The Mahakali is a river of contradictions. The river, which originates near the Tibetan plateau, is rich in resources, yet people living on its banks are poor and marginalised; the river nourishes life on its banks, but it also wreaks havoc from time to time.
The Mahakali bridge, which connects Chandani and Dodhara villages to the rest of Nepal is also full of contradictions. While sand and pebbles mined on the banks of the river are used to build concrete bridges elsewhere, the bridge here is made of metal.
The Mahakali gushes through the slopes of western Nepal carrying debris and sand with it. The sand is mined and transported to the market. The contradiction here is that while the sand provides much-needed life-saving money for the local community, unscientific mining has increased the risk of life-threatening floods. In addition to that, destructive fishing practices such as poisoning and electrocution of fish in the river are also taking a toll on local livelihood.
With most of the men in the area leaving their homes in search of work in India and beyond, it is now up to the local women to take up the challenge to deal with the contradictions of the Mahakali. With support from Oxfam’s Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA), they have formed women’s groups to lobby for policy changes to conserve the river and its resources.
While the groups are just starting out, their work looks promising. Some of the groups have set up fish conservation areas where destructive fishing has been banned. The groups hold regular discussions with local representatives of their municipalities to discuss ways to conserve the river.
The Mahakali river has changed a lot; some of the changes may be irreversible. But there is a hope that the local communities will take the lead to save it.