Small towns in hill and mountain regions of South Asia depend on springs, streams, lakes and rivers in their surrounding catchments for the supply of water. Such towns in India and Nepal have grown rapidly with little planning for infrastructure needs more generally, and for water supply in particular. While demand for water is increasing, there is growing pressure on available supplies, which has created several issues relating to water management and governance, interaction among stakeholders (particularly upstream and downstream communities in hydrologically-connected catchments), and the sustainability of supplies, due to the competing demands of water from different sectors.

Through this panel, we will share our preliminary insights from our ongoing research from the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and in the hill regions of Nepal. The three papers will highlight the hydrological dependence of these small towns on water flows from the surrounding landscape, and the areas that are critical to securing these water flows (‘critical water zones’). Further, the papers will discuss existing patterns of resource and land use in these critical water zones, and challenges to sustaining water supplies from these areas to meet the needs of local and non-local stakeholders. Institutional arrangements and local governance for water supply management systems for small towns in the Himalayas are also analysed, as are the processes of negotiation and bargaining between stakeholders to secure their water needs.

This Panel will be a two-hour panel, involving three paper presentations and an open discussion among panelists and participants. Through focused insights from our comparative research in Nepal and the Indian Himalayas, this panel will draw attention to the wider challenges of water security and livelihoods that face the region, and will be of considerable interest to scholars, practitioners and policy makers.

Discussion : An important part of this panel will be a discussion on the unique opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in the context of rapid urban expansion, climate change and political transition particularly in Nepal. The discussion will draw attention to the complex processes and issues around water security and livelihoods in the fragile Himalayan environment, and the frequently overlooked communities that live there. This panel will not only present the current environmental and urbanisation situation of the Himalayas, based on our detailed field research, but will launch and contribute to a public conversation around the ‘sustainable’ development of strategies to cope with the emergent pressures – both human and natural – that impact the Himalayas and other mountain regions