Framework for Effectiveness and Resilience of Irrigation

Reconnaisance Study by the end of Monsoon


Kamala river, Nipane, Sindhuli. 22 Sep, 2015

Climate change is a hot topic in Nepal, with more frequent and more extreme floods and droughts and particular concern over the impact on Himalayan glaciers. The devastating earthquakes in April and May and the current constitutional crisis may have diverted attention but climate change remains a potent threat.

What do local farmers know and say about climate change and how do they feel? The CDKN study team has conducted initial site surveys to collect objective monitoring data and lead participatory studies of farmers’ perception on climate change. Five sites were visited in Sindhuli and Nuwakot districts, to understand the diversity of threats and different views held by individuals on how the climate is changing and interacting with other non-climatic changes. Many farmers recognise the complexity of these changes, and here are some of their views:

‘60 years ago, the Kamala river was a tame river with paddy cultivated land on both banks. Now many lands have been washed away leaving sand, gravels and stones behind. The river swings in a wider range.’ (Nipane, Sindhuli)


Bardautar, Sindhuli, 23 Sept. 2015

‘Temperature has been rising in the last five years and there are more hot and cold days than before.’ (Nipane, Sindhuli)

‘This year the rain came for 3 weeks later, as a result paddy transplantation was delayed. Yields will be reduced accordingly.’ (Nipane, Sindhuli)

‘Climate change is not new; we have heard about it from TV and radio as well.’(Bardautar, Sindhuli)

‘When I was a boy, there were many forests in the nearby areas, which has significantly reduced now. The reduction of forest and other human activities, including sand and stone abstraction from the river has triggered the climate change. We get less rainfall than before, about 50% less than 20-30 years ago.’ (85 years old, man. Bardautar, Sindhuli)

‘Temperature rises. 20 years ago, you wouldn’t feel that hot if you walk in the sun. But now you can’t walk in the sun for long time. In the past, there were about 6 months of warm days and another 6 months of cold days. Now we have about 9 months warm days and 3 months cold days. The frost which used to appear in the winter has not shown up for many years.’ (40 years old, man. Bardautar, Sindhuli)

Main_Canal_Blocked by_Landslide_Gadkhar_Irrigation_System_Nuwakot_27_Sept_2015

main canal blocked by landslide, Gadkhar Irrigation System, Nuwakot, 27 Sept. 2015)

‘Temperature has increased and the warmer season has extended during the last 7-8 years. Monsoon has been delayed and the time of transplanting and harvesting rice has been delayed a week as a result of this.’ (Gadkhar, Nuwakot)

Not surprisingly, the mega-earthquake is more topical than climate change: in Nuwakot, the main canal has been blocked many times by landslides after the earthquake: farmers don’t have the right resources and facilities to restore the canal. More intense rainfall as a result of climate change means that the impact of the earthquake will be felt for many years to come. Some local people say that flows in the Likhu river increased after the earthquake – but they think that is temporary and not a long term positive change.


Bardautar, Sindhuli, 23 Sept. 2015

Farmers in Nepal have been coping with many risks and devastating changes for decades, and they have been adapting their livelihoods to suit. Fifty years ago, winter wheat was a new crop which helped farmers cope as the population grew and land holdings shrank. Now that is under threat because of unreliable winter rains. But some farmers are able to respond, taking advantage of other changes; a much better road network means that more cash crops – vegetables, ginger – are possible. Climate change brings new challenges; some are able to cope but others are already abandoning their land. This study is beginning to unravel the links between numerous changes and potential responses to increase the performance and resilience of irrigation across the country.

Yi Zhang from China, Researcher on the CDKN study joined the site survey: four hours walking in paddy fields with wet shoes after crossing many rivers impressed her. ‘When you see the fields and canals, then you will understand how vulnerable they are – so different from the large systems in China. But, there are similarities in attitudes to life in China and Nepal; a bit of fatalism, a compromise between what they expect and what they have’, as Yi says after walking on a 30-meter high aqueduct.

Initial field observations are being analysed in conjunction with meteorological data and climate model results. Further field work is planned for January, and then a workshop on the early findings of the study.


Framework for Effectiveness and Resilience of Irrigation

This research provides the Ministry of Irrigation in Nepal with a framework for building climate resilience in small and medium-scale irrigation systems, including improving irrigation effectiveness, efficiency and equitability in the face of climate change and climate extremes. The research analyses the cross-sector irrigation system, assess how climate change and extreme weather events impact the irrigation system in the short, medium and long term, and develop a set of policies, regulations and technical standards for irrigation system governance and investments in Nepal. The project has a strong component of capacity building of local researchers and practitioners. The project has been designed and presented a research methodology and associated project activities to understand and analyse the impacts of climate change on irrigation from a systems perspective (across sectors), and use this evidence base to provide recommendations to guide future policy, regulatory and investment decisions in irrigation and related sectors.


  1. To improve the approach and methodology for planning and delivery of efficient, effective, equitable and climate-resilient irrigation systems.
  2. To generate knowledge for irrigation development, management and governance.
  3. To provide a framework to identify entry-points and options to increase the resilience and effectiveness of irrigation systems and farmers.
  4. To ensure that the new framework plans and standards are well understood by the relevant governing and implementing parties, to maximise their implementation.

Expected outputs, outcomes and impacts

The main output of the project will be the framework document which will outline the policy, regulatory and investment options required to increase the resilience and effectiveness of small and medium scale irrigation systems. The framework will include actions needed to cope with climate change, based on scientific evidence combined with input from local farmers. This will inform the new Irrigation Master Plan which is now under preparation. The framework will help MOI, DOI and other agencies in the planning and delivery of efficient, effective, equitable and climate-resilient irrigation systems at the benefit of farmers, food security and the wider economy.


Our consortium is led by Mott MacDonald, and includes FMIST, Adapt-Nepal and CERD as partners. Mott MacDonald is a renowned international firm with decades of experience in the irrigation sector in Nepal including research, implementation and development of standards and policy recommendations. Our expertise in the water sector and irrigation in particular extends across the region, particularly Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and covers studies of climate change and adaptation. We outline examples of experience in the case study section.

Farmer Managed Irrigation System Promotion Trust (FMIST), established in 1998, is a nonprofit organization for the promotion of Farmer Managed Irrigation Systems in Nepal as a national heritage representing the democratic values of the local communities in managing natural resources such as water and land. It also works on government-managed schemes to introduce successful experiences from the traditional sector so that modern irrigation is sustainable and responsive to local needs. Five volumes of Proceedings of the International Seminars, as well as many other publications have been published.

ADAPT-Nepal is a non-profit making company initiated with the aim of improving the capacity of vulnerable communities in developing appropriate tools and methods for climate change-related adaptation and mitigation. The main objective of ADAPT-Nepal is to empower local communities, scientific personnel and policy makers in reducing climate risks as well as determining potential adaptation and mitigation options to address climate change. The organization consists of a team of dedicated professionals with wide experiences in hydrology, meteorology and climate change.

Centre for Engineering Research and Development (CERD), established in 2061 BS, is experienced in water resources management and development. CERD was the partner of Mott MacDonald for two DFID-funded research projects on irrigation management.

We have undertaken extensive research into irrigation in Nepal, focusing on identifying solutions to practical problems we have encountered during implementation of other irrigation projects in the country. This ensures that we build a strong evidence base for recommendations as well as ensuring that they are practical and implementable. Given the multidisciplinary, multi-faceted, nature of irrigation, we have adopted a broad approach, including vulnerability assessments, institutional assessments and political economy analyses.

We are committed to strengthening local expertise and capacity, and work closely with local partners including consultants, academics, NGOs as well as the Government. We place great emphasis on forging effective relationships with the Government, particularly on research assignments in order to ensure that our findings are widely understood and adopted into policy.

This is interdisciplinary research, and needs to be implemented in a coordinated approach. Adapt Nepal will focus mainly on impact of climate change on water availability and other agro-climatic parameters. Likewise, focus of FMIST will be more on adaptation measures and policy recommendations. Similarly, CERD will examine the issues from engineering and technological perspective, and provide operational recommendations for MOI and DOI

FMIST has a unique professional relationship with DOI as both organizations operate with the common goal of promoting farmer-managed irrigation systems in the country. Dr Pradhan was the inspirational figure who stimulated global interest in traditional irrigation in Nepal, and many generations of DOI engineers and officers have followed his lead. They share common ideology, and many members are active supporters of FMIST and involved in many of their activities and seminars also members of DOI. As a result, their relationship extends even at personal level. Because of this, DOI has been supporting FMIST on all its activities, and FMIST has been reciprocating the same. FMIST thus has a unique influence on government policy.


  • The study will be conducted in close coordination with the Department of Irrigation.
  • Consultations and capacity building: We will engage and consult with relevant stakeholders at national and subnational levels throughout the project.
  • Irrigation and Agriculture sector analysis: We will build on existing policies, strategies, policies programmes and studies to develop a national overview of the irrigation sector in Nepal. This will cover infrastructure type, agriculture, socio-economy, governance and management arrangements in place.
  • Climate model and scenarios : The foundation for the study will be a review of existing evidence and literature to assess current and projected impacts of climate change on small- and medium-scale irrigation systems and users, on both demand and supply side and over short, medium and long term.
  • MethodologyField case studies: A limited programme of fieldwork will be undertaken during this study to provide a good understanding of the issues related to climate resilience in representative locations, which can then be analysed and synthesized with secondary and national data so that more generic recommendations can be made. The case studies will cover performance of systems, threats to sustainability, opportunities for increasing productivity, the understanding of climate change by local officials and communities, and related issues.
  • Developing a framework for resilience: The information from the sectoral analysis, climate models and field case studies will be synthesised through vulnerability assessments. Based on the assessments, we will be able to identify potential measures and interventions to improve the ability to cope with climate change and variability. This step will be followed by further detailing of best practices/interventions which can be adopted across the country. We will recommend a plan of action, prioritising activities which will ensure that existing systems remain sustainable. This will be summarised into a framework document which outlines:

-Policy recommendations, including institutional actions needed to address the greater risks

-Technical designs / standards for increasing the resilience of current and future irrigation systems for different agro-ecological zones;

-An action plan for the Ministry to inform next steps towards mainstreaming of climate change considerations into irrigation policy, planning and practice;

-Recommendations for inter-ministerial coordination mechanisms.

Memorandum of Understanding

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Department of Irrigation, GoN and Mott MacDonald Ltd UK for collaborative implementation of a CDKN / DFID funded research entailed: “Framework for increasing the resilience and effectiveness of small and medium scale irrigation systems In Nepal

This MOU is signed on 31 May 2015 between the Department of Irrigation (DoI), GoN and the Mott MacDonald Ltd UK for implementation of a CDKN / DFID funded research project entitled: “Framework for increasing the resilience and effectiveness of small and medium scale irrigation systems In Nepal”.

Project background:

CDKN has appointed Mott MacDonald Ltd UK for conducting a demand-led research in support of the Department of Irrigation (DoI), Ministry of Irrigation (MoI), Government of Nepal. This research will provide the MoI with a framework for building climate resilience in small and medium-scale irrigation systems, including improving irrigation effectiveness, efficiency and equitability in the face of climate change and climate extremes. The project will have a strong component of capacity building of local researchers and practitioners.

Objectives of the research project

The overall objectives of the study are to:

  • Improve the approach and methodology for planning and delivery of efficient, effective, equitable and climate-resilient irrigation systems.
  • Assess processes, institutions and policy for irrigation development, management and resource governance.
  • Prepare a framework to increase the climate resilience and effectiveness of small and medium scale irrigation systems.
  • Ensure the framework is well understood by the relevant governing and implementing parties.

Attached is the project concept paper

Research outputs:

  • Framework document which outlines the policy, regulatory and investment options including the guiding instruments for the design, implementation and management of the small and medium scale irrigation systems to increase their resilience and effectiveness in the contest of climate change.
  • Capacity enhancement of the stakeholders for climate resilient development and management of the irrigation systems
  • Briefing papers / policy briefs outlining elements of the research for stakeholders in Nepal and interested parties in other counties.
  • At least one academic article submitted to journals on key research results of interest to the academic community.

This research project will be implemented over a period of 2 years starting from March 2015. Attached is the project implementation schedule

Implementation arrangement:

Mott MacDonald UK will implement this demand-led research project in collaboration with the Department of Irrigation. This MOU defines the roles and responsibility of both the DOI and Mott MacDonald. Farmer Managed Irrigation System Promotion Trust (FMIST), Adapt Nepal, and CERD are other local partners for implementing this project.

The Department of Irrigation (DOI) will provide followings:

  • Overall coordination for the research activities
  • Provide relevant literature and reports
  • Participate in analyzing the research finding
  • Depute one of its professionals (on intermittent basis) for participation on the management of research
  • Host workshop and seminars related to this research, and
  • Support in institutionalizing the implementation of the research findings within DOI

The Mott MacDonald will be responsible for:

  • Design, manage and implementation of the research in collaboration with DOI
  • Coordinate, guide and supervise national partners (FMIST, Adapt-Nepal, CERD)
  • Organize workshops and Seminars for sharing and disseminating of the interim and final research outputs
  • Share research outputs with DOI and incorporate the feedbacks provided
  • Design and implement capacity building activity in collaboration with DoI through integration in the research

Funding mechanism

Funds required for this research will be managed by Mot MacDonald through a separate contract with CDKN. The Department of Irrigation will have no financial liabilities in implementing this research.

Signed for Mott MacDonald, UK Signed for the DOI
Simon Howarth DDG, Surface Irrigation, Environment and Mechanical Division,
Date: Date:

Risks and mitigation measures

An initial risk analysis has been undertaken, as presented in the table below, and discussed with key stakeholders. This includes our strategy for managing, monitoring and mitigating project risks. This will be monitored and shared with CDKN on a quarterly basis to ensure that appropriate actions are taken if any of the risks identified were to occur.

Risk Mitigation measure
Scale of project means that some differences between regions or types of irrigation are not detectedReliability of data collected is uncertainLimited data availability and variability between regions makes recommendations too crude or genericCommunities and local stakeholders unwilling to participate

Conflict with other plans and initiatives for climate-compatible irrigation

Unable to influence plans at local or district level

Unable to get ‘buy-in’ for policy level recommendations

DOI weak institutional capacity, limited resources and inability to institutionalize framework

Poor security situation and bandhs limit ability to access sites

The recent earthquake diverts interest away from the study, through changed priorities and the need to focus on recovery and restoration of damaged infrastructure and livelihoods

Literature review and consultations to ensure that we focus on the most vulnerable types and locationsTriangulation of data with other studies, and sensitivity analysis to assess the impact of inaccurate or incomplete data.Identification of critical gaps for further investigations risk-based approach to recommendations which summarises the available information and makes clear the areas of uncertainty

Local best practice in participatory methodology for fieldwork (using combination of technical and participation experts)

Identification of ongoing initiatives, close coordination with other programmes, use of team who are already well connected with current activities

Communication strategy designed and agreed early on

Integration of local studies with work at policy level from the outset,

Recommend continued support through other programmes

Engagement with politicians as well as professionals

Use local staff, with careful choice of sample locations

Coordination with relief and reconstruction efforts, incorporation of earthquake risks in resilience framework

Flexible approach, consideration of a changed programme Assumption Action

Assumption Action
Irrigation systems can be categorised in a to makes systematic guidelines possibleLocal authorities willing to modify current practicesHigher-level authorities will see the need to strengthen policy and provide implementation guidelines Development of an irrigation classification system at the outset and agree with key stakeholdersGuidelines are prioritised to distinguish essential and desirable actions, and reflect local practice in a typical as well as ideal situationExtensive stakeholder consultation at all levels, including typical local implementers (communities, builders, planners, etc.)

Communication strategy designed and agreed at early stage Issue Action

Issue Action
Understanding of risk and of climate change, at all levelsUncertainty of local climate changeNeed to plan management and allocation of water at river basin Development of PRA tools for field work which explore attitudes and understanding of riskCoordination with ongoing programmes on climate predictions, and their impact on low flows, flood risk, etc.Identification of actions appropriate at local level

Coordination with river basin and higher level stakeholders to encourage coherent response at all levels

Challenge Action
Gaining buy-in for an independent studyGender sensitivityDistilling complex situation into implementable recommendations

Ensuring recommendations are put into both policy and practice

Careful designed engagement strategyAppropriate participatory tools, with gender-balanced teamGender-sensitive consultationsLocal studies, synthesised with global best practice

Linking field studies to policy recommendations to ensure that they are both practicable and acceptable