Water insecurity ‘looms large over Kathmandu’

Kathmandu, March 3

A study covering 13 towns across some south Asian countries including Nepal in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region shows that cities like Kathmandu and Bhaktapur are facing increased water insecurity in the wake of inadequate urban planning coupled with rapidly changing climate.

The study on the HKH shows interlinkages of water availability, water supply systems, rapid urbanisation and consequent increase in water demand are leading to increasing water insecurity in towns in the HKH region.

This water insecurity is attributed to poor water governance, lack of urban planning, poor tourism management during peak season and climate-related risks and challenges. The study, published in the journal Water Policy also shows that communities are coping through short-term strategies such as groundwater extraction, which is proving to be unsustainable.

There is a lack of long-term strategies for water sustainability in urban centres, and this requires special attention of planners and local governments.

Based on the findings of the HI-AWARE research project undertaken by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development and partner organisations, the study suggests that urbanisation has pulled people from rural areas in the HKH region into nearby urban centres.

Although only three per cent of the total HKH population lives in larger cities and eight per cent in smaller towns, projections show that more than 50 per cent of the population will be living in cities by 2050. This will naturally place tremendous stress on water resources.

The study, published in a special issue of the journal shows that water demand-supply gap in eight of the surveyed towns is 20-70 per cent. There is a high dependence on springs (ranging between 50 per cent and 100 per cent) for water supply in three-fourths of the urban areas. Under current trends, the demand-supply gap may double by 2050.

A holistic water management approach that includes springshed management and planned adaptation is necessary for securing safe water supply in the urban areas. Along with springshed management, other options could be explored in the wake of rising water demand and use.

From the case studies of the Himalayan towns it is evident that increasing urbanization and climate change are two critical stressors that have been adversely affecting biophysical environment of urban areas, said a press release issued by ICIMOD yesterday in Kathmandu.

With development plans and policies focusing more on rural areas, issues surrounding urban environments have been sidelined.

Across the region, encroachment and degradation of natural water bodies and growing disappearance of traditional water systems (stone spouts, wells and local water tanks) are evident.

Degradation and reclamation of water bodies affect wetland ecosystems and reduce retention capacities that prevent flooding. Consequently, urban drainage and flood management systems are being impaired.

The study points towards five important issues concerning water insecurity in urban areas. First, water needs to be sustainably sourced to bridge the gap between supply and demand.

Second, water governance and management need to consider issues and services beyond water utilities.

Third, equitable distribution of water needs more attention. Poor and marginalised people are most affected when water supply dwindles.

Many cities are faced with the challenge of providing access to safe water for the poor, especially during the dry season when supply dwindles.

Fourth, women’s multiple roles in water management need to be recognised and their role in the planning and decision-making processes needs to be reviewed and strengthened. Fifth, mountain cities need to be viewed in the broader context of mountain water, environment, and energy.