Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Nepal’s Water Woes

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Water resources is the focus of this month’s discussions here at Future Challenges. Steven Watson says that the world has sufficient water for the entire population, but it needs to be managed with a lot more care:

“As the world’s population continues to grow our water supplies look set to be placed under even greater strain, and yet this is not a problem of scarcity. There’s more than enough water in the world for everybody; the problem lies in our attitudes to the water we use, and the ineffective management of water supplies. Speaking on World Water Day on 22 March this year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the water crisis, “a crisis of governance, weak policies and poor management”. We already have the means to combat the water crisis – it’s time to put that technology and techniques into action.”

This crisis of “governance , weak policies and poor management” described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is readily visible in Nepal. A mountainous country blessed with ample water resources, Nepal’s mismanagement of its “liquid assets” has left millions without access to clean drinking water and has also exacerbated the country’s lack of energy.

According to the United Nations’ humanitarian news agency IRIN, even in the monsoon season parts of Nepal experience a scarcity of clean drinking water:

“According to the Federation of Drinking Water and Sanitation Users Nepal, a national network advocating water and sanitation rights, half the country now faces drinking water shortages. Although a study has yet to be conducted on the current scenario, water experts claim more than 20 districts in both the hills and Terai areas of the country have been badly affected.”

Local rivers, streams and ponds – historically the primary water sources for families – have been neglected in terms of clearing up pollution and ensuring sustainability of supply. Outside the major urban areas, Nepal does not have a well developed and coordinated water supply and sewer system. With population growth, local water sources have come under tremendous pressure while the unrestrained rush towards urbanization together with the lack of environmental protection planning have made them easy targets for polluters.

Factories are allowed to build near vulnerable water sources, and there is no coordinated enforcement approach to check for pollution. The upshot is that brightly colored, untreated streams of waste being dumped in rivers are a common sight across Nepal.

In this short video the director of Nepal Water for Health, Umesh Pandey, discusses water pollution and scarcity with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

The situation is so dire that a long stretch of the Bagmati river has been declared dead by scientists, says journalist Ramesh Prasad Bhushal:

“Scientists have declared the rivers “dead” as hardly any fish can survive in them anymore. Recent studies show that the fish population has been completely wiped out in the 10-kilometre to 15-kilometre stretch of the Bagmati River that flows through the city centre. And this is Nepal’s holiest waterway, which flows past the Pashupati Nath Temple, one of the most sacred Hindu shrines in the world.”

Mismanagement of water resources is also adding to Nepal’s power woes. With resource constraints and a lack of leadership, development of alternative sources of energy has not gathered steam in the country and hydro power seems to be the only savior. But obsolete equipment, and internal strife have seriously hampered efforts to stablilize and strenghten the generation of electricity.

The country goes through cycles of daily electricity rationing, especially during the winter when the water level at various reservoirs runs low. It is hard to believe that if done properly, Nepal could produce 83,000 megawatts of hydro power when the current production level stands at an anemic 643 megawatts. Power shortages have affected Nepal’s economy and caused yet another worry for the country’s already harassed citizens.

Successful projects like the first constructed wetland system at Dhulikhel Hospital, where waste water is treated through natural process using locally available resources and infrastructure, and  community driven water conservation and anti-pollution campaigns stand out as solitary highlights in the otherwise bleak discussion on Nepal’s liquid asset.

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Bhumika Ghimire Twitter: bhumikaghimireBhumika

Bhumika Ghimire is a freelance writer and blogger.