1st Scientific Karnali River Expedition 2018
5th NOVEMBER 2018, Kathmandu
Nepal River Conservation Trust (NRCT) recently organized a 44-day scientific expedition from the headwaters of the Karnali River in Tibet/China, through Nepal, to its confluence with the Ganges River in India. The expedition started on 16th September and ended on 29th October 2018. The interdisciplinary team consisted of seven scientists, three research assistants, an environmental journalist and a documentary photographer. The team traveled about 1,050 kilometers along the Karnali River, moving mainly by foot and by raft, complemented by a few days of vehicle travel as required in China and India. The purpose of this expedition was to collect data throughout the Karnali river system in Nepal and to document the outstanding socio-cultural and environmental values of the Karnali region. Understanding the socio-environmental values of the Karnali will help policymakers improve regional planning. Overall, NRCT seeks to promote dialogue about sustainable development in the Karnali region, and the possibility of establishing a “Sacred River Corridor” along the main-stem of the Karnali River.
The trip began at the source of the Mapcha Khambab (Tibetan for ‘peacock’s mouth’) River in the Kailash region of China, which becomes the Humla Karnali River at the Nepal-China border. Within Nepal, the team members characterized the geologic and hydrologic attributes of the river system, collected data on water quality, aquatic biodiversity and river health (within both the Karnali and its tributary streams), and social scientific data about livelihoods, cultures, social change, and the ways that different populations relate to the river along the river corridor. Along the way, team members discussed topics such as environmental change, infrastructure development, fish species and distribution, and disaster risk management with a total of 288 local stakeholders.
The group, led by the President of Nepal River Conservation Trust, Mr. Megh Ale, also known as Nepal’s “River Man”, seeks to promote a new hope for people living within the Karnali River corridor by highlighting the social and environmental values of the Karnali River — the longest and most pristine river in Nepal. Mr. Ale suggests that the Karnali River itself can become an icon of Nepal – comparable to Everest, the Annapurnas, the historic kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley, Lumbini, and other valued places which promote tourism economies across Nepal. As the Karnali River flows through the Himalaya and down to the Gangetic plain, it crosses through a wide variety of ecological regions. Lastly, because the Karnali region is also relatively underdeveloped, it is like a living laboratory where we can assess and understand complex socio-environmental transitions and people’s different abilities to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
To collaborate with the local community and newly elected local government authorities, two workshops were organized at Simikot Rural Municipality, Humla and Panchadewal Binayak Municipality, Achham. Chief Misister of Karnali Province Mr. Mahendra B. Shahi and Minister of Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment of Karnali Province Hon. Mr. Nanda Singh Budha and other high level governmental officials were joined the informal workshop/interaction at Dab of Dailekh District. The team of local and provincial level representatives were camped together with the expedition team members and full day raft down upto Lower Dungeshwor of Dailekh District. Chief Minister highlighted the potentials of tourism and importance of Karnali River in Karnali Province and willing to work together and collaborate with other stakeholders in the future in every issues.
Data collected during this research expedition can also be used to help inform strategic decision-making about the balance between development and conservation in the Karnali region. Using the research findings, NRCT will develop a proposal to introduce “Wild and Scenic River” legislation in Nepal, to create a framework that could be used to protect and preserve certain exceptional sections of the Karnali River. In the current moment, newly elected local and provincial governments can affect a new vision for the Karnali, one that balances environmental conservation with a sustainable plan for long-term economic growth. In the coming year, NRCT plans to work with local people, community groups, and political leaders to develop a vision that protects both people and the environment, that creates new opportunities for people in the Karnali region while also leaving options for future generations.
In early 2019, NRCT plans to share the findings of this expedition, to publish a series of photo essays and articles about the river and its people, and to release a short documentary film highlighting the values of the Karnali River. Expedition team members included Megh Ale, Karen Bennett, Deep Narayan Shah, Austin Lord, Prem Sharma, Ramesh Bhushal, Nabin Baral, Santosh Nepal, Binaya Pashakhala, Meena Raji, Kripa Dongol, and Bhakta Shahi.
Nepal River Conservation Trust thanks the multiple Nepal national and international sponsors who funded this scientific expedition of the Karnali River.