The Karnali River is an ancient stream and the last free-flowing river of Nepal, but the main stem of the Karnali is at risk of losing its cultural, economic, and environmental value due to development. Karnali River Waterkeeper, Nepal River Conservation Trust, and Waterkeeper Alliance are collaborating on a scientific expedition that will provide a framework for water resource management that crosses community, political, and government agency lines.
The Karnali existed before the rise of the Himalaya and carved its path as the mountains rose during collision of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates. The river winds its way from the headwater glaciers of Mapchachungo near the Tibetan Plateau through the peaks, mountains, and hills of the Himalayan mountains.
Though the stream has been around for millions of years, it is now at risk. One form of development endangering the river is hydropower. Nepal currently lacks a national hydropower development strategy, and there are now 31 hydropower dams slated for the Karnali River basin. In total, over 350 hydropower dams are slated for development nationwide. In no uncertain terms, hydropower development at this scale will affect every river basin in Nepal with significant yet highly uncertain impacts. Most of these dams (especially large dams) will not provide electricity to Nepal — while Nepal bears the social and environmental costs. The majority of power will be exported to India, Bangladesh, and potentially other South Asian neighbors.
The Karnali Expedition, scheduled for September 2018, will classify the abundance of natural resources that characterize the Karnali River basin — from the headwaters to the Ganges River confluence — and highlight key ecological drivers. Karnali River Waterkeeper will then develop a cultural, spiritual, and environmental “Sacred River Corridor” management framework for the Karnali River corridor through Nepal, linking China and India, and develop an overall plan of action. At the national level, the findings will protect aquatic resources and stream system functions in the Karnali River corridor through the establishment of legislation similar to the United States’ National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, with the Karnali being the first Wild and Scenic River in Nepal.
“Nepal is still rough like clay; there is time to give it the right shape before it is too late. Together we can make the vision of a protected cultural, historic, and wild river corridor following the historic salt trade route from the Tibetan Plateau along the Karnali River through Nepal to the Ganges River in India a reality.” – Megh Ale, Karnali River Waterkeeper and President of Nepal River Conservation Trust
Karnali River Waterkeeper and Nepal River Conservation Trust need your help to build capacity and raise national and international awareness of the Karnali River, the landscapes through which it flows, and the multiple cultures and species that depend on it.
Help us make Nepal a model country for sustainable development by donating at waterkeeper.org/donate and designating your gift to “Karnali River Waterkeeper.”
Feature image of the Karnali River by Kurt Leitch.