The concerned bodies and the Nepali Army must repair the road and set up temporary bridges at the earliest

With the uncertainty of the Melamchi Drinking Water Project, following colossal damage to its headworks in last month's floods, water rationing is back in the Kathmandu Valley. And in areas which do not have access to even the rationed water, the residents are back to buying water in tankers. The nearly completed Melamchi project had made available 170 million litres of water daily to the valley from around March end until mid-June during tests to see for any flaws in its system. But the flash floods in the Melamchi River on June 15 caused such significant damage to the headworks of the Melamchi project at Ambathan that it is uncertain when water will start flowing again in the tunnel. It could be a very long wait, almost nine months at the earliest, according to officials, that too if the work of clearing the debris and other renovation can be carried out without any interruption.

But if the pace of construction of the project is anything to go by, the residents of the valley can only hope against hope that water will be flowing in the mains by April next year.

The Melamchi project seems to be jinxed. The project was mooted as early as the Eighties during the partyless Panchayat polity to meet the water needs of the valley. Following the collapse of the Panchayat system in 1990, the prime minister of the interim government, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, had even envisioned giving the streets of Kathmandu a good wash with water from the Melamchi. But it wasn't until 2009 that its construction finally got off the ground. Funded by the Asian Development Bank and other development partners, it got delayed due to frequent change of contractors under pressure from the donors, leading to significant cost overruns. And just when things were falling into place, ready to deliver water to the valley regularly from mid-July this year, the devastating floods have damaged the headworks and caused damage worth Rs 2 billion to the project, according to initial estimates.

It's been six weeks since the flash floods upstream had wiped out the bustling Melamchi Bazaar below and damaged the headworks of the water project.

But the authorities are still struggling to figure out how to repair the damage. The headworks are covered in debris 10 metres high while pebbles and sand have piled up to 30 metres in the surrounding areas.

But before the debris can be cleared in the area and learn about the true extent of the damage done, including if the main tunnel has been damaged, a temporary road has to be built to the site, as the flood had washed away 10 kilometres of road, including two concrete bridges, from Melamchi Bazaar up to the headworks. Work on repairing the project should have been carried out on a war footing, instead the authorities seem to be waiting for the monsoon to end first, which means holding back reconstruction until mid-September. And it will soon be time for the Dashain festival. Given the gravity of the situation, the concerned bodies and the Nepali Army must repair the road and set up temporary bridges at the earliest. The valley residents have waited more than two decades for the Melamchi water, let's not try their patience any more.

Incomplete housing

The federal government had launched the People's Housing Programme across the country to support families from the backward and marginalised communities. However, this programme has been slow to progress after it was handed over to the provincial governments, which lack adequate funds.

Some of the housing projects launched by the federal government have been found to be ineffective. A housing project launched earlier in Kailali district to support the Badi community has proved unproductive as most of them refused to live in the areas where the housing units were built.

The non-appropriation of budget for the housing programme has adversely affected construction in various municipalities of Tanahu, where a total of 286 units were supposed to have been built last fiscal year. Gandaki Province did not allocate enough funds for the programme, which is short of Rs 18.7 million to complete all the housing units. The government provides Rs 332,500 in cash to each of the marginalised and backward families and the remaining amount needed for the housing must be borne by the families themselves. The concerned provincial government must allocate enough budget to complete the construction of the houses.

A version of this article appears in the print on July 28 2021, of The Himalayan Times.