Path to a sustainable futureSustainable rain-water harvesting and waste-water management can alleviate drinking water scarcity
Tsewang Nuru Sherpa
After Brazil, Nepal is known to be the richest country in terms of fresh water resources. However, this fact belies the fragile nature of Nepal’s water ecosystem and the occurrence of extreme seasonal variation in the country’s water availability. Nepal has access to 745,000 hectares of surficial water, which is approximately 54 percent of the total water available in Nepal. However, the poor management of the riverine ecosystem and the unregulated mining of riverbeds have increased the level of sedimentation, causing dam blockades and displacement. Excessive urbanisation, watershed and habitat alteration as well as on-going climate change have caused a massive deterioration of freshwater availability. Furthermore, this has been exacerbated by the pollution in municipal and rural waterways. Despite the clear importance drawn towards the sustainable management and preservation of water in Nepal, only small areas of water have been studied at a large scale. And the status of freshwater, particularly in the face of climate change, is still unknown. Furthermore, poor water governance and a lack of commitment and coordination between the authorities have contributed immensely to the existing water crisis in Nepal.
Waste water equals water waste
Good water quality is a necessity for human health, social progress, economic development, and for the proper maintenance of the overall ecosystem. However, the growth in population has degraded the natural environment. As a repercussion, ensuring sufficient supply of safe and clean drinking water for everyone becomes increasingly challenging. Despite being one of the major necessities for sustenance, a larger portion of Nepalis are suffering from the paucity of safe and adequate drinking water. The Department of Water Supply and Sewerage estimates that despite 80 percent of Nepalis having ‘drinking’ water access, the water is not safe. To this, people depend on streams, brooks and running rivers, and many have to travel miles to collect water. Anthropogenic contaminations on surface and ground water can be attributed as one of the major reasons for the existing water scarcity. Kathmandu produces around 150 tonnes of waste on a daily basis, and the majority of this waste is dumped into rivers.
Thus, the surface water as a repercussion of industrial and domestic waste discharge along with untreated sewage has detrimental effects on water quality. The discharge of domestic sewage waste into water sources can be regarded as the major source of water depletion in Nepal, especially at rivers and lakes, which are the primary source of drinking water. Therefore, the continuous and reliable assessment of freshwater resources is vital to ensure the effectiveness of the water quality.
The highly anticipated and much-hyped Melamchi Water Supply Project (MWSP) has been publicised as the most feasible long-term alternative to ease the ineradicable scenario of water scarcity in the Kathmandu Valley, with the first phase of the project due to supply the Valley with 170 million litres of water. After multiple deadline breaches, the project is drawing near its completion. Major works like the construction of headwork, diversion weirs, de-sanding machines, desiccating basin as well as water intake structures are yet to be finalised. But if the pace of work continues smoothly without obstructions, the lifelong dream of acquiring water from this project will be fulfilled by Dashain this year, as targeted by the MWSP.
Management is key
Water shortage is a ubiquitous problem in Nepal. One of the major parts of the solution to the increasing water scarcity is to generate less pollution and to improve the way we manage wastewater. The assurance of the safe availability of water is inextricably linked to how wastewater is managed. The demand for achieving sustainable and economic use requires us to value wastewater for its potential, instead of discarding its usage. Wastewater has the potential to tackle the growing water demand in rapidly expanding cities such as Kathmandu, with the enhancement of energy production and industrial development, and supporting sustainable agriculture. Environmentally sound alternatives like rainwater harvesting should also be advocated as the system is relatively easy and cheap to set-up and operate. The residents of Kathmandu rely on groundwater. However, excessive exploitation of groundwater as well as the recharge system can cause land collapse. Therefore, the government, in collaboration with local partners must encourage the promotion of a cost-effective rainwater harvesting system in Nepal.
Nepal has undergone an immense political transition in the past few years. With the presence of a potentially stable government today, each and every Nepali has regained hope of amelioration. The road to addressing the demand for water has garnered significant attention in Nepal, as access to safe and adequate drinking water is crucial. Therefore, with widespread public awareness and education on the proper mobilisation of the available water resources, and domestic and industrial wastewater treatment plants, the government in partnership with local stakeholders must pave the way for the sustainable provision of water.
Sherpa is pursuing a degree in Environmental Science