Prolonged dry spell leads to acute water scarcityAs climate change threatens livelihoods, experts ask Nepali authorities to adopt adaptation measures.
Renuka Nepali, a local from Ritthe village in Ramechhap’s Doramba Sailung Rural Municipality-6, wakes up at 3 am everyday and walks for one-and-a-half hours to a nearby stream to fetch water.
This wasn’t always the case. The problem emerged after the source supplying drinking water to Nepali’s village dried up due to a prolonged dry spell. As a result, Nepali and other villagers have been forced to spend hours fetching drinking water.
“Even after reaching the stream, we have to stay in line for hours to fetch drinking water, as it is the only source of drinking water in our entire village,” complained Nepali, a mother of two. “By the time I return home, it will already be 8 am and then my son starts crying about getting late for school.”
Nepali is among hundreds of villagers from wards 6 and 7 of the rural municipality who have been reeling under acute scarcity of drinking water at a time when the country has been facing a prolonged dry spell.
Since the end of September last year, the country has not witnessed significant rainfall, giving rise to a host of problems—springs and rivulets have petered out; wildfire incidents and pollution level have increased; and occupations such as agriculture and animal husbandry have taken a hit.
Experts say the dry spell has threatened the livelihoods of people throughout the country, especially of those in the mountain and hilly regions.
“Problems of water scarcity is not a new story of any particular area but of many places throughout the country,” said Raju Pandit Chhetri, director of Prakriti Resources Centre, a non-profit that advocates environment-friendly policies and development practices.
There is a good deal of evidence that springs are drying up or yielding less discharge, threatening local communities who depend on spring water for their lives and livelihoods, according to the United Nations report titled ‘Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’.
Human activities such as deforestation and road construction and natural causes such as earthquakes and changes in rainfall regime are other reasons contributing to the exhaustion of water resources, according to the report.
Its impact has been huge in Doramba Sailung Rural Municipality. The ongoing drinking water crisis has crippled over 700 households in the local unit’s wards 6 and 7. The Brahma Bishnu river, the main drinking water supplier to the local unit, has dwindled to a trickle. Studies show close to 15 percent of the springs have dried up in some places and water flow has declined up to 70 percent in other places in the country.
Moreover, pipes laid some 32 years ago have withered with rust, leaking in many places; road construction in the villages have done further damage.
Tika Prasad Gautam, chair of the local unit’s ward 6, says he is helpless himself. “I myself have been severely affected by the drinking water crisis,” he said. “We spend entire days fetching drinking water.”
Experts say climate change has impacted multiple sectors—health, agriculture, drinking water, hydropower development, and tourism among others—but too little has been done to deal with it.
“Have we prepared our vulnerable population to deal with the adverse effects of erratic weather patterns which have become more pronounced and frequent?” Chhetri said. “We should adopt mitigation and adaptation measures to lessen the adverse impacts of climate change.”
Villagers in Ritthe are forced to give up vegetable farming and animal husbandry as they spend their entire days securing drinking water. Instead, they buy green vegetables that are supplied from markets like Kathmandu and Banepa, according to Gautam, the ward 6 chair.
“Life is too tough for us due to the drinking water crisis,” Gautam said. “Our rural municipality does not have a budget for the new drinking water project and provincial and federal government agencies too have not yet bothered to address the problem.”
Studies show that the drinking water crisis hits women and children the hardest. Last year, a local health facility in Manthali Municipality of Ramechhap carried out screening of uterine prolapse among women residing in temporary homes set up near the bank of Bhatauli river in ward 7 of the municipality. Of the 13 women who took part in the screening, 11 were diagnosed with uterine prolapse.
Uterine prolapse occurs when the pelvic muscle and ligaments stretch and weaken and no longer provide enough support for the uterus.
This is a significant public health concern in Nepal, with thousands of women suffering from it every year.
Scores of studies and scientific analyses over the decade and the IPCC report have warned that Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries to the climate crisis and business-as-usual approach isn’t sufficient to tackle the adverse impacts of the crisis.
The lack of rainfall for a prolonged period has also affected the livelihood of the people residing in mountainous areas.
“I have just returned from trekking in Khumjung, Dingboche, and the Everest Base camp areas,” said Rajendra Thapa, a trekking entrepreneur. “This time, I felt warmer compared to the past winter. But the mountains were black due to lack of snow. I am worried that tourists may not come in the future to see black mountain.”
Locals of the mountainous areas were worried that their agricultural production would decline this year due to absence of snow, according to Thapa.
Nepal has been experiencing changes in temperature and precipitation at a rate faster than the global average, according to studies. Evidence indicates that the maximum temperature in Nepal is rising at a greater rate (0.05 degrees Celsius per year) than the minimum temperature (0.03 degrees Celsius per year).
“All successive governments have been investing in drinking water, irrigation and roads,” said Madhukar Upadhya, a climate change expert. “But the water crisis is deepening every year. Water resources started getting dried up, and authorities started drilling borewells, which lessened ground water.”