Rethink desirable

Donors are reported to be putting pressure on the government to improve the efficiency of the Melamchi Drinking Water Development Board and to agree to the formation of a watchdog committee, consisting of donors and technical experts, to monitor its management. The proposal has been put forward at the current meeting of donors and based on an evaluation report prepared this year by Norwegian consultants SWECO Groener AS on their behalf. The final course of action to be taken on the proposal will only be known after the meeting, which is scheduled to conclude on Monday.

The $500 million project has been considerably delayed. The completion had been tentatively scheduled first for 2002, then extended to 2006, and has now been fixed again for 2009. Even preliminary work has not been completed, as the work was stopped because of the Maoist threat. Recently the government had ordered the contractor to resume work. Donors had met last October and put pressure on the government to speed up work but it came to nought. Work on the construction of the 40-km access road is yet to start, and without it building the 26.5-km tunnel to divert water from the Melamchi River in Sindhupalchowk district to the capital is not possible.

Though the work is still in its preliminary stage, a good sum of money has been spent on unproductive things. According to a recent report prepared by the NGO Forum, most of the money has gone into consultancy services (Rs.1 billion between July 2001 and July 2003), accounting for 58 per cent of the total money spent so far. Only Rs. 340 million has gone into civil works, the backbone of the project. But the results of the consultancy services have been less than evident. To provide security cover for the project has cost Rs.124 million, but it was the very lack of security that has been cited for the work stoppage. The army was reported to be demanding more money for providing security.

The project is estimated to meet the drinking water needs of the Kathmandu Valley till 2012. But at the same time, efficient water management should have received priority attention. Increasing supply alone, which will be limited, will not resolve the problem for long. Better distribution and proper water use are required to reduce cost and improve supply, even within the present constraints. Plugging water leakage is one area requiring urgent care. A rethink on water-intensive units based in the Valley is also desirable. Perhaps, in future, it might be a better idea for policy makers to consider separating drinking water and water for other purposes, in order to make the existing supply serve better. As for Melamchi, even if everything goes according to plan, the project may be delayed further, unless peace returns.