Nepal: Irrigation and Water Resource Management

April 11, 2014


Satya Narayan Tharu of Rupandehi says the canals in his village are much cleaner thanks to improved irrigation systems.

Bijay Gajmer/World Bank

Since 2008, the Irrigation and Water Resources Management Project (IWRMP) has been working towards improving agriculture productivity and the management of selected irrigation schemes in Nepal as well as enhancing institutional capacity for integrated water resources management. The primary beneficiaries are over 415,200 water users of selected farmer-managed irrigation systems (FMIS) covering over 26,859 ha, mainly in the hill regions. The project also targets the irrigation management transfer in four agency-managed irrigation systems (AMIS) and essential structural improvements covering about 23,000 ha.


Some of the key challenges that categorize irrigation development in Nepal are old infrastructure and poor performances of the existing irrigation systems; poor system efficiency and under–utilization of canal water; weak participation of Water Users Associations (WUAs), weak institutional capacity; weak linkages between agriculture and irrigation; continuation of subsistence agriculture practices in command area etc. Additionally, due to riparian issues, in Nepal, it has not been possible to tap the major river systems for irrigation development, which discharge substantial amount of water even during the dry season. Most of the irrigation systems are thus fed by medium or small rivers, which almost entirely depend on the rain. Moreover, water use efficiency and agricultural productivity remain low in both the traditional farmer-managed schemes and the large public irrigation systems. Major impediments in increasing agricultural productivity in Nepal include: i) the lack of irrigation (only 28% of the total agricultural land (4.21 million ha) is irrigated), ii) unavailability of inputs such as quality seeds and fertilizers, iii) pest complex, and iv) lack of access to advisory services and marketing.


The project works mainly through four components (A) Irrigation Infrastructure Development and Improvement: improving irrigation water service delivery in selected schemes in mountain, hill and Terai districts of three western regions (40 districts) of the country and improving and expanding ground water irrigation in Terai; (B) Irrigation Management Transfer: improving service performance and service delivery in four selected agency managed irrigation schemes in the Terai through irrigation management transfer to the water user associations (WUAs); (C) Institutional and Policy Support for Improved Water Management : helping institutional strengthening for more effective water resources management; and (D) Integrated Crop and Water Management: increasing production and profitability of agriculture.

The project integrates the irrigation system rehabilitation and improved irrigation services with downstream agricultural activities to achieve its objective.  The agriculture component also provides agricultural extension services that make best use of irrigation water, and meet farmer needs. It also addresses the issue of insufficient integration between agriculture and water management interventions in order to derive full benefits from investments in irrigation.


The project is showing good results at the field level in terms of meeting the project objective of increasing agricultural productivity, as well as improving water use efficiency and enabling water users to manage irrigation systems.  Significant gains have been made in terms of increasing agricultural productivity since 2007. For instance: cropping intensities have increased from 168 to 220 percent and yields of major staples namely rice, wheat, maize and potato have increased, respectively, by 52, 53, 53 and 51 percent over the baseline. Introduction of equipment such as mini-power tillers, winnowing machines, seeders have helped, especially women farmers, in easing agricultural operations.  A recent study by IWRMP has shown that the use of power tiller (over traditional bullock drawn system) has saved the cost of field preparation by 75%. Construction of storage centers have allowed farmers to sell their produce when the price is good.

In addition, A Water Resources Information Center (WRIC) has been established and a Water Resources Information System (WRIS) has been developed, and is operational and publicly available. WRIC is facilitating the process of collecting data and information to develop river basis management plans in addition to providing water related data to key stakeholders.  River basin offices have been established and equipped in the Karnali and Narayani River Basins and 9 hydrological and 23 meteorological telemetric systems have been established in the Babai, Karnali, and Rapti River Basins.  An Integrated Water Resources Policy has been prepared, which is in the process of obtaining approval from the government.  The formulation of Integrated Water Resources Act has been initiated. 

" My paddy harvest has already increased. The canals are also much cleaner. "

Satya Narayan Tharu KC

Farmer, Rupandehi District


IWRMP has been working towards improving agriculture productivity and the management of irrigation schemes in Nepal.

David Waldorf/World Bank

The project has so far resulted in improved physical performance of the select surface water schemes; institutionally and financially strengthened WUAs providing better irrigation services; and has enhanced the use of groundwater irrigation. In addition, the project has contributed to enhancing the institutional capacity of the concerned agencies for planning, monitoring and inter-sectoral allocation of water resources, contributed towards higher productivity in agriculture and related production activities, increased cropping intensity of selected crops, and diversification into vegetables and other high-value crops.


In the fertile plains of the western Terai, farmers like Satya Narayan Tharu typically have an abundant supply of irrigation water. However, irrigation structures are often very old and high maintenance owing to poor design, substandard construction materials as well as the ravages of time and nature.  For example, Satya Narayan and his neighbors in Pharsatikar village in Rupandehi district would spend up to four months in the year repairing the canals. With the completion of the Motipur-Khadwa Irrigation scheme in 2011, Satya Narayan and over 2,000 other farmers in his community are overjoyed. The new irrigation system builds on the traditional one and farmers now spend less than half the time on repairs and management of the system.

Bank Contribution

IWRMP is financed by an IDA grant (Gr. H338, $50 million) approved on December 6, 2007.  An additional financing credit (Cr. 4515, $14.3 million) was approved on September 29, 2008, in response to the food security crisis in 2008.  A second additional financing of $50 million (Cr. 5344, $30 million and Gr. H902, $20 million)  was approved on December 23, 2013. The project is scheduled to close in June 30, 2018.

Toward the future

The project aims to alleviate poverty through agricultural development and optimal utilization of irrigation water. The project will continue to operate in 40 districts of Nepal, which will include the hills and mountains of western, mid-western, and far western regions where food production is not enough to meet annual food need in most cases and where poverty levels are highest in the country. The institutional support to the WUAs of the four major irrigation systems will continue to ensure that the WUAs are as much as possible technically, financially, and institutionally capable of managing irrigation infrastructure under their responsibility.  Overall, the project would seek to provide a package of appropriate agronomic and water management practices and investment support as appropriate.

Users improved their access to water resources.