Snow-Capped Mountains and Rushing Rivers, but No Water to Drink in Nepal's Capital

People lining up for water an hour before it is supposed to be flowing, in Kathmandu, Nepal on July 10 2014. Image by Flickr user @Ingmar Zahorsky (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

People lining up for water an hour before it is scheduled to flow, in Kathmandu, Nepal on July 10 2014. Image by Flickr user @Ingmar Zahorsky (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Despite having among the highest water availability per capita in the world and holding about 2.7 percent of the world's total fresh water reserves, Nepal suffers from a chronic water shortage.  

Set against a decade of political turbulence, acute mismanagement of water supplies and large in-migration from villages to the capital Kathmandu, the less socio-economically advantaged half of Nepal is increasingly left to fend for itself to gain access to clean water.

In Kathmandu, the Nepalese government’s Central Bureau of Statistics shows that one out of five households do not have a domestic water source, while two-thirds live with a water supply which most probably would fail the standard for being ‘clean and safe.’

Many citizens have adapted. Pinky Gupta, a retailer in Kathmandu was quoted in an article called ‘The Dry State': 

The situation in the capital is such that it has almost become a necessity for people to educate themselves on ways to conserve water.

Gupta's situation is very common among poorer Kathmandu residents who do not have the option of buying water.

Mangal Raj, another resident quoted in the article, explains how he goes about conserving water:

It’s been almost five years since we last got water in our original line. We got another line installed but even that isn’t much help. We get water about once every three days. That isn’t enough for our large family. One method that we have adopted is reusing water. For instance, we don’t use fresh water in the bathroom. It’s usually the leftovers from all the washing that we take down to our toilets. It’s an easy and viable method. If we had a garden, we might have used it there as well.

In a short documentary called ‘Troubled Water’, many express their skepticism about the government's ability to turn the situation around. The documentary can be watched here:

This gloomy mood is understandable when taking into consideration the two-decade-long, unfulfilled promise of a water pipeline known as  ‘the Melamchi Project‘ which was meant to inject 170 million liters of water per day into Kathmandu from the Melamchi river that lies on a district bordering China.

But Madhu Marisini, an official in the Ministry of Finance offered hope via Twitter:

In the present scenario, this project would still not suffice: the government supplies 130 million liters of water per day to the capital, which would leave a shortfall of 100 million liters even if the project was successfully completed, since the capital's daily demand is something like 400 million liters. 

A hotbed for Innovation

While private businesses have sought to fill in this gap through the supply of tankers and underground water from tube-wells, there are many who raise concerns about safety. Nepali chemist, Kosh P. Neupane raises fears about the danger of invisible toxic metal ions in the water being sold through these businesses which could potentially lead to cancer and other fatal diseases. 

However, despite the challenges in bringing clean and safe water to Nepalis, there are highlights of hope.

In February, a Nepali grassroots organisation called ‘Environment and Public Health Organization’ (ENPHO) won the 4th edition of the Kyoto World Water Grand Prize for the impact of its activities in solving water problems through innovation: drinking water platforms and gender friendly latrines…

This organisation's involvement in propagating the use of simple technologies to empower communities outside the capital, such as rain water harvesting, may be the way forward not only for Nepal, but for many countries facing a similar water situation. 

A wake-up call for the world

According to Rajendra Pachauri the former chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC), the world is facing a water crisis which shifting climates will only exacerbate, leading to a grim future which at worst could lead to wars between communities and nations. Currently, more than 2 billion people are affected by drought — a greater number than that for any other physical hazard. 

To address this issue, South Korea will be hosting the 7th World Water Forum April 12-17, which will be attended by over 160 countries aiming to discuss water challenges affecting the world, including deaths that result from unsafe water.

According to UNICEF's Deputy Executive Director:

Pragya Lamsal, the Kathmandu-based Communications Officer at WaterAid, an organisation which advocates for the essential role of safe water, improved hygiene and sanitation in human development, echoes this sentiment:

While many are fortunate enough not to have to spend a minute to think about not having water to drink, it is a humbling to note the struggle many make to access a drop of clean water every day. In this video, a village in Nepal celebrates with song and dance after the installation of taps gushing clean water.

In addition to the 7th World Water Forum this week, water is likely to continue to be an essential topic for activists and governments alike at the 21st session of the conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris in December 2015.

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