Few months back, I had the opportunity to talk about a community model on river conservation. The US Embassy and USAID celebrated the World Environment Day on June 5 to 12 with documentary shows, presentations etc. This week long program was held at Kathmandu City Museum, Durbar Marg. I went there as a representative of USYC and gave a presentation. The topic of my presentation was “Community based Participatory River Restoration “.

In November, 2012, I had gone to Langtang for my thesis work. There, the river gurgling, flowing with pride, extreme strength and beauty caught all our attention. On the same year, I had the chance to sample water and collect macroinvertebrates at different tributaries of Bagmati river. How stark was the difference between these two rivers! Sundarijal river at Gokarna, smelt like poop. Carcasses of dead animals floated while the tiny red worm like insects called (Chironimidaes), which thrive on dirty rivers swam in abundance. Sundarijal River called for immediate river restoration.

Langtang River
Bagmati River at Gokarna

 River restoration is a process of bringing back the river into its original state. Most common restoration approaches are stream bank stabilization, enhancing riparian vegetation and natural grasses, adding meanders and stocking the river with fish or other living organisms.

Few restoration techniques

Photo Courtesy: Prof. Dr. Subodh Sharma

1. Riparian Vegetation

It acts as a buffer and may protect the health of the body of water. A healthy abundance of plants provides nutrients to the ground and may strengthen the banks, preventing soil erosion and even absorbing harmful runoff from the water itself.

2. Channel Modification

Meanders (Bend or curve in the rivers) are beneficial because they slow the flow of the river and alter the way it moves stones, gravel and silt along its length.

Photo Taken from: http://www.geograph.org.uk/

This will recreate a variety of features that are currently lacking from the straightened river. For example, pools capable of supporting larger fish, shallow margins where freshwater plants can grow and gravel beds where fish can lay their eggs can be established. This diversity supports a much wider variety of insects, fish and other wildlife than man-made channels.

But the great question lies in the sustainability of these approaches.

 Are these methods sustainable?

Before moving on to the solution, if we carefully think about the cause of the problem, maybe we could tackle it in a better way. The main cause of of the river degradation is “Tragedy of commons”

This is the term coined by biologist Garrett Hardin in 1968. Tragedy of commons simply means that it is everyone’s property to exploit but no one’s to manage. “Commons” can include the atmosphere, oceans, rivers, fish stocks, national parks and any other shared resources. Because it is a common property, humans tend to use as much as possible and reap highest benefit.

So, what could be the solution of tragedy of commons?

Answer: By ownership and marketing of products of the common resource

In community based restoration, a part of river can be restored involving community approach for restoration or conservation. This can be done by

  1. – Community, group or cooperative sensitization
  2. – Environment education & training
  3. – Implementation of business model
  4. – Rafting, angling, water harvest, water based recreational activities
  5. – Fish release and recapture for sports

Following is the chart to show a community based river restoration module.

Community based participatory river restoration

Once community itself is involved in protecting their river, they can share the benefits obtained by such efforts. Eco friendly businesses can be established by local coordination and participation. This will not only make use of rivers, but also improve the economic status of local people.

Linkage of Community Based River Restoration with local economy and livelihood

Upon asking in a professional networking site, LinkedIn, I got interesting replies from experts from different part of the country. This shows that this concept has been applied abroad and has been successful.



Find more discussion here.

In Nepal, in an attempt to initiate a community participatory restoration, Sunkoshi Beach Camp has been established at Sukute, Sindhupalchowk. It is a beach camp running in partnership with Sukute Lower Secondary School. Established by a river conservationist Megh Ale, this beach camp has been successful in prohibiting sand and gravel extraction 500 m upstream and downstream with the help of local people there.

Sunkoshi Beach Camp
Inauguration of the Camp by Local Leaders
I presented this very model in an International Conference on Forests, Soil and Rural Livelihoods in a Changing Climate.

In a country like Nepal, where rivers are heavily polluted in cities and are still a major source of livelihood in villages, community based participatory restoration module is the best solution for sustainable development with economic and ecological benefits. Meanwhile, do visit my friend Alaka’s blog where she writes about Bagmati River Restoration Campaign!

Get the PDF version of the poster here