KATHMANDU, Jan 18: Until two decades ago, Ram Kumari Shrestha, now 85, never imagined that she would have to face such a severe water crisis in her twilight years.
A quintessential Kathmanduite, Ram Kumari said whe she was young she never knew what water shortage would be like. "Water was not scrace at all," recalls she. "Besides, we also had wells and public taps in our neighborhood."
Ram Kumari is now more worried about the future. "As of now, we have somehow managed to get water," says she. "But, I worry for the coming generations. I fear the day when there will be not a drop to drink."
Dhoka Tole is one of the areas worst affected by water crisis in Kathmandu. The Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL), the sole authority responsible for distributing water in the valley, has listed Tahachal, Bafal, Kalanki and Ason as the worst affected areas.
According to Ram Kumari, with more houses built in her neighborhood, the same source of water had to be distributed among more households.
People queue for water at Mangalbazaar, Lalitpur. (Photo: Dipesh Shrestha/Files)
Ramila Maharjan, 35, who is also a resident of Ason, spends Rs 300 every week to buy bottled water in jars. In addition, she wakes up early every morning to fetch just a pail of water from an old stone spout. "I am suffering from leg cramps," says she. "But, I have to get water from the spout every morning."
Ramesh Maharjan, a resident of Dhoka Tole, says the mismanagement in distribution of water has added to the problem. "In our city, water shortage is rampant," says he. "But, we can minimize the problem by improving out distribution system. The KUKL has not addressed this issue."
In Bafal area of Kathmandu, the locals are now collectively digging a deep-bore well to tackle the water crisis. They have paid Rs 2,000 per household for the well. "We are facing multiple problems because of water crisis," says Pradip Khakurel, who runs an electronic shop in Bafal. "We are desperately looking for an end to the problem. Maybe, the answer lies in deep-bore well."
In the last 10 years, the population of the Kathmandu Valley has increased to 2.51 million from 1.7 million in 2001, according to the 2011 national census.
With sharp increase in population, the demand for water has also naturally gone up. But, the supply system remains the same, hence the deterioration of the problem.
Currently, the Kathmandu Valley needs 350 MLD (million liters per day) of water. But, even in rainy seasons, KUKL is able to supply only 149.62 MLD. And, during the dry season, the supply dwindles to just 90.59 MLD in the valley. Hours-long power outage also prevents KUKL from pumping sufficient ground water during dry season.
As KUKL supply remains erratic and unreliable, an increasing number of Valley residents are now dependent on the water supplied by private suppliers. Some families have not even installed the government tap.
As things stand now, even the much-delayed Melamchi Drinking Water Project will be unable to quench the thirst of Kathmanduites. Experts said that by the time Melamchi water starts coming to Kathmandu, demand here will have risen to much higher level than the supply so there will still be shortage.
Milan Kumar Shakya
Spokesperson, Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL)
What is KUKL planning to deal with water shortage?
Today, demand of water is very high. But, production of water is decreasing day to day. Load-shedding is one major obstacle in producing more water. Likewise, leakage is another serious problem. In Kathmandu, 40 per cent of the total collected water is wasted through leakages. People don´t have a feeling of sharing. Rather, they compete with each other to collect as much water as they can. By observing these problems, KUKL has been supplying water in shortage-hit areas by tankers. We are discussing other options to deal with this problem, too.
Has weak management on the part of KUKL also worsened water shortage?
Yes, of course. In the first place, we are unable to get sufficient water from our sources. And, we are also unable to supply available water properly. People have to develop some sense of cooperation and coordination to get rid of this crisis. Meanwhile, KUKL has launched a program called "Distribution Improvement" with the objective of maintaining or changing the old water pipes and fix leakage problems.
How long will people have to wait for water of Melamchi river?
Melamchi is only solution to the present water crisis in Kathmandu Valley. But, at this moment, I cannot say when this project will be completed. Last month, our whole team reached there to see its progress. But, we were disappointed at the slow progress made in Melamchi project. Melamchi´s contractor has stopped the construction work. Melamchi, without which the scarcity will not come to an end, is still far from us.
What are your further plans? Is there any good news for the residents of the valley?
As I said earlier, there are many upcoming plans, which will not completely solve the problem but at least reduce water crisis. Melamchi would be the good news for valley as it can only solve the entire problem.