Peak waterThe Valley’s water crisis is an ecological emergency.
Political interference and project mismanagement, corruption and extortion, countless controversies, multiple deadlines and almost two decades later, there is finally water at the end of the tunnel. It is a significant milestone for the elusive Melamchi Water Tunnel project which is expected to divert 170 million litres of water per day from the Melamchi River in Sindhupalchok district to the Kathmandu Valley, where daily demand is estimated at 400 million litres.
While officials say it will take at least two months before Melamchi water is supplied to Valley residents, it has long been clear that ‘Melamchi’s water’ will not be enough to fulfil the demand of households even when the second phase of the project, that is expected to supply another 340 million litres of water from the Yangri and Larke rivers, is complete.
It is a major supply deficit, and the gap continues to widen primarily because of increased migration into the Valley from across the country and haphazard urbanisation that is now spreading beyond the city suburbs to the surrounding hills, which do not have national park status. These two factors alone threaten existing water resources. They have destroyed groundwater recharge systems and aquifers, and reduced the Valley’s water table, according to water experts who foresee an acute shortage of water if we continue to ignore environmental truths while pursuing a foolhardy path to economic prosperity.
While the long wait for Melamchi’s water is now over, it is also proof that it is an unsustainable solution to addressing the water woes of the Valley or across the country, where water shortages continue to make life hard for the people. Worse, geological events and the effects of climate change and underground water extraction have put forth a new set of problems for the country. The government needs to understand that our situation will only deteriorate without scientific urban planning and investments in place for research and development.
An environmental issue such as water scarcity, both natural and human-induced, requires innovative solutions that need scientific assessment for its sustainability. The Valley’s water crisis has only exacerbated in the past four decades. At peak supply, Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited claims to supply about 103 million litres a day which can go down to as meagre as 80 million litres a day or less in the winter. This is an ecological emergency that hasn’t received the attention it should. As the water problems of the Valley residents grow by the day, the government has instead proposed mega projects in the Valley that will further increase the population and, unquestionably, demand for water.
Water is an essential element of life. It is one of the most precious resources which is equally important for food security. Disruptions in water supply add to the economic burden of the people who have to spend more to purchase water for drinking and utility. Water shortages and depletion of water resources have led people, communities and even entire villages to migrate. Given erratic weather and the pace at which our existing water resources are being exploited to meet the Valley's increasing demand, negative impacts on our environment are inevitable, and the consequences are already panning out.