Over 50 billion liters of rainwater is prevented every year from its natural recharge due to sealing of the surface in Kathmandu Valley (McMahon, 2008). No wonder Kathmandu denizens complain of depleting levels of their well water and in some places they have gone dry. Water is turning out to be a scarce resource.
Kathmandu, the nerve center of Nepal and the capital has seen exponential growth in population and averages 4.7%, almost double the national average. The city is bursting as the government activities are all centralized and with it all modern services including education, health and sundry. Moreover, it was the safest place when internal conflict that continued over a decade made life difficult in the hinterlands.
There has been real estate boom the past decade and buildings have proliferated like mushrooms. With it, the surface sealing with concrete mixture that every modern building comes up with diverts the rainwater into the drainage, depriving the ground with crucial natural recharge. The rampant ill-conceived unplanned constructions have destroyed the natural and old waterways leading to the age old water spouts, which are now fast becoming a historical masterpiece rather than a social hub of the neighborhood.
Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepaani Limited (KUKL) the sole supplier of piped water mentions the water demand to be 360 million liters (MLD) per day whereas the supply is only 150 MLD per day during wet season and goes down to 60 MLD per day during dry season (TKP, March 24, 2014). A household can therefore expect piped water to be supplied only once in every five days.
Scarcity of water is hitting the Valley residents hard. Shallow underground water, the alternative to piped and natural spring source/stone spouts ground water which used to be available in abundance, is fast depleting. For those who can afford, boring tanker water supply has been the convenient alternative. The water tanker entrepreneurs collectively supply 30 MLD during the dry season and half during the wet (Abhiyan, June 06, 2013) giving much required relief.
However water quality has remained an issue. According to National Drinking Water Standard 2062 BS, the coliform level in drinking water should be less than 3 MPN/100 ml while the level of ammonia has to be less than 1.5 mg/liter. Needless to say, the water supplied by the private tankers exceed these levels manifold. They do not deny saying that they do not claim it to be drinking water.
A quick talk in the neighborhood reveals that the households no longer drink even piped water without a point of use filter or they tend to buy 20 liter ‘filter’ jars. Purchasing water not only is an accepted perception but is slowly becoming the norm.
Many people are not aware that Kathmandu Valley receives an average of 1600mm of rainfall every year. This is within touching distance of what Melamchi water supply project is supposed to bring (170 MLD per day). Now, if every household take upon themselves to make arrangements to allow rainwater seep back into the ground, water levels will definitely rise in the valley. This will help the household to draw water from the shallow underground wells and use it.
Moreover, if rainwater can first be used for various purposes including consumption (after filtration), then it will surely reduce the requirement of water in a household to be purchased. The investment for these systems can easily returned over a couple of years. Conserving, using and recharging rainwater has been an age old practice that lost significance over modern day convenience. It is time to revisit those thought processes and apply them. It saves not only precious time but also money providing peace of mind.
I have been personally giving a series of talk ‘Recharge Kathmandu’ to those interested groups, organisations and communities and encourage people to take a moment to reflect, generate awareness about rainwater and urge them to take simple action to be an example in the community to reduce water scarcity themselves. Change is possible when one takes the lead.
– Suman Shakya