Nepal Water Scarcity and Management Report

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Stable water usage is what ensures the sustainable development of society, economy and living environment. However, in Nepal, the distribution of water is uneven and insufficient for the population, and the limited sources are often polluted. As one of the world’s poorest country, repairing and developing the water storage and delivery system in Nepal continues to be a challenging process. This report will analyze the current situation, requirements and recommendations for the future of water in Nepal.

How is water used?

The daily demand for water in Nepal is about 360 million litres but the supply of water is only half that amount. WWF estimates over 96% of the yearly supply of water is used for agriculture, which leaves 3% for industrial purposes and only 1% for domestic use. The average amount of water used per person is between 70 to 85 litres depending on the season.

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Even though over 80% of the population have access to water, most of the time it is contaminated. Only 15% drink clean water, the majority of whom live in Kathmandu. Most people that live in remote areas do not drink clean water.

Where water is found or available?

Although Nepal is a landlocked country, there is an abundance of water sources. These include melting snow from the Himalayas, river basins and inclosed water resources. The Himalayan Region naturally stores fresh water in snow cover, glaciers, permafrost and glacial lakes. Over 3,000 glaciers and 2,000 glacial lakes cover 5,500 square kilometres. However, only melted snow can be immediately utilized.

Many rivers and lakes run through Nepal. Most major towns like Pokhara and Panauti are located on the banks of the freshwater lakes in central Nepal. Additionally, the capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu, sustains more than a million people, on the banks of the Bagmati river. However, as very few reservoirs and dams function well, most inclosed water sources rely on the weather and temperatures to maintain.

Nepal’s physical features affect its water supply by providing mountains and valleys which melting snow can run through, then divert into rivers and lakes.

What are the future requirements for water?

Lack of clean water in Nepal reduces the populations’ living conditions. The 2015 earthquakes ruined 165 million dollars worth of water and sanitation infrastructure across Nepal. Thus, surface water is polluted with domestic waste and discharge of untreated sewage. This is mainly due to an inefficient sanitation system. Bathing, washing clothes, cooking and drinking all occur on the same rivers and lakes.

As a result, people rely more on groundwater from tube wells, which is vulnerable to arsenic contamination from factories. The natural landscape of Nepal is slowly being contaminated due to toxins infiltrating the water supplies. Broken down pipes release chemicals into the water and soil, which impacts the agriculture industry. This could lead to economic failures as it sustains 76% of the population.

Consequently, many Nepalese people are infected with water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera, causing child mortality to rise. Over 40,000 children under the age of 5 die every year due to this, with diarrhoea being the leading cause of infant deaths.

How successful are current management practices?

To some extent, current water management practices in Nepal are successful. With the help of the international non-profit organization WaterAid, the Ministry of Water and Sanitation was formed and the first Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Sector Development Plan was published in 2015. Water and sanitation was addressed by the 2015 revised constitution: “Every citizen shall have the right to access clean drinking water and sanitation”. The 2011 Nepal census reported 86% of the population had access to water compared to only 73% in 2001, though these statistics hide the quality of the water being delivered.

The annual government spends 3% of the national budget on water and sanitation, yet there is still a funding gap of 30 billion Nepalese rupees (AUD400 million) to meet current needs. Additionally, the Nepali government has only made use of 70% of the annual Water and Sanitation budget over the last four years. The new constitution signals a positive change, but also further political unrest. Different government bodies support the same issue, thus there is little integrated working or proper laws in place to address the demands for water in domestic, agricultural and industrial places.

What recommendations can be made to ensure water sustainability?

Some successful projects from China might also ensure water sustainability in Nepal. Intense temperature changes can be solved by constructing reservoirs, where stored water from rainy seasons can be released during dry seasons, meanwhile adjusting the imbalance water distribution around different periods. However, building reservoirs causes displacement of water, leading to floods in surrounding areas which interrupts the ecosystem and cause human fatalities.

To maintain equal distribution of water across the country, inter-basin water transfer is the best idea, delivering water from river basins to areas lacking in water resources, at high speed and low price. This also avoids pollution and waste. Establishing inter-basin water pipelines, however, is detrimental to the natural landscapes of Nepal, which may result in tourism population declining.

Nepal can provide its urban citizens with clean water by recycling sewage, strictly controlling wastewater discharge, preventing clean water from polluting, collecting and storing harvested rainwater, raising national awareness on water conservation, and enhancing good sanitary habits. More developed countries can assist by investing money, and importing agricultural products to improve economic conditions.

Nepal has sufficient freshwater resources, but outdated infrastructure to tap into them reducing the cleanliness of the water. Minimal regulations for the disposal of wastage means that water bodies are polluted, harming the environment, society and economy in Nepal. Rural communities have limited access to clean water, and less knowledge about the effects. The Nepali government is attempting to rectify this, and progress has been made, but has been slowing down. In future, Nepal should focus on two areas: repairing and building new infrastructure, and raising national awareness by creating stricter laws to prevent further water pollution. However, Nepal requires financial assistance to successfully implement this plan. If nothing is done about water management in Nepal soon, there will be devastating impacts on all aspects of life.


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