Clean the waterThe state is responsible for ensuring its citizens’ fundamental right to safe drinking water.
Unsafe and impure drinking water is adding to the daily woes of valley denizens. Studies carried out by the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division in the past two months suggest a high level of contamination with faecal coliform (bacteria), mostly in bottled jar water. In the third week of May alone, bacteria were found in 32.6 percent of water samples collected from Ward 13 of Kathmandu Metropolitan City. The contamination is not limited to jar water but also appears in tap water from the state utility, tanker water, tube well water, water from wells, and even water from the Melamchi water supply project. The World Health Organization says safe water is necessary for drinking, food preparation, and personal hygiene. Unfortunately, in Nepal, most of the available “drinking water” is unfit for human consumption.
These findings are alarming as the presence of faecal coliform—even in the jar water considered safe and thus widely consumed in households and offices—is the primary gateway to water-borne diseases like cholera, diarrheal diseases, dysentery, typhoid, and hepatitis A and E. According to the 2016 UNICEF study, the E Coli bacteria, a leading cause of diarrhoea, was found in 71 percent of all water sources and 91 percent of those used by the poorest people in Nepal. Additionally, as per another study, groundwater in the country’s southern plains is heavily contaminated with arsenic and other metals.
Access to safe and pure drinking water is a fundamental right of citizens, and the state is responsible for ensuring it. Yet the Nepali state has in this regard blatantly abdicated its responsibility. By 2030, Nepal aims to “achieve universal, safely managed water and sanitation access, aligning with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6”. In the fiscal 2023-24 budget speech, the government repeatedly ensured access to basic drinking water by expanding water services. However, only 17 percent of the population currently has access to safe drinking water. This suggests the country’s pledge to provide safe drinking water is far from being realised.
Poor access to safe drinking water that is free from bacterial and chemical contaminants directly affects people’s health and well-being. Providing clean water should thus be among the state’s top priorities. With reports of leaks in Melamchi water pipes, there is a high possibility of its water being contaminated. It is vital to keep water from this project, long thought of as a panacea for Kathmandu’s water woes, safe from further bacterial contamination. It is as important to simultaneously push sanitation and water management programmes. Local governments should educate the public about WASH, boiling water, filtering and purification methods to protect them from water-borne diseases, incidents of which are sure to shoot up this monsoon.
Similarly, in accordance with the WHO’s guidelines, the government should work at adding to the effectiveness of drinking water supply surveillance, water safety plans, drinking water management and water resource conservation. It is not that the country hasn’t been working on these guidelines, but what is being done is nearly not enough. Again, putting time and money into widespread availability of drinking water is an investment worth making.