices for improving livelihoods.

HI-AWARE will:

  • Generate scientific knowledge on the biophysical, socio-economic, gender, and governance conditions and drivers leading to vulnerability to climate change;
  • Develop robust evidence to improve understanding of the potential of adaptation approaches and practices, with an explicit focus on gender and livelihoods;
  • Develop stakeholder-driven adaptation pathways based on the up- and out-scaling of institutional and on-the-ground adaptation innovations;
  • Promote the uptake of knowledge and adaptation practices at various scales by decision-makers and citizens; and
  • Strengthening the interdisciplinary expertise of researchers, students, and related science-policy-stakeholder networks.

HI-AWARE study sites

HI-AWARE will focus its activities in 12 sites, representing a range of climates, altitudes, hydro-meteorological conditions, rural-urban continuum, and socio-economic contexts in four study basins: the Indus, Upper Ganga, Gandaki and Teesta. It will conduct research in these sites, including modeling, scoping studies, action research, and randomized control trials. It will test promising adaptation measures in observatory labs at the sites for out-scaling and up-scaling. It will also conduct participatory monitoring and assessment of climate change impacts and adaptation practices to identify:

  • Critical moments – times of the year when specific climate risks are highest and when specific adaptation interventions are most effective;
  • Adaptation turning points – adaptation turning points – when current policies and management practices are no longer effective and alternative strategies have to be considered; and
  • Adaptation pathways – sequences of policy actions that respond to adaptation turning points by addressing both short term responses to climate change and longer term planning.

FutureWater’s main tasks focus on biophysical drivers and conditions leading to vulnerability to climate change. Key tasks are to:

  • Develop detailed mountain specific and basin scale climate change scenarios;
  • Improve cryosphere-hydrological modeling to assess significant shifts in flow regimes with an aim to develop water demand and supply scenarios as well as improve and apply water-food impact models; and
  • Better understand climate change impacts on extremes (heat, floods, drought),and quantify these extremes from climate models and subsequently impact models.

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. The Himalayan region (after Antarctica and the Arctic) has the third largest amount of ice and snow in the world, and is exceptionally vulnerable. The various Global Climate Models (GCM) predict very similar future temperature trends for the region, but projections of future precipitation patterns differ widely. As a consequence, the need for increased knowledge about future climate change remains high. The main focus of GCMs thus far was on temperature increases and potential changes to the hydrological cycle. The overall tendency that has emerged is that wetter regions are likely to become wetter and drier regions drier. Increased scientific knowledge, coupled with recent weather events, show that changes in hydrological extreme events can be substantial and the geographical and temporal resolution of predicted changes remains low in many areas.

For Statkraft, as the largest generator of renewable energy in Europe and a leading company in hydropower internationally, an understanding of future changes to the hydrological cycle and its uncertainty is crucial for effective business planning. Investment decisions regarding the business strategy for the next 50 years depend on accurate predictions of climate change impacts on inflow over that period.  In addition, changing probabilities and magnitudes of extreme events can put additional risk on infrastructure (dams and hydropower plants) or on other crucial infrastructure (roads and transmission lines).  Statkraft’s intention to grow in the region makes it necessary to assess short, medium and long-term impacts, risks and opportunities resulting from climate change, to ensure sustainable management of the water resources for all stakeholders. Currently, Statkraft’s main business focus lies with northern India (mainly the state of Himachal Pradesh) and Nepal, while Bhutan and Myanmar might be areas of future business development as well.

Kaligandaki Hydro power located in Nepal.

Through the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the inter-governmental learning and knowledge sharing Centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH), FutureWater provided a comprehensive review study on climate change and the impacts on cryosphere, hydrological regimes and glacier lakes in the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra river basins. This review study was done in the context of future hydropower development in the region.

The climate, cryosphere and hydrology of the Hindu-Kush Himalaya (HKH) region have been changing in the past, and will continue to change in the future; warming of the climate system is unequivocal. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. The Himalayan region has the third largest deposit of ice and snow in the world, after Antarctica and the Arctic and might be exceptionally vulnerable. There is good agreement among Global Climate Models (GCM) on future temperature trends in the region, but projections of future precipitation patterns differ widely. As a consequence, the demand for increased knowledge about future climate change is still high. A main focus has been given to temperature increases and changes to the hydrological cycle with the tendency that wetter regions mainly will become wetter and drier regions will become drier. Growing scientific knowledge and recent weather events show that extremes related to hydrological changes can be substantial though and the geographical and time-wise resolution of predicted changes is still low in many areas.

Energy is one of the major drivers of changes in the HKH region. The region has a high potential for hydropower due to abundance of water in conjunction with verticality of landscape. However, the changing climate and hydrological regime might pose a risk to hydropower development in the future. It has become imperative for hydropower developers to have a good understanding about the changes in the hydrological cycle and its uncertainty. Also, changing probabilities and magnitudes of extreme events can put additional risk on hydropower infrastructures.

Hydropower projects in Nepal according to the Department of Electricity as of 16 March 2015. The Tamakoshi basin is indicated by the blue boundary.
Hydropower projects in Nepal according to the Department of Electricity as of 16 March 2015. The Tamakoshi basin is indicated by the blue boundary.

The overall objective of this project is therefore to improve the understanding of the expected impacts of climate change on water availability in the context of potential hydropower development in the Tamakoshi River Basin. Specifically, the project aims to:

  • Understand the current baseline hydrological regime of the Tamakoshi River Basin
  • Develop detailed climate change projections for the 21st century, including factors relevant for hydropower development
  • To understand the future hydrology and its potential impact on the hydropower potential

Global warming is considered as one of the major threats for the world’s population and coping with it may be one of the largest challenges for this century. Multiple attempts to streamline global policy on climate change mitigation have been made over the past decades, and the “Paris Agreement” which was signed at the 21st Conference of the Parties in 2015 is considered a major breakthrough in formulating adequate measures to tackle climate change. Governments agreed on “a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels”, and “to aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C, since this would significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change”. In response to this development, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will publish a Special Report on global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, and is gathering scientific content for this report.

Flooding in Bangladesh.

However, scientific evidence of the impacts of a 1.5 ˚C global warming, and more importantly, the differences in impacts between a 1.5 ˚C and a 2 ˚C global warming, is lacking. Therefore, the scientific community has been mobilized to provide this scientific evidence as input to the special report. FutureWater leads a regional assessment quantifying the impacts of a 1.5 ˚C versus a 2 ˚C global warming for a major global climate change hotspot: the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins in South Asia.

ICIMOD is the implementing agency for the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP) that runs from January 2011 to December 2015. HICAP addresses climate change adaptation challenges across different related disciplines such as water resources, ecosystem services, food security, vulnerability and gender. Part of the project is related to the generation of water availability scenarios from upstream river basins that are primarily characterized by snow and glacial melt. ICIMOD has contracted FutureWater to generate these scenarios based on a high resolution hydrological model that FutureWater has developed. The project runs from January 2012 until June 2013. FutureWater will generate climate change and water availability scenarios for the upstream parts of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins.

With the overall goal to improve our knowledgebase on climate change impact on water availability and demand in the upper parts of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra basins, the specific objectives of the proposed study are to:

  • Assess climate change scenarios and develop water availability scenarios corresponding to base and future climate scenarios at sub-basin and catchment scales in the three basins
  • Improve our understanding of the partitioning of runoff contribution from different natural sources (snow, glacier, rainfall and base flow)
  • Detailed analysis of uncertainty of water availability scenarios and assessment of hydropower potential for five pilot catchments

Water is becoming an increasingly critical factor in Asia. The catchments of Hindu – Kush Himalayan (HKH) are a source of a significant portion of this water. Glaciers are a component of the HKH water budget. There is general agreement that a widespread retreat of the global ice cover has been occurring since at least the late 1800s. However, a consensus view of the significance of this retreat in terms of factors determining glacier mass balance, or the resulting water resources and general environmental impacts has not been reached for the HKH mountains. It is believed that only a combined effort of local observation, remote sensing and simulation modeling can lead to a better understanding of what’s happening. Especially the modeling is essential to provide projections for the future.

FutureWater has conducted a review of current state of knowledge in (i) climate change datasets and downscaling used for glacier and high mountain modelling, (ii) glacier and snow contribution to river runoff in the HKH region, (iii) hydrological modelling studies used for glacier and high mountain environments and, (iv) downstream impacts of climate change on the HKH region.

The concept of using simulation models in scenario analysis.
Importance of Himalayan’s rivers for people.