Kathmandu Valley's population has now surpassed 3 million, and it is probably the only major city in the world that has virtually no water supply utility worth its name.
Together with the huge electricity shortfall, the crisis of urban water supply represent proof of spectacular state failure. Successive governments have demonstrated that they have little political will or management capability to run modern utilities like power, water, or garbage disposal.
The only reason water riots haven't broken out is because traditional water spouts built by the Malla kings 400 years ago are still working, and some of the Rana-era water mains laid down 80 years ago still function.
Modern urban water supply needs political, social, economic and administrative systems to be in place, and Kathmandu's present water crisis is caused by decades of failure in all these areas. While current demand has surpassed 200 million litres per day, the government supply is only 45 million litres in the dry season and 120 million litres in the wet season. Water supply is rationed to one hour every third day if you live in one of the lucky neighbourhoods.
Just controlling leakage would partly cover the shortfall in supply since as much as 75 million litres a day are lost to rusty and leaky underground water pipes. By most international norms, Kathmandu Valley should be considered uninhabitable by now. More than half the city's water supply is being met by a booming water tanker business that either pipes water in from streams on the Valley rim, or pumps it up from drilled wells.
Every day there are hundreds of water tankers lining up to fill up near the scenic and historic Taudaha Pond on the Valley's southern outskirts. But there is no uniform rate, no documentation of revenue to the VDC, and no one pays VAT. There is no attempt to conserve the area from where water is pumped out, in fact it has become a garbage disposal site.
No one here knows or seems to care who is pumping water out and who is being paid for it. It is clear that the trade is in the hands of local toughies who enjoy political protection. No one seems particularly worried that this unsustainable water mining is lowering the groundwater table.
Across the Valley at its northern edge is Jorpati, the largest source of water for private tanker suppliers in Kathmandu which make at least 700 daily trips from here. All are members of the Khanipani Tanker Association which has 145 members. Much of the water is pumped out of wells drilled in the area since 1990, and it is clear that the water supply is a result of the ecosystem services provided by recharge from the Shivapuri catchment. But as far as anyone knows, no one is paying any royalty or tax.
Currently, there are 100-150 homes in the area which receive a daily water supply from 5am to 7pm from nine wells with reservoir tanks built by the tanker operators. This free household water supply is part of the deal the tanker owners have worked out with locals to allow them to operate in the area. The only construction they have carried out is to build a roadside temple.
Ironically, the road that connects Jorpati to the city is the same one along which the pipeline from the much-delayed Melamchi water supply project will run when it is finished (see adjoining story). There are many more localities like Taudaha and Jorpati on the outskirts of Kathmandu that have sprung up because of a spontaneous private sector response to the state's failure to ensure water supply.
A few water traders benefit, but the larger community, the municipality and the state get nothing from this unsustainable exploitation of a public good.
Venice of the east
High and dry, MADHUKAR UPADHYA in KAVRE
Kavre is suffering a drought in the middle of the monsoon, is this a result of climate change?
The Melamchi side of Melamchi, DANIEL M MAXWELL in SINDHUPALCHOK
Benefit sharing of Melamchi water revenues with local communities will set the precedent for future mega-projects in Nepal
Not a drop to drink, RATNA SANSAR SHRESTHA
It doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white as long as Kathmandu Valley gets proper water supply
Private water, public debate, MALLIKA ARYAL
This dry season Kathmandu will see a water shortage like never before
Pipe dreams, AJAYA DIXIT
The politics of water during a political transition