EDITORIAL: Water in crisis

Water enables life on Earth, but we are running out of it; hence urgent measures are needed to save the nature’s precious gift to mankind

Water, water everywhere, nor a drop to drink! A new report “Forest and Water on a Changing Planet: Vulnerability, Adaptation and Governance Opportunities. A Global Assessment Report” warns that a global water crisis is looming large and in many places around the world, it is at the doorstep rather than the horizon, exacerbated by a growing global population and accelerated climate change. But clean water is getting increasingly scarce in the world. Nepal is no exception. In a country of around 6,000 rivers, the water crisis in Nepal sounds a bit paradoxical. But this is the reality. With monsoon in full swing, there are chances of floods all across the country, especially in the Tarai region, making the aforementioned maxim sound true. But the immediate challenges that will emerge are sanitation and clean drinking water.

Nepal has made big achievements when it comes to bringing drinking water more close to a growing percentage of the population in recent years. But many people are still unable to access clean water sources. People in remote mountainous and hilly regions have to walk for hours just to fill a pitcher, while in districts along the plains where people can easily access to water resources, water may not be safe for drinking or cooking due to contamination. According to 2011 census, 85 per cent of Nepalis had access to drinking water, up from 72 per cent. This indeed is a huge progress compared to 1990 when only 46 per cent of the population had access to drinking water. But a report published by the Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation last year said despite a significant increase in access to water sources over the past decade, “the water supplied is not always safe” and that only 12-15 per cent of the population had access to safe drinking water.

Against this backdrop, time is running out to address the water crisis that we are facing. Human activities are hugely contributing to climate change, which is making dry areas drier and precipitation erratic. While the population is increasing, our groundwater is depleting. Add to this the dismal state of existing water infrastructure. All these points to an unprecedented crisis. There is a need to understand the complex relationship between forests, water, climate and people, as we set out to address the water crisis. There is an urgent need to introduce immediate measures to protect healthy ecosystems – the only way to maintain a healthy global water system. Access to clean drinking water and sanitation has been guaranteed by the constitution of Nepal. Easy access to clean water can have a transformative impact on communities. This can leave ample time to spend on livelihood opportunities and attend school. Access to water also results in better sanitation practices, which can hugely reduce the burden of disease. More than 700 children under five die every year from diarrhoea caused by the dirty water and poor toilets. Protecting forests and giving due attention to natural ecosystems, rainwater harvesting, recharging groundwater and fixing water infrastructure are some of the measures that must be taken immediately. Water enables life on Earth. We must conserve water – nature’s precious gift to mankind.

Use ECPs wisely

Doctors have warned that over-consumption of emergency contraception pills (ECPs) to avoid unwanted pregnancy can be fatal. Overuse of such pills may cause profound bleeding even between the periods and irregular menstruation. Dr Geeta Gurung, a senior gynaecologist at TU Teaching Hospital, says ECPs are not meant for frequent consumption. The women who frequently use ECPs to avoid unwanted pregnancy are putting their lives at risk and making both the partners vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases.

The demand for these pills in the Valley has jumped over 10-fold in the last two years. So, these medicines have been grossly misused mostly by youngsters. Doctors have advised using the pills at intervals of at least six months, only in an emergency. They were allowed to sell over-the-counter in Nepal since 2003. The only way to stop them from overuse is raising awareness among the vulnerable group by inscribing cautionary messages on the medicine cover. ECPs contain a high dose of steroids which manipulates the hormonal structure in females; they can also lead to infertility, infection and breast cancer.