Water in Crisis - Nepal

Sahisna Suwal, Guest Writer

Nepal is a landlocked nation with the current population of over 27 million people. As reported by the World Bank, Nepal is one of the poorest nations in the world with an estimated GDP per capita of US$470. With a staggering 42 percent of the population living below the poverty line and only 27 percent with improved access to sanitation, there are quite a number of issues facing Nepal. Some of these significant challenges are related to water pollution and water scarcity.

Water is one of the basic human necessities but a large proportion of the Nepalese population is devoid of access to safe and adequate drinking water. According to the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage in Nepal, even though an estimated 80% of the total population has access to drinking water, it is not safe. Those belonging to poor and excluded groups in rural areas have limited to no access. Many in remote areas have to rely on small brooks running from the mountains and spend hours traveling to get water. Still the drinking water available is not always safe as supplied water is often polluted. One of the reasons for this is due to the fact that the surface and ground water in the Kathmandu Valley is deteriorating by natural and anthropogenic contaminations. The surface water is polluted by industry and domestic waste along with discharge of untreated sewage from tightly packed residential neighborhoods. It is without a doubt that the domestic sewage system is deemed one of the top sources of water pollution that seeps into rivers and lakes, which are the primary sources of drinking water. The capital city of Kathmandu is estimated to produce150 tons of waste daily and almost half of this is dumped into rivers and 80 percent of the wastewater is generated by households. In addition, due to the increasing population and establishments, surface water sources alone has become inadequate to service everyone.

In some of the rural regions of Nepal communities still rely on getting their drinking water from tube wells. Recently, one of the major concerns in these regions, especially in the region of Terai, is groundwater contamination from arsenic. The Terai Region contains sedimentary layers of sand, gravel deposits interlocked with flood plains carried by rivers and is extremely vulnerable to arsenic contamination.

As only 27 percent of the population has access to basic sanitation, those without access rely on local surface water sources like rivers for bathing and washing clothes. At the same time, the establishments of water treatment facilities throughout the urban and rural regions are limited. As a result, Nepal faces a high number of water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, gastroenteritis and cholera. Starting with the dry season in the month of March to the end of the rainy season in September, one is extremely vulnerable to waterborne illnesses. Coupled with the unhygienic environmental situation, the risk of food and water contamination is increased. Children under the age of five are the most affected with an estimated 44,000 children dying every year in Nepal from waterborne diseases.

The demand for water is increasing significantly in Nepal and access to safe and adequate drinking water is crucial. The public lacks awareness and education on proper sanitation issues and domestic and industrial wastewater treatment plants need to be widespread. Nepal struggles to overcome this obstacle and needs solutions to eradicate this so that its citizens can live healthier lives.