Nepalis Ask for Alternative to Water Boring on World Water Day by Kalpana Bhusal
Hari Bahadur Nepali, 50, is busy helping his wife, Radha, to fetch water from the tap in their two-story house in Kapan, a village in Nepal’s Kathmandu district.
But this is not just any tap.
The water comes from a metal pipe attached to a machine that extracts water from underground. Nepali says that the process, called water boring, has enabled his family of 10 to attain water despite a persistent nationwide shortage.
Nepali moved to the capital 30 years ago with his wife and firstborn son in search of employment opportunities, which were limited in his home district of Dolakha. He opened a clothing store in Kathmandu and began to save.
Throughout the decades, his family grew as he and his wife had more children. He saved for 20 years, then used his earnings from the clothing business to build a house for his family. Today, two of his sons work at private firms, and one of his sons is completing his undergraduate studies. He says that water boring has enabled them to make a life for themselves here. They use the water they get from boring to drink, cook and wash their clothes, among other daily needs.
“We couldn’t have stayed here due to the water shortage hadn’t it been for water boring,” he says.
But the same solution is also the source of additional problems, none of which they had anticipated during their search for a better life in the capital.
The Nepali family is aware that the water extracted from the boring process could be contaminated, which could cause health problems when used for a long period. But Nepali says they’re forced to obtain water through this method.
“What to do?” Nepali asks. “Water is the most essential thing for survival, and that’s why I’ve started this. At least it’s fulfilling the need for my family of 10.”
He says he has also read in the local newspapers that water boring causes soil erosion.
“But the government hasn’t been able to provide water in all the places,” he says. “That’s why we have to get water from under the ground, emptying the earth’s reservoir.”
He says that improved supply could have avoided this chain of problems.
“If the government had equally distributed drinking water in all areas, this problem wouldn’t have come,” he says. “We wouldn’t have destroyed the precious natural resource.”
Nepali says he sought help from Dambar Karki, a skilled water boring professional living in another neighborhood in the district, to install the water boring system at his house. The process took five people, including Karki, and two days to complete.
Nepali spent 10,000 rupees ($125) to install the machine, but he still isn’t satisfied.
“The water isn’t clean enough,” he says. “It is yellowish, and when I took a sample for a test, the specialist said there are some arsenic elements in the water. However, we can boil and filter it to drink. But it’s a problem to wash white clothes – they turn yellowish.”
Nepali citizens say that insufficient water supply has driven them to dig wells and bores in order to extract water for their families, despite risks of water contamination and soil erosion. Public water companies admit that supply can’t keep up with demand, and the government’s main water project remains unfinished. Various events for World Water Day and Nepal National Water Week aim to raise awareness and collaborate on more sustainable solutions.
The Nepal Water Supply Corporation is responsible for delivering drinking water to 22 of Nepal’s 75 districts. In Kathmandu, the Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited is the public company in charge of supplying drinking water.
Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited hasn’t been able to meet the drinking water demand in the capital, according to its 2012 report. Kathmandu needs 320 million liters of drinking water on a daily basis. But the company’s supply ranges from just 85 million liters of water during the dry season to 150 million liters during the monsoon season.
The United Nations has designated today, March 22, as World Water Day. This year’s theme is Water and Food Security. It is also Nepal National Water Week, with events planned across the country.
Nepali says that most residents in his area have turned to water boring because the government never built a public tap in Kapan.
“There was no other alternative than boring,” he says. “And that’s why, along with my neighbors, I have used water boring.”
The process requires digging some 100 feet beneath the ground to access the water. The deeper you go, the more water you get, he says. This work costs 5,000 rupees ($62).
“For water boring process, usually you need a 100-feet-long metal pipe along with cow dung,” he says. “After you choose a place, the digging begins. And when it gets difficult to dig, cow dung is used to push the pipe further. After the pipe gets down to 100 to 150 feet, the water starts coming.”
The next step is purchasing a machine to bring the water to the tap. This costs an additional 5,000 rupees ($62).
“So the total cost of boring costs up to 10,000 rupees [$125],” he says.
Karki, who has been helping people in the water boring business for five years, says that it’s difficult for low-income families to afford to install the water boring system to fetch water. Nearly 70 percent of Nepalis were living on less than $2 a day as of 2010, according to the World Bank.
Some who can’t afford to use water boring instead elect to dig wells, but this option isn’t much cheaper. Digging a well costs between 7,000 rupees and 9,000 rupees ($87 to $112) or more, depending on the place, Karki says.
And it’s not just Nepali and his neighbors suffering from the water shortage. Even residents of neighborhoods with public taps say their situation is not much better.
Sabita Magar, a resident of Manamaiju, says that although her Kathmandu neighborhood has a public tap, the water supply is erratic. Water usually comes out of the public tap just once a week, but at times that doesn’t even happen.
“The government tap is just for name,” Magar says.
So she, too, was forced to resort to water boring, despite lacking the funding to install the system.
“It was getting unaffordable to buy water, and so I’ve borrowed some money to have water boring,” she says. “It fulfills the water needs of my family of four.”
Suresh Prasad Acharya, Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited spokesman, acknowledges the company’s insufficient supply.
“The water boring is being carried [out] to fulfill the need of drinking water since there isn’t enough drinking water in the capital and other districts,” Acharya says. “If the Water Supply Corporation and the Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited manage to supply sufficient water, there would be no need of water boring.
Acharya cites several reasons for the insufficient supply. As the country’s capital, Kathmandu witnesses a constant rise in population because of migration from villages. This means a frequent increase in water consumption, which outpaces the increase in supply.
Acharya says that the company’s financial problems have led to the inefficient implementation of plans to improve this water supply. The government’s main plan to solve the water shortage, the Melamchi Water Supply Project, also hasn’t materialized.
The project involves transferring water from the Melamchi River in another district in central Nepal to the Kathmandu Valley through a diversion scheme featuring a 26-kilometer tunnel. Though started in 1998, the project is still under construction because of various issues ranging from political events to the withdrawal of international development partners, according to the project’s website.
As this project continues to delay, Acharya says that excessive water boring can cause the valley’s soil to erode. Because the government doesn’t require a permit for personal and community water boring, Acharya says that there aren’t exact figures on the number of citizens using this method.
Anyone using wells or bores to extract water for commercial purposes in Kathmandu requires a permit from the Kathmandu Valley Water Supply Management Board. Defying this rule can result in up to 50,000 rupees ($620) in fines.
Karki says there are 500 commercial outlets that use water boring on a large scale, but that only 100 have received permits to do so. Acharya says that water boring without a permit is common in the hotel business.
The Ministry of Physical Planning and Works has a committee to overlook the use of underground resources and their usage in order to better manage water boring until a more permanent solution develops.
The water companies have also developed strategies in order to manage the current supply. For example, the Nepal Water Supply Corporation distributes drinking water to the districts it serves according to a fixed schedule, says Bhupendra Prasad, Nepal Water Supply Corporation’s deputy manager.
“It’s an important issue,” he says of the water scarcity. “All the government and nongovernment organizations should pay attention to it.”
Acharya says that it’s important that citizens also do their part by being careful with their water consumption and not wasting a drop.
To mark World Water Day and Nepal National Water Week, citizens are taking part in events across the Kathmandu Valley. Various governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations have arranged more than a dozen events, including a trash cleanup along the Bagmati River, a documentary screening, a waste management training program, a miniature marathon and a Facebook photography competition.
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