Fetching drinking water is a daily ordeal for schoolgirl Sumitra Maharjan, who queues from dawn for hours to access a local public tap. “I often miss school, and this is badly affecting my studies,” said the frustrated 15-year-old, holding a blue water bucket and standing behind 100 other people.
However, Maharjan is luckier than some – she manages to get water at least once a day. A large number of residents in Kathmandu have not seen a drop of water from their taps for months. “My tap has been dry for the last six months. You can imagine the crisis we are facing,” said a local resident, Ramesh Gurung.
Most of Kathmandu’s drinking water comes from the Bagmati river system [...] however, the supply is insufficient for the city, which has a chronic water shortage. The government blames changing weather patterns [...] and a growing urban population.
“The water shortage is worsening,” said Rameshwar Shrestha, spokesman for the Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepai Limited (KUKL), a government body responsible for supplying drinking water to Kathmandu’s two million people. In Nepal, rainfall has become erratic, and winters have become drier in recent years.
These factors affected the supply of drinking water both in and outside the capital, according to KUKL. Shrestha said there is a daily demand for at least 200 million litres in Kathmandu, but KUKL has only been able to supply 160 million litres.
The government has said that over 38 percent of the pipes are leaking, and it is often difficult to repair them due to a lack of funds, according to KUKL. But more than financial constraints, activists blame a lack of political will from the government to resolve the crisis.
“We have been warning about the impending water disaster for years, and now the crisis has reached its peak,” said Lajana Manandhar, convener for the Fresh Water Action Network (FAN) Nepal, a national network of NGOs lobbying for water and sanitation rights and policy.
For Kathmandu residents, the only alternative so far has been to extract groundwater. According to the NGO Forum for Urban Water and Sanitation, over 60 percent of households are already doing this by using home-installed electric pumps. The number of users is growing, leading to concerns about the over-exploitation of groundwater.
“This resource will also dry out soon, because the depletion has already started with more people relying on groundwater,” Prakash Amatya, the director of the group, told IRIN.
The groundwater [...] level is sinking an average of 2.5 metres annually, according to the government’s Ground Water Resources Development Board.
Hopes pinned on water project
Aid agencies and the government agree that the only solution to the water crisis is to implement the long-delayed, [but now relaunched, US$317.3 million] Melamchi Water Supply Project.
“This is really badly needed, because Kathmandu as a city has a chronic water shortage,” Barry Hitchcock, country director for Nepal for the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which is co-funding the project. “In four years’ time, when water starts coming out of the pipe, there will be a new water facility attached to that, and we will be in a better position to deliver water to the population,” he said.
Source: IRIN, 24 Sep 2009