The water and poverty interface is strongly interlinked [1
]. Adequate access to water is a highly relevant issue while addressing the problem of poverty, as it is impossible to eradicate extreme poverty without proper allocation and access to water [3
]. The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development explicitly sets clean water and sanitation as one of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It recognizes safe drinking water, effective sanitation, and good hygiene (WASH) as an end in itself and as a driver of development directly impacting other SDGs, including nutrition, health, education and gender equality [4
]. Thus, access to safe water is essential but not a sufficient condition for extreme poverty eradication [5
Global water stress and water needs of the poorest communities are receiving increasingly more attention as water is seen as one of the most critically stressed resources [3
]. Water resource management is becoming an increasingly challenging issue because of decreasing trends in water availability and increasing demands [6
]. Appropriate assessment of water stress is crucial to determine the needy areas and develop suitable management policy and effective interventions. Many efforts have been made in recent years into the development of methods and alternatives from many disciplinary perspectives to quantify water stress at community, subnational and national level [3
]. Tools such as Falkenmark index [8
], Water Resource Vulnerability Index [9
] and Water availability index [10
] are being used to assess water stress using unidimensional indicators [11
]. Water Poverty Index (WPI), developed by Sullivan [12
], provides multidimensional tools to assess water poverty. Index-based analysis such as WPI is an important method for identifying the factors influencing poverty, ranking the extent of stress, and developing appropriate interventions in needy areas [13
Water Poverty Index (WPI) is an interdisciplinary indicator to assess water stress and scarcity, linking physical estimates of water availability with the socioeconomic drivers of poverty [7
]. The benefit of using WPI as an indicator of water stress is that it condenses several measures of influencing components ranging from physical to socio-economic factors in a single numerical representation. WPI indicates the status, availability, variability and quality of the water resources at community, subnational or national level, contributing towards effective water management at the water stressed zone [14
]. Although WPI was designed as a holistic water resource assessment tool to use primarily at the community level on a site-specific basis, it can, however, be applied at different spatial scales to suit different needs [3
The objective of this study is to provide an outlook on an application of WPI to estimate the state of the water crisis at subnational level for 27 districts of Koshi River Basin in Eastern Nepal. Rather than to contribute to the conceptual or methodological advancement of WPI, we use WPI as a tool to analyze and visually represent the status of water availability in Koshi basin, Nepal. This study uses five components: water resource (R), use (U), access (A), capacity (C) and environmental quality (E) as outlined by WPI [3
]. Indicators for each component were selected on the basis of relevance to the local context, data availability and review of relevant literatures.
This study is significant in two major ways. Firstly, this study provides important background information that can be used as a reference for future scientific studies for temporal comparison in Koshi River Basin. Secondly, the findings of the study will be useful tools for development planners to understand and identify major livelihood constraints at the spatial scale. The overall findings of this study will help assist scientists, researchers, politicians, policy makers, investors, development workers and donors to better understand the situation of water poverty at the regional scale at Koshi River Basin, and provide background information which can be used as a guideline for policy formation to promote sustainable livelihood through enhanced adaptation mechanisms and improved water management practices in rural communities.
Water Poverty Assessment in Nepal
Due to inadequate water supply, increasing agricultural and domestic demand, decreasing water quality and low economic growth, water poverty in Nepal is becoming increasingly high [11
]. High rainfall variability [16
] and poor institutional capacity [18
] has contributed significantly to water poverty in the context of Nepal.
An international comparison of water poverty conducted by Lawrence et al. [19
] described Nepal as a medium water stressed country (WPI = 54.4). However, very little work has been done in quantitative assessment of water poverty at the subnational level in Nepal and very few researches have used WPI as a tool for assessment of water poverty. WPI was used to estimate water poverty at upper Bagmati River Basin by [14
] (pp. 12–15) and their result shows upper Bagmati River Basin as medium-low water poor with WPI ranging from 54.63 to 77.95. Pandey et al. [5
] (pp. 2486–2487) conducted a comparative study of water poverty in five medium-sized river basins in Nepal and has recommended needy areas and instruments for interventions. Similarly, Manandhar, S.; Pandey, V.P.; Kazama, F [1
] (pp. 99–102) conducted study on the application of WPI with a case study of Kali Gandaki River Basin (KGRB) in Nepal. Their result shows wide variation of WPI (from 37.1 to 56.5) within the KGRB. Although no clear trend was observed at spatial scale, [1
] (p. 101) found KGRB with high scores for resource and access components. Panthi, Khatiwada, Shrestha and Dahal [11
] (p. 3) used WPI to study water poverty in the context of climate change at different elevation zones of Karnali River Basin in western Nepal. They found that among three elevation zones, mid-hill districts had the highest water poverty and emphasized that water resource availability was not a problem in the basin. However, effective use and access to water was a primary concern at Karnali River Basin in Nepal. Water poverty analysis and mapping conducted by [18
] (pp. 20–21) in Indrawati River Basin (one of the sub-basins of Koshi River Basin) concluded that the majority of the population had poor access to water with WPI score 52.5. The WPI has been used at the basin scale in Jhikhu Khola and the Yarsha Khola of Koshi River Basin in Nepal by [20
] and WPI value was estimated to be 59.2 for the Jhikhu catchment and 63.2 for the Yarsha catchment in mid-hill districts of Nepal [3
Due to poor access to water resources, harsh topography and poor government policy, the population in sub-basins and catchment areas of Koshi River Basin were found to be at a large risk of impacts from changing temperature and rainfall patterns [20
]. However, district level comparison of water poverty in Koshi River Basin has not been conducted.
The final WPI score (59.22) for the Koshi Basin in Nepal can be considered medium-low in terms of water stress, and the findings in this study are comparable to other contemporary studies conducted at national, district and watershed levels [1
] in other parts of the country. The overall water poverty in the Basin was lower than the national average (54.4) estimated by Lawrence, Meigh and Sullivan [19
]. The estimation of the national average by Lawrence, Meigh and Sullivan [19
] was made in 2002, and this study has used the data from the National Population and Housing Census of Nepal in 2011. Thus, it can be argued that the situation of water poverty has improved in Koshi River Basin in 2011 compared to 2002. However, due to the lack of national and sub-national level time series data on different indicators of water poverty, temporal comparison was not possible.
Our study also revealed an improved state of water poverty in Koshi Basin compared to the analysis and mapping conducted by WWF [18
] in Indrawati River Basin (one of the sub-basins of Koshi River Basin) that showed a WPI score of 52.5. This variation provides support to the argument that the nature of water poverty in Koshi Basin is complex and unevenly distributed across sub-basins, districts and agro-ecological regions. The WPI score at Jhikhu Khola and the Yarsha Khola of Koshi River Basin in Nepal estimated by Merz [20
], showed very identical WPI results compared to our findings with 59.2 for the Jhikhu catchment and 63.2 for the Yarsha catchment in mid-hill districts. District level comparison showed high variation of WPI scores, ranging from 49.75 to 69.29 in Koshi River Basin, which is slightly lower than the score estimated at upper Bagmati River Basin (sub-basin of Koshi River Basin) by Thakur, Neupane and Mohanan [14
], that showed Bagmati River Basin as medium-low water poor with WPI ranging from 54.63 to 77.95. The variation might have been caused due to differences in indicator selection and spatial scale selected for the study. Districts of Koshi River Basin were less water stressed compared to Kali Gandaki River Basin which have WPI ranging from 37.1 to 56.5, estimated by Manandhar, Pandey and Kazama [1
Unlike the findings in Karnali River Basin by Panthi, Khatiwada, Shrestha and Dahal [11
] that concluded mid-hill districts having the highest water poverty, our study discovered higher water stress in Tarai region, compared to high-hill and mid-hill region in Koshi River Basin. This variation implies that mid-hill regions of Koshi River Basin (WPI = 59.6) are relatively less water stressed compared to mid-hill regions of Karnali River Basin (WPI = 0.3533). Similarly, Tarai region in Koshi River Basin (WPI = 55.6) were more water stressed compared to Tarai region of Karnali River Basin (WPI = 0.631). This shows the uneven distribution of water stress across different regions of two river basins in Nepal.
Among the five WPI components, Koshi River Basin was found to be least stressed on Access component, indicating that most of the population in the Basin have access to water and sanitation. However, the results from the district level and agro-ecological level WPI suggest a high level of variation among different components.
The water poverty can be seen as the product of socio-economic Capacity coupled with Resource and Environmental indicators in the study districts. Urban districts like Kathmandu and Bhaktapur were found to have better Access and Capacity to manage water resource. However, due to lack of proper resources and a degraded environmental situation, both districts performed low in WPI denoting high level of water stress.
The districts in Tarai region and urban areas were found relatively more water stressed compared to other districts in the Basin. The districts in Tarai region were relatively more stressed on Resource (R), Access (A), Capacity (C) and Environment (E) components, while districts in mid-hill and high-hill regions were stressed in terms of water use (U). Poor access to sanitation, high illiteracy rate and low per capita income in Tarai districts have contributed to a high degree of water stress in the region. The districts in mid-hill and high-hill regions are stressed in terms of water use, specifically with access to irrigation.
Water availability, variability, accessibility, use and socio-economic capacity to manage water are the major challenges prevailing in the Basin. Efficient use of available water and integrated water resource management techniques could help improve the water poverty situation in the Basin. However, all the districts in the Basin require improvement in all the components and their respective sectors. Urgent attention should be given to the most water stressed districts in Tarai region and urban areas such as Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. Improvement in water supply and sanitation through appropriate policy and instruments could enhance the Access component in the Basin, explicitly in Tarai region. Infrastructure for domestic and agricultural water use can be developed in order to improve water use. Integrated water resource management practices could be used for proper utilization of available water resources in the Basin. Provision of education, employment and diversification of livelihood systems could improve the socio-economic capacity of the people to cope with existing water stress.
WPI offers a robust and comprehensive tool to access water stress at various spatial scales. Using the five components described by WPI, we selected 12 indicators, considering local relevance and availability of data, to access water stress in 27 districts of Koshi Basin, Nepal. The study revealed medium-low level (WPI = 54.4) of water poverty in Koshi Basin in Nepal with substantial variation along the districts (from 49.75 to 69.29). The results showed that out of five components, Resource was found to be the most stressed followed by Capacity, Environment, Use and Access. The spatial analysis showed that districts in Tarai region and urban areas are relatively more water stressed compared to other districts in the Basin.
The districts with low WPI scores should be given priority for intervention. Priorities must be given to the districts in Tarai region and urban areas, explicitly on access to water and sanitation to address water poverty in the Basin. Focus should be given on infrastructure development in mid-hill and high-hill districts in order to improve domestic and agricultural water use. Water managers and policy makers should prioritize their focus on proper management of existing water resources. Equal priority should be given for enhancing socio-economic capacity of the people through provision of education and employment opportunities. Conservation of water resources through proper management of watershed is a crucial factor to enhance the environmental component. Development of sustainable infrastructures could improve domestic and agricultural water use as well as ensure access to safe water and sanitation.
District level WPI can be a useful tool for proper water management in Koshi Basin. It could assist water resource managers and policy makers to prioritize the water stress areas, along with priority sectors that require immediate attention. Inclusion of more indicators and assigning unequal weights based on experts and stakeholders’ consultations can be done in future to make WPI more reliable and useful. Water poverty assessment at various spatial scales (municipality and ward level) within the districts of Koshi Basin could provide more distinct priority areas and stronger basis for management interventions. Updated studies at frequent intervals could provide temporal changes in water poverty, which can be used to monitor progress and evaluate existing management policy instruments. Moreover, the concern of water quality is equally important and future research could incorporate water quality aspects into the WPI assessment to make WPI more comprehensive and a holistic tool.