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Integrated River Basin Management: Towards a deeper, holistic understanding of related concepts, tools, and opportunities

An integrated approach to managing water resources

Understanding upstream–downstream linkages – whether it be in the context of natural processes or socio-ecological landscapes – is vital to ensuring effective water resources planning at the river basin level.

In the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, the management of land and water in upstream regions has direct impacts on downstream communities—in terms of both opportunities and potential threats.

Upstream–downstream linkages can be drawn across all levels – from micro-watersheds to larger river basins, across mountains to plains, across administrative units, and across country borders. Only a holistic approach to managing river basins that considers the available water not just as a contained system, but also as a resource to be sustainably managed and used can be truly effective.

IRBM in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) is an approach that takes these matters into consideration while paying due regard to the environmental and livelihood impacts of water use as well as to the management of water-related hazards towards disaster risk reduction.

To further its uptake in the HKH region, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Griffith University, International WaterCentre, and Alluvium, have co-designed a professional training course on multi-scale IRBM.

Training HKH water professionals

With support from Australian Water Partnership, these institutions jointly organised an IRBM training from 19 August to 10 September 2022 focusing on the various approaches to IRBM, the processes involved, and its application in the HKH region. Twelve participants (including seven women) from the HKH countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan were part of the training.

The course covered nine modules, including both conceptual perspectives and real-world examples related to IRBM. It comprised a mix of presentations, group activities, and discussions, all set within the framework of an integrated learning approach.

Discussion on importance of GEDSI and its implementation in IRBM context (Image: ICIMOD)

The goal of the training was to help HKH water professionals understand and articulate the concept of IRBM and relate it to their work. The topics covered included water governance, water diplomacy, regional cooperation, socio-economic issues, including the importance of Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI), and other tools and approaches towards facilitating IRBM for tailored and targeted interventions.

Theory plus practice

Along with theoretical sessions, the training included field visits to the Koshi basin in Nepal and the Murray Darling Basin (MDB) in Australia. These helped participants not just understand but also compare issues, challenges, and opportunities across the HKH and Australian river basins. Also covered were management approaches and cross learning across various platforms.

Dr. Arun Bhakta Shrestha, ICIMOD explaining the issues, challenges and opportunities in the Koshi Basin (Image: ICIMOD)

Participants were guided through dealing with real-life challenges in the field and related opportunities and actions that may be replicated and scaled out. For most, the GEDSI session was eye-opening in terms of how integral it is to IRBM.

The participants’ discussions and feedback to each other extended beyond the formal training sessions to what the team called ‘bus-shops’ – discussions on the commute in between destinations. Such interactions not only helped them learn from each other’s work, but also helped them find interlinkages between their individual expertise and training learnings.

As attested by the trainees, the event provided an opportunity for mid and senior level professionals from diverse expertise, interests, and backgrounds (cultural as well as academic) to share and learn.

The Hon. Karlene Maywald explaining South Australian perspective on the MDB and Australian interstate diplomacy (Image: ICIMOD)

Championing IRBM

Speaking at the inaugural training, Pema Gyamtsho, Director General of ICIMOD, spoke to the participants about the vital importance of rivers to the livelihoods of close to two billion people in the HKH. Gyamtsho encouraged them to champion the IRBM approach across the HKH basins.

At the same event, Kavitha Kasynathan, Head of Development, Australian Embassy, Nepal, noted that it is usually those who are most marginalised – including women and children – who are most affected by climate change. She urged that the needs of these groups be prioritised.

The multidisciplinary team of professionals who were part of the training have committed to working on IRBM. The training organising team is now preparing to conduct a tracer study to evaluate the impact of the training in helping implement IRBM across the HKH region.

Participants’ perspectives

“The way the modules were delivered – through a mix of presentations and interactive sessions as well as field visits – have broadened my understanding. I now see clearly that there is a need for the establishment of clear multi-scale linkages, continuous stakeholder engagement, quantification of resources, and an adaptable governance structure that is nested as well as hierarchical. The training gave a new perspective to my understanding of MDB and its nuances!” – Shivani Barthwal, Project Scientist, Wildlife Institute of India, India

“The training employed a holistic and practical approach that is worth replicating. I have benefited immensely. I can now link the theory to application on the ground.” – Gongsar Karma Chhopel, Chief Environment Officer, Punatsangchhu-I Hydroelectric Project Authority, Bhutan

“The knowledge I’ve gained will help me make better-informed professional decisions when it comes to the integrated resource management plans of river systems.” – Srijana Shrestha, Under Secretary, President Chure Terai-Madhesh Conservation Development Board, Nepal

“I will reach out to my fellow trainees and keep in touch with them. I will also remain in touch with colleagues from ICIMOD, Alluvium, IWC Griffith, and AWP associated with the training programme. Such networks are valuable to IRBM.” – Nitin Kaushal, Associate Director – River Basin Management, World Wildlife Fund for Nature – India, India


Feature image: Director General of ICIMOD Pema Gyamtsho speaking to participants at the inaugural training (ICIMOD)
Article by ICIMOD
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