Is Nepal the second richest country in water resources?


“Nepal is the second richest country in the world after Brazil”. When I was in school, I heard this statement as a myth. However, my grandmother spent one hour of a day to carry a bucket of water from a spring little far from my village. Afterward, when she could not carry the water due to her age, I and my mother carried the water not from springs but from a tap that is quite near than the spring. At those time I had seen many disputes between women regarding for the water at the tap. This process ran for a long time.

Nowadays, the situations become more severe than that, people are purchasing jar water from the shops. I have asked myself many times that question for a long time. I think most of the Nepalese people including highly educated still believe that Nepal is the second richest country in the world after Brazil.  However, the above situation is a representative case of this time.

This is the ideal case for water scarcity as per Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) definition of water scarcity. Though Falkenmark (1992) define the water scarcity like this; the country will face water stress or water scarcity if the per capita annual renewable water available is less than 1700 cubic meter. How much per capita water available for Nepalis?

Firstly I want to give information about water resources. Water have many purposes. Life in our planet is only possible due to the water. So the water is the life. Drinking, feeding, energy, facilities and even to breath water is essential for not only human beings but also all living beings. The source of water is Ocean or saltwater that holds 97.5% of earth water. Only 2.5% of water is fresh water. Among the 2.5% of water 68.9% is in the glaciers and permanent snow cover, 30.8% is inside groundwater and soil moisture. Now lakes and the rivers have only 0.3% of freshwater. Or 65% water is green water and only 35% of water is blue. Blue water is the water which is accessible to human beings. Water in lakes, rivers, and groundwater are under blue water group; soil moisture, interception storage, and vapor water are under green water. Green water is not accessible to human use. Blue water is the only sources our purpose. Renewable freshwater is internal river flows and groundwater from rainfall in the country.

The major renewable freshwater sources in Nepal are discussed herein. The Himalayas range of Asia holds more of the earth’s glaciers and permanent snow cover than anywhere beyond the poles. It is called the Third Pole also. The region stores 10 percent of all freshwater non-polar ice and snow. The majority of this amounts belong to Nepal-Tibet border. We have more than two thousand glaciers lakes, water resources altogether 5,358 lakes in total. Nepal has water resources. In roughly more than 15 km3/annual water can be used without depletion of ground water table, however, this figure can be increased because there is only few research on groundwater hydrology in Nepal. Groundwater is the major source of drinking water in Kathmandu valley and irrigation in Terai region. However our strength is the rivers, we have more than 5,500 rivers, inside our boundaries, and all of them are the tributaries of Ganga Basin. The Ganga is third river basin in the world having maximum average discharge (after Amazon and Congo River). Nepali rivers contribute 70% of the dry season flow and 40 % of the annual flow of Ganga River. Annual discharge though Nepal is 224.5 (km3/year) (Water and Energy Commission Secretariat, 2005) excluding water from Tibet.

Brazil is in the top position having the most amount of renewable water resources of 8,233 km3, following by Russia, US, Canada and China. Nepal stands in 43rd position as per Wikipedia. If the available amount of water volume is equally distributed to the country population it is called per capita.Greenland has the most renewable freshwater resources one crore m3per capita than others, Iceland has more than 5 lakhs m3, Guyana is in 3rd rank, Suriname is in 4th rank and Papua New Guinea 5th rank is the as per World Bank. However, Nepal ranked 60th with 7034.67 m3 as per Mundi Index.

Is Nepal the second richest in water resources? On the basis of above situation and statistics, we can easily say that Nepal is not 2nd richest country in water resources. Nevertheless, hydrologist uses another unit to measure the water resources i.e. runoff. Runoff is the water available to a unit area in mm per area or meter per area. How much water we have? Our area is 147,181 km2 and the renewable fresh water available is around 240 km 3 so that we have 1630 mm/area of renewable water.

So in this unit, where are the position others country? If we look the above two parameters there are two different common characteristics of each group. In the amount base division, the top-ranked country has large area Russia, Canada, China, US, and Brazil are the largest county. On the other side Greenland, Iceland, Guyana and Suriname has less population density. If we consider the third parameter then Columbia has the maximum (1867 mm/area) following by Papua New Guinea (1730 mm/area), Iceland (1654 mm/area) then after Nepal has 1630 mm/area renewal fresh water.

Although we have an abundant amount of water resources, we are facing economic water scarcity problem this is due to lack of supply over demand. We have a constraint on institutional, human resources and financial capabilities. Water-related topics in my county is a hot topic like Melamchi water supply project, hydropower projects and foreign investment in this sector etc.  I wonder why our leaders and experts are always saying we are the richest country in water resources although they do not have any idea about how these parameters are defined and what is our exact position.


By Suman Thapa , Thapais studying at UNESCO-IHE Institute of Water Studies, The Netherlands


Source : Annapurna Post