The Nepali people, whether living in Kathmandu or outside, spend much time and money trying to meet their daily water needs

There is no respite for the inhabitants of the Kathmandu from the water crisis that they have been facing since the 1980s. The Melamchi Water Supply Project was seen as the ultimate solution, but just when it had begun distributing water on a trial basis in April, it snapped suddenly in mid-June, with its main headworks now buried under a pile of debris that will take months to clear. So water rationing is back in the capital, and people are looking for alternative sources to meet their water demands. A locality near Bhaktapur has shown that rainwater harvesting might just be the answer to meeting the water needs of small settlements year round. For the past four years, the residents of Liwali have relied on rainwater collected from the zinc sheet roofs of shacks built to house those affected by the big earthquakes of 2015. The water is channeled to a 106,000-litre underground tank through a system of pipes, which is then filtered and distributed equally to 100 households, each of whom gets 40 litres of clean water every other day.

Even after the Melamchi project adds 170 million litres of water daily to the existing 80 million litres currently available to the Kathmandu Upateka Khanepani Limited (KUKL), there would still be a huge shortfall of the size of the Melamchi itself. The population of the Kathmandu Valley, which is inhabited by 3-4 million people, is said to be growing by 6.5 per cent a year, making it one of the fastest growing metropolitan cities in South Asia, thus putting immense pressure on an already scarce resource.

Hence, the second phase of the Melamchi project, which envisages bringing another 170 million litres of water each from the Larke and Yangri Rivers through the existing tunnel, must be started immediately, which will allow KUKL to distribute a total of 510 million litres from the Melamchi daily.

The Nepali people, whether inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley or elsewhere, spend a lot of time and money trying to meet their daily water needs.

People, in particular women, walk long distances to fetch a jar or vessel of water. And an increasing number of households today rely on private water tankers for their water needs. About a third of the total demand of drinking water in the valley is being met by wells and boreholes built by people, stone water spouts and commercial water suppliers. But excessive groundwater extraction by households, industries and the KUKL has led to a steady depletion of the resource. Already, people are having to drill deeper to get water, which dries up over time. It is high time groundwater was allowed to recharge, but this is proving difficult with what was once a green valley now having converted into a concrete jungle. Hence, until the Melamchi finally arrives, more sustainable resources such as our traditional stone water spouts, ponds and rainwater must be exploited. Rainwater harvesting, as done in Liwali, can be replicated elsewhere in the country if subsidies were to be provided to build the required facilities. It is apparent that Kathmandu cannot afford to take in any more people, hence, it would be wise to disperse the country's population elsewhere by developing modern, sustainable cities.

Don't shut hospital

It is unfortunate to see that staffers of Beni Hospital in Myagdi have shut all services except the emergency one over the non-payment of salaries for the past three months. The staffers said they had no option other than to close it as they were denied their salaries when the biggest festivals like Dashain and Tihar are just round the corner. As a result of the hospital closure, many patients, some of them very serious ones, were turned away by the staffers.

The concerned ministry is to blame for the delay in releasing the monthly salaries to the government staff. A total of 123 employees have been denied their salaries for such a long time when they also have to treat people suffering from the COVID-19. Health service is a very sensitive sector, which should not be disturbed even for an hour as it involves the life of a person. While the Ministry of Health and Population should not delay in releasing the pay and perks to the employees on time, the staffers also should maintain minimum discipline by not disrupting the health services to the people. In this case, Beni Municipality should take prompt action to resolve the crisis. Who is to be held responsible if someone loses his or her life for want of health service?

A version of this article appears in the print on October 8, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.