RVWRMP Support in Nepal's High Altitude Settlements
Updated: May 16
Narayan Wagle, Deputy Team Leader, RVWRMP PSU Dadeldhura, firstname.lastname@example.org
Birendra Thapa, Water Resources Advisor RVWRMP TSU Humla, email@example.com
This report describes a recent monitoring visit to Limi, by Mr Wagle and Mr Thapa.
The Rural Village Water Resources Management Project (RVWRMP) has been active in Western Nepal since 2006, providing financial and technical support in water and livelihood sectors in the most remote villages of western Nepal. In the third phase it is working in 63 municipalities, including 27 core and 38 non-core local governments. RVWRMP is active in four Rural Municipalities (RMs) of Humla district, high in the Himalayas. Namkha is one of the core RMs of the Project. Limi is one of the earlier working VDCs of Humla, and is currently ward no. 6 of Namkha Rural Municipality.
Background of the Limi Valley
The Limi valley is the most remote part of Humla district. It is a high, narrow mountain valley inhabited by Tibetan speaking people that runs northwest - southwest and contains three villages - two along the main river and a third village, a short way up one of its tributaries. The three villages from east to west are called Jang, Halji and Til, and are respectively 3,930, 3,700 and 4,100 m in elevation from sea level. Limi is about 160 km from the district headquarter. It takes five days of trekking to reach the Nyalu pass of 5,200 m elevation. The valley remains completely disconnected from rest of the world during the winter months, and it is totally closed to traffic of any kind. A vehicular track has been recently opened to the Chinese border at Lapcha, and work is ongoing to connect Limi to the district headquarter in Simkot.
The entire population of Limi is from the Lama community, following Tibetan culture and dialects. Any outsiders visiting the valley need support from an interpreter to translate local language into Nepali. The community have their own culture, traditions and leaders, including their own informal leaders who are elected periodically. The formally elected RM councillors represent government issues only as moderators. All the community development-related decisions are made by informal leaders in consultation/consensus with the community. The community develops their own rules and implements them according to their own traditions. No government rules are applied in the community, unless they are accepted by the community. Limi is a closely knit society with high regard for the family. Though there is no class structure, two distinct groups can be found on the basis of family size and ancestry. Limi people still follow their ancient way of life that has remained unhindered despite political turmoil and changes that have occurred in the rest of the country. People in the valley are sustained by simple agriculture and traditional ways of trading wooden handicrafts and hand made goods across the border. Sheep and yaks are major sources of livelihoods in Limi, used for mulling and meat. People migrate to Burang, in Tibet, for seasonal work as labourers. Any lacking food grains and household essentials are imported from Tibet.
The community follows its own model for management of development works. None of the community members are allowed to receive payment for community development work. Whatever cash is received as a community contribution to the schemes is deposited in the community fund. The fund is utilised in different development/humanitarian work as decided by the community members and their leaders.
RVWRMP activities in Limi
RVWRMP selected Limi VDC (as it was formerly called, prior to the federalisation process) to prepare a Water Use Master Plan (WUMP) in December 2015, and the planning process was completed in July 2016. The Project started support to the VDC after finalization of the WUMP. In the last five years the Project contributed in several sectors (as described below). Considering the remoteness and hardship of the community, as well as the community's cohesion, the Project implemented almost all possible options in Limi. All three communities have pico hydroelectricity generation, supported by the Nepal Trust some 20 years ago. People are managing and operating it. This shows the community's awareness in operation and maintenance of development activities.
1. Open Defecation Free (ODF) declaration: the community constructed toilets in all 181 households with the Project’s support and declared the VDC to be Open Defecation Free in September 2015. The promoted toilets included both dry and wet toilets. Dry toilets are used during the winter season (when water would freeze). The project provided technical and financial support to construct institutional toilets in eight different schools, a monastery and community building.
2. Drinking water was key problem of the villages. Before the project support, community had non-functional water supply systems, constructed without proper technical standards. The WUMP identified three major new potential schemes for the three villages, and the project helped the community to construct them (Gunchhu WSS, Changjuma WSS, and Chhiseri WSS in Til, Halgi and Jang village). 146 households (HHs) (33 HHs from Til, 73 HHs from Halji and 40 HHs from Jang) benefited from water supply schemes. There were three intakes, three reservoir tanks (RVTs), 20 tap stands, three animal drinking troughs, 3.4 km transmission pipeline and 3.0 km distribution pipeline completed. The community carried construction materials up the arduous paths from Simkot, spending 10 days per trip.
3. Considering the cold climate in the working area, RVWRMP supported metal improved cooking stoves for each household. It has reduced consumption of firewood and protects women and children from the problems caused by smoke. During the recent visit, women were found to be very happy with the stoves. The stoves were purchased by the community from Tibet.
4. The valley is fertile, and has good potential for agricultural production, if an irrigation facility is available. Mainly barley, millet, mustard and green vegetables are produced in the valley. All the food crops yielded one crop per season prior to the project. The Project has implemented three irrigation schemes (Guan Ghyaton Irrigation, Nghomjang Irrigation and Halding Irrigation in Til, Halgi and Jang villages respectively. The scheme includes a piped system including more than one km of cement-lined canal. The total command area is 19.33 hectare (380 ropani). It has increased the production and helped the community with both food security and livelihoods.
5. However, a lack of grinding mills means that they have to grind with traditional hand operated stone grinders (Jato), and as a result, eat coarse flour. If they want to consume finely ground flour, they have to walk half a day to reach a water mill. Considering the drudgery of the local people (particularly women), three improved water mills have been constructed to respond to the special demands of local women’s groups in Til, Halji and Jang village. It has positively impacted to the health of the local women.
6. The area has a huge potential of sea-buckthorn production (shrub type), which is abundantly available in the valley. People are traditionally using it for domestic use only. The Project explored the idea to process it and sell in the nearby market. The project provided training to the local community for harvesting and processing of sea-buckthorn juice, as well as for use in pickle and medicines for common colds, etc. Following the training, the community people started to produce sea-buckthorn juice, targeting Indian pilgrims (15 to 18,000 annually) travelling to Kailash. Due to COVID restrictions there were no Indian tourists in the last season, however sea buckthorn juice will be a key source of income for the Limi people in the future.
7. Green vegetable production supports nutrition, as well as contributing to food security in these areas where food items need to be transported from a very long distance. Considering the climate of the valley, the Project supported plastic tunnels, garden pipe and an irrigating bucket for each household (total 155). All the local materials for tunnel construction were contributed by the community.
So far, the project has invested about NPR 25 million Nepalese rupees (including the GoN contribution) and the municipality has contributed about NPR 10 million. The community has contributed about NPR 4 million.
The villagers gained access to safe drinking water in their yard, irrigation in their fields, an improved cooking stove in every household, and improved water mills that are benefitting the whole community. With these improvements, women save 4-5 hours of walking time per day, and instead use the time for income generation activities. The community people of Limi are now very happy. They feel lucky to have had a project that listens, and identifies problems quickly and then fixes them.
Reflections of the community
“The community people are happy as they don’t have to walk long distances in snowfall season, and there is less time wasted in walking and queueing at the mill” said Khendap Lama and Pasango Lama. Sakhuti Lama and Kanjok Buti Lama said that “if the project was not implemented in our village, our living conditions would have been the same from birth to death”. “We twice constructed water supply schemes supported by other agencies, but they were not operating due to the poor quality of external materials and technical support. Now that the water schemes are completed in the community, we believe in the project. We are very happy to have had this fast and transparent project implemented in our village” said Mr. Tasi Furbu Lama.
The project provided various capacity building events, trainings and workshops to support the appropriate use and maintenance of the schemes, and to maximise the sustainability. The community people and ward chairperson Mr. Paljor Tamang appreciated and thanked RVWRMP for supporting big schemes like this with full transparency. They hope for continuous support in the future.
From water supply and sanitation, irrigation schemes, improved water mills and cooking stoves, people’s lives are easier, happy and socio-economically sustainable. The project was successful thanks to the hard work, honesty and transparency of the RVWRMP staff and community. The project modality and strategy could be replicated in other RMs and by other development agencies.