Pressures on Water and Soil Resources in Nepal Himalaya – PRESHINE

Global warming impacts on water resources and human activities in Dudh Koshi basin (Everest region, Nepal)

This pluridisciplinary research (geography, hydrology, glaciology, climatology) aims at compare climatic data (snow and glacier melting, precipitation variability) with discourses and water resource management by local population with increasing needs (domestic consumption, new irrigated cultures, micro-hydrolectricity development) on a territory henceforth controled by tourism economy.

Water ressource availability assessment and its impact on an economic system controled by tourism by assessing the part due to socio-economic effects and the ones due to climate change

The project stake is to understand how himalayan societies make use of their resources and adapt to environemental changes induced or not by human activity. Through the use of different scales of time and space, we intend to measure the tangible effects on the environments of strategies and socio-spatial practices aiming at exploiting/managing/preserving water and soil in a context of climate change ; and also, confronting the representations of institutional stakeholders, or not, and those of the inhabitants to the on-going social and environmental processes. In Nepal, numerous authors are startled by ice cap melting and the disastrous consequences for the local societies. In the Everest region however, the glaciers only partially contributes to the rivers' flow as the biggest part comes from monsoon precipitations. Farmers are rather affected by seasonal variability of the monsoon and a drop of the snow cover than by the glacier cap melting. De facto, tourism increases a water intensive market gardening and a growing need of electricity for lodges and homes, this one being generated through micro hydro power plant tapping secondary streams. We must, then, take a closer look at the economic needs and new territorial settings regarding the seasonal stream water availability. To that end, we have to ascertain how much represent rain and snow precipitation and snow melting in the water balance on the one hand and on the other hand to analyse the impact of variability and availability of water in time and space on the economic activities. Management methods and ressource sharing inequalities will be also analyse in order to have a better understanding on the responsability of the environmental factors over socio-economic factor on the observed changes. A closer look will be taken over an evaluation of possible ways for the local society to adapt these changes.

The assessment of the water availability and of its seasonal variability is completed through the evaluation of the water budget of four small sub-basins of the Dudh Koshi River catchment, which includes glacierized areas and various practices in cropping and breeding. Especially, the project intends to quantify the contribution of solid (snow) and liquid (rain) precipitations and of the melting of the glaciers and snow cover, to the different water reservoirs (surface, soil, underground).
Glacier mass balance assessments are completed on “white” and “debris covered” glaciers, taking into account the energy balance. Maps of the snow cover dynamic are realized, based on synthetic satellite products (MODIS, SPOT VGT). Soil descriptions are done on selected sites in order to establish a land cover map (Kharikhola sub-basin). Land use maps are also realized, regarding especially the pastures impacted by the variation of the snow cover. Several hydrological modeling (DHSVM, ISBA, HDSM), forced with the hydro-climatic observations, installed in the field and with completed reanalysis data, are used and compared in order to reduce the factors of uncertainties. In parallel, the following data are added to this knowledge: a mapping and a modelling of the springs and water mills, and a collection of the water supply networks and of the hydropower devices. They are accompanied by a systematic quantitative survey, using the ODK application, concerning the use and the consumption of water and electricity (GIS). They are completed with detailed interviews of the inhabitants and local water and tourism stakeholders, at the village scale.

Climate change affects in different ways our field of study where agro-pastoral activities are now driven by the tourist sector. Ice cap melting seems to be less of a problem than variability of precipitations even if it is still complicated to quantify the pourcentage of snow precipitations in the hydrological balance. At the village scale, observed seasonal water shortage vary according to the location (high or middle mountain, origin of water streams, precipitations and/or glaciers). It seems to be rather a discrepancy between rainy period and agricultural and tourist seasons than a drop in the precipitations' volume. Likewise, if the upgrading of tourism involves an increased water consumption, it does not compete with domestic water as most inhabitants offers accomodation for tourists. A competition can be find with irrigated agriculture however, it is enterely dedicated to fulfilling the needs of the tourist sector, and sometimes within hydropower et water mills. Yet, we have observed that different water management and an inequal access to water from one village to another and sometimes from a neighboorhood to another depending on socio-ethnic population.

The team met for times : in Grenoble, Montpellier, Bordeaux and Paris to exchange in a pluridsciplinary way on the program and to adopt a common culture beyond our distinct methodological approaches. Several field trips gathering together researchers from different disciplines punctuated those two past years, allowing us to analyse how glaciers and hydro system work. We have gathered hydroclimatic data in order to create models in hydrology and glaciology labs. Social, economic et technical data have also been collected to understand the territorial system and how the uses of water fits into that system. A quantitative survey, undoubtedly the first of its kind in this region has been carried out thanks to the ODK application that runs on tablet computer. A tutorial of the app has been written. So far, 396 surveys have ben filled that we need to process and interpret. It allowed us to identify the different water systems and hydropower systems with their very own management criterias. The April 25 and May 12 's earthquakes have stopped field trips for a few months but they should quickly start again as soon as this fall with some uncertainties on the state of our site and the different networks that we have been studying. Finally, PRESHINE has been widely publicised at the International Symposium on Glaciology in High-Mountain Asia side-event organised during the International Glaciology Congress in February 2015 in Kathmandu. We also need to underline Ornella Puschiasis's viva on December 7th, 2015 who should pursue with a post-doctorate and aparticipation to a reflexion on knowledge sharing and the broadcast of our findings to the local populations (Environmental mediation).

Publication of i articles International Revues : Hydrological Sciences Journal (Pokhrel, B. K., Chevallier, P., Andreassian, V., Tahir, A. A., Arnaud, Y., Neppel, L., Bajracharya, O. R. and Budhathoki, K. P. 2014. Comparison of two snowmelt modelling approaches in the Dudh Koshi Basin (Eastern Himalayas, Nepal). Hydrological Sciences Journal. 59(8), 1507-1518);Journal of Alpine Research (Smadja J., Aubriot O., Puschiasis O., Duplan T., GrimaldJ.i, HugonnetM., Buchheit P., « Changement climatique et ressource en eau en Himalaya », Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine [En ligne], 103-2 | 2015, mis en ligne le 04septembre 2015, consulté le 10 septembre 2015. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/rga.2850) ; presentation in international colloquiums : International Glaciological Society Symposium Kathmandu (posters de Brun, Wagnon, Vincent, Savéan, Eeckman, Mimeau, Giese, Lejeune) , International Festival of Geography (poster by E. Jacquemet et M. Faulon, conference discusses of Andre-Lamat V. « towards an ecological economy? The stakes in the climate», with Laurent Eloi, OFCE scientific consultant and Jacques Le Cacheux, director of OFCE Department studies, International Festival of Géography 3 octobre 2015), UNESCO (paper presented by Smadja J.«Local scale, local knowledge and climate modeling. Interdisciplinary studies in the Himalayas (Nepal)«, Climate Change Assessments and the ‘Best Available Knowledge’ : the Challenge of bridging disciplines and knowledge systems, UNESCO’s Climate Frontlines, LINKS programmes, UNESCO Paris, 3 novembre 2014; Colloque international de Limoges-18-21-11-2015« Capital environnemental, représentations, pratiques, dominations, appropriations spatiales : V. André-Lamat, «De l'eau bien commun à l'eau capital environnemental ; several master degree's reports in agronomy and geography and thesis from O.Puschiasis and M. Savéan.

The PRESHINE (Pressions sur les Ressources en Eau et en Sols de l’Himalaya Népalais) project addresses the question of the availability and usage of water and soil resources in the Everest area (Solu-Khumbu) in a context of climate change and of profound transformations caused by tourism to a mountain territory within the Sagarmatha National Park. Here the resource is regarded as a construct, a product not only of physical processes that occur in this high- and middle-mountain region affected by the monsoon, but also of all the societal factors (socio-economic, technical, political and cultural) that lead to establishing water as a resource and to regulating its access and sharing between different usages (agro-pastoral, domestic, tourist, energy). Bringing together researchers from the social sciences (geography, agronomy, history and landscape ecology) and from the environmental sciences (hydrology, glaciology, meteorology, pedology, biochemistry), the PRESHINE project is a follow-up to the PAPRIKA (Cryospheric Responses to Anthropogenic Pressure in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya Regions: Impacts on Water Resources and Society’s Adaptation in Nepal) project.
PRESHINE's purpose is to follow new paths of research introduced by PAPRIKA, this time starting from questions raised by the programme’s social science researchers, with the environmental scientists then stepping in to measure and modelize water availability. It is a question of evaluating spatiotemporal shifts according to the usages but also with the representations that the various actors have of climate change (snow and melting glaciers, deregulation of the monsoon), and their effect on the territory. Indeed, in the Himalayas, numerous authors admit that water will be the resource most affected by climate change (drop in availability, modification of its temporal distribution due to changes in precipitations, increased risk of flooding, etc.).
The melting of glaciers along with the consequences of this on the reduction in freshwater stocks has become the symbol of this. However, in the Everest area, glaciers only partly contribute to the flow of rivers, with most of the water coming from rainfall. Even though high-mountain streams receive a good supply of water from glaciers, it is not the case in the middle mountains where there are no glaciers. Thus, villagers who live off rainfed agriculture, cattle breeding as well as mountain tourism, suffer more from changes in prevailing precipitations (monsoon and spring rains, winter snow) and from the reduction in snow cover—that impact the cereal and vegetable production reserved for tourists, as well as fodder outputs for pack animals carrying goods for tourists— than by the melting of glaciers. The latter occurs between the two tourist seasons (spring and autumn) and has the advantage of supplying streams before the monsoon; these streams provide a driving force for the mills and micro-electric plants set up in tourist areas in the high mountains. The aim therefore is to compare the significant social factors of change identified within the PAPRIKA programme (developing mountain tourism, setting up Sagarmatha National Park, launching market gardening to supply vegetables to lodges for tourists, which requires large amounts of water for watering plants, setting up micro hydro-electric plants or implementing new techniques for tapping and using water) with the effects of the identified climatic changes (prevailing precipitations, surfaces left free by melting glaciers and by the reduction in snow cover, duration of snow cover and its role in the storage and release of water, and in soil conditions for agriculture). All these factors are likely to lead to changes in water and soil resource availability and, in return, to changes in socio-spatial practices.

Project coordinator


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


TU Tribhuvan University (Nepal)
IWMI International Water Management Institute (Nepal)
CNRM-GAME / DR14 CNRS Centre National de Recherches Météorologiques - Groupe d’études de l’Atmosphère Météorologique
LTHE - IRD Laboratoire d'Etude des Transferts en Hydrologie et Environnement
ICIMOD International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (Nepal)
CEH - DR3 CNRS Centre d'Etudes Himalayennes
HSM - DR13 CNRS Hydrosciences Montpellier

Help of the ANR 839,951 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2013 - 48 Months

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