In search of water
Looking at our dry taps and how we are suffering from an acute shortage of water, it will perhaps seem like a joke to read anywhere that Nepal is the second richest country in water resources. With just a dry hissing sound emanating from our taps, sometimes not even that, those days when one grew up drinking from stone water spouts around the City may seem like a dream that someone else dreamt up.
Sunita Shrestha, 29, of Purano Guheshwori, is one such victim of the water shortage. There are water taps in her area but nothing beside air is coming from these taps. “Not only the water taps, but the wells and tubewells too have gone dry this year. There isn’t a single drop of water. I have been facing a lot of problem as I need to wash clothes frequently as I have a child. Besides, I need water for daily purposes too. To meet my daily needs, I have been buying water jars. I also go to my neighbours’ in search of water,” Shrestha shares.
Gyanu Adhikari, a 39-year-old resident of Tyanglaphaat, Kirtipur has been facing a similar problem. The well at her place has gone dry. “I can’t concentrate on anything these days besides thinking about water,” Adhikari shares.
Water scarcity has affected all and tenants living in the City are the most vulnerable ones. Arguments between tenants and landlords on the use of water are not new. Many are seen looking for rooms in areas where water is available easily. “It is quite difficult to live on rents in the City due to the use of water. One can’t use water as per one’s need. The place where I am living too has water problem, but as we are just a few members, we have been allowed to use water from the well. Had there been more of us, I doubt if the landlord would have given us permission to use the well,” laughs Laxmi Gautam, a 43-year-old living in Koteshwor.
Though there is so much scarcity of water in the City people don’t think of returning to their villages. “There are facilities in the City not available in the villages. This is why despite the lack of water, we aren’t returning any time soon to the village,” Gautam adds.
Suresh Adhikari, proprietor of Adhikari Brother Shop, Koteshwor has been selling water for the last four years. He usually sells around 6,000 litres of water in four days in the dry months. But he has seen the high demand of water this year and he too hasn’t been able to supply water for his customers as the tankers from who he buys water aren’t able to provide him water. “The sources of water have dried up,” shares Suresh giving the reason on his inability to provide water.
No water, but why?
Shrestha, Gyanu, Suresh and Gautam are representatives of the thousands who have been suffering from water scarcity in the City. Though scarcity of water is not a new one in a populated city like ours, the problem has not been solved.
“Increasing temperature, migration of people to city areas, behavioural changes, economic development and an unequal balance between the demand and supply of water has been playing a significant role in the scarcity of water in the City,” informs Milan Kumar Shakya, Spokesperson at the Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL), Tripureshwor.
A change in the lifestyle such as in the use of bathtubs, flush, washing of vehicles et cetera has increased the demand for water. However, with a limited supply of water, it has been difficult to meet this increasing demand. “There is a demand for 37 crore litres of water per day in the City but we have been able to supply only eight crore litres a day,” informs Shakya.
An everyday problem
We often get to hear, “Do you know any water tankers?” and in reply people make a joke, “There are many water tankers that we are in contact with, but what to do, we don’t have any contacts with those who supply water.” Such conversations make you laugh but at the same time one feels frustrated. This is not a problem of a single day or of a single person. Every other person is heard talking about water scarcity. “You need to wait in a long queue to get water from private water tankers. I don’t think this problem is going to get solved anytime soon,” opines Gyanu.
Besides being an everyday problem, the water scarcity has hurt people the most — in his/her pocket. One needs to spend a lot of money to pay for water tankers. “It is economically burdensome. We spend a lot of money to buy water,” informs Shrestha. Budgets are getting overturned in almost every household.
“We need to pay a lot of money to buy water which often isn’t separated from the budget. Besides, the price of water has gone up after the economic blockade. I used to pay Rs 1,300 for 7,000 litres of water earlier, but I need to pay Rs 1,600 for the same amount of water these days,” informs Gyanu.
The price of water isn’t the same everywhere. It differs according to the water tankers. Suman Maharjan, proprietor of Maharjan Khane Paani Sewa, Satdobato has been selling 6,000 litres of water at Rs 1,800, and for 12,000 litres of water he has been charging Rs 3,000.
It is not only an economic burden but one cannot even become a new customer right now. “We lack water and as we haven’t been able to provide service for our old and regular customers, there is no point taking in new customers,” says Maharjan. “It used to take around 20 minutes to fill the tankers earlier, but it takes around 40 minutes for a tanker to get filled,” informs Maharjan. “We collect water from Godawari, but as there is lack of water in the sources, we can’t make more than three trips per day and in such cases, it is impossible to provide services,” he adds.
There are limited sources of water in the City. And as there is no proportional production of water as per the increasing demand, there has been a scarcity of water. “We are dependent on surface water and ground water, but as the sources are limited, we haven’t been able to meet the public demand,” admits Shakya. “We have been trying our best to ease the scarcity of water by distributing it according to our schedule, distributing through our 15 tankers (partnering with the local clubs) and our 59 tube wells in and around the city,” Shakya adds.
The water sources are drying. “The ground water level is declining. Over-exploitation of groundwater, industrialisation, deep tube wells, shallow tube wells, water entrepreneurs and haphazard urbanisation are some of the reasons for decreasing water level. Besides the disturbances in natural recharge areas are the other reasons too,” informs Surendra Raj Shrestha, Senior Divisional Hydrogeologist at Groundwater Resources Development Board, Babar Mahal.
“Ground water is not recharged from everywhere. The northern parts of the City have the ability to recharge but as urbanisation is increasing in these areas, it has led to a disturbance in the recharging. Besides the intensity of rainfall too becomes one of the factors in recharging. When there is lower intensity of rainfall, there are chances for recharge of water. But as these days there is rainfall in high intensity, it is difficult for the soil to absorb water,” informs Surendra Raj.
The April 25 earthquake of 2015 too has had an impact in the drying up of the water sources. “Water comes from cracks inside the earth. Though the studies haven’t been carried out but, there are chances that the cracks from where the water flowed below might have been blocked, or there might have been other cracks from where the water has been flowing deeper down than letting it flow outside,” he further adds.
The last resort
And our last resort is the M word — Melamchi. People are still hopeful.
“Conflict, security issues, local disputes, donors leaving were some of the problems that couldn’t let us complete the project on time,” informs Ghanashyam Bhattarai, Executive Director at Melamchi Water Supply Development Board, Mid-Baneshwor. “Tunnels are being dug up. We have completed around 60- 61 per cent of tunnel construction. We have finished arranging the work of pipelines some 50 per cent. In the given condition, we will be able to bring water to the Valley by next October,” Bhattarai informs.