The drastically changing availability of water in Nepal is leading to a water crisis in the country. The four months of the South Asian monsoon provide excessive water to the country whereas the remaining eight months of the year remain completely dry, leading to natural disasters and acute water shortage. The situation is deteriorating every year.
As per the recent joint monitoring conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF in the year 2020, only 18 percent of the Nepalese population have access to safely managed drinking water supply all year around.
As shown in the graph above, Nepal is having a negative growth in terms of its population accessing a safe drinking water supply. Recent data from the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage Management (DWSSM) 2019, confirms this phenomenon; merely 51.69% of the population have piped water coverage and the remaining 48.31% are relying on un-piped locally and privately managed systems like private tube wells.
On the matter, the general manager of the Nepal Water Supply Corporation (NWSC), Dr. Bhupendra Prasad has indicated the institution’s weak financial condition which is causing hurdles in the daily operation and maintenance of electromechanical equipment including the distribution of water. The problems he highlighted were electrical power cut-off, increased fuel prices, an increase in the market price for the construction materials, and the unplanned urbanization of the country.
In the southern belt of the country: Terai, populated by the majority of the country’s population, the major source of drinking water is groundwater. However, millions of people in Terai are at constant risk of consuming arsenic-contaminated water. In a study conducted by the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage (DWSS) in cooperation with the World Health Organisation (WHO) on possible arsenic contamination in groundwater of Jhapa, Morang, and Sunsari districts of the Eastern Terai region of Nepal bordering West Bengal in 1999, found that out of 268 tube well water samples tested, 9.0% of the samples exceeded 10 ppb, the WHO limit, and 0.7% exceeded 50 ppb (the National Standard of neighboring countries India and Bangladesh). Since the identification of the problem in 1999, many studies have been conducted in the Terai region regarding the prevalence of arsenic contamination in groundwater which provides sufficient evidence of the contamination of water.
Being the most populated region of the country, arsenic contamination affects nearly half of the Nepalese population. 48.4% of the total population of the country lives with 90% of the inhabitants using groundwater as the major source of drinking water.
WHO recommends substituting high-arsenic sources, such as groundwater, with low-arsenic, microbiologically safe sources such as rainwater and treated surface water. Low arsenic water is safer to consume, and used for irrigation and cooking purposes whereas high arsenic water can be used for bathing and washing clothes. Highly toxic arsenic is naturally present at high levels in the groundwater of several countries, including Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Argentina, Chile, China, Mexico, and the United States of America. According to WHO long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking water and food can cause cancer and skin lesions. The prevention of arsenic exposure can be achieved by a provision of a safe water supply in already vulnerable communities of Nepal living in the Terai region.
The lack of access to safe drinking water is inviting the outbreaks of many waterborne and water-related diseases in Nepal due to the consumption and use of polluted water daily.
In the rural area, people face hardship to fetch water from far away sources which take hours every day. According to the government of Nepal, the national water supply and sanitation policy, the economic cost of ill health, medical treatment, loss of time, and opportunities caused by lack of access to basic needs like water account for an estimated loss of $34billion in the Indian subcontinent. “Those belonging to poor and excluded groups in rural areas have limited access to safe drinking water supply,” says Niranjan Shrestha the chief environmental officer and founder of Environmental Services Nepal Pvt. Ltd. (ESN). Environmental Services Nepal Pvt. Ltd. (ESN) provides sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions through conducting research and capacity-building projects. It has carried out an environmental assessment of various drinking water supply projects in Nepal.
According to the Ministry of Urban Development Nepal, all urban water supply services in major cities of Nepal need substantive improvements. Similarly, the other problem identified regarding the urban water supply is the inability to cater to the needs of municipal uses of water, such as water for fire fighting, street cleaning, city greeneries, recreation, public drinking and washing facilities, etc. Moreover, institutional demands concerning hospitals, schools, hotels, and housing estates, have not been yet fulfilled by the water service provider in urban areas of the country.
Recognizing the water crisis in Nepal caused by the denial of safe water supply to Nepali citizens, the Government of Nepal is executing a ‘ water plan’ which is expected to be achieved in the year 2027. The plan has sought to improve the basic level of the water supply of 50 percent of the population by 2027.