Don’t ask what the municipality can do for you, just start storing your own rainwater.
Every two weeks Revita Shrestha supervises a private water tanker that arrives at her home in Kathmandu to pump 12,000 litres of water into her underground tank. She pays Rs 2,000 for each tanker-load of water.
As the Valley exceeds the limits of growth, and water supply cannot cope with demand, there are tens of thousands of Kathmandu households like the Shrestha’s which have to rely on tankers for water supply.
“We’ve been buying water for the last seven years after the mains went dry,” says Shrestha whose family of four uses the expensive water sparingly. The household is still paying the monthly minimum charge for water from the mains.
Kathmandu Valley’s population has now surpassed 3 million and daily water demand has crossed 350 million litres, but the Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL) is able to supply barely 90 million litres in the dry season and 120 million litres in the wet season.
Mains water supply is rationed to one hour every third day if you live in one of the lucky neighbourhoods. Ironically, while the modern water system doesn’t work, there are long lines of buckets and pots at traditional water spouts built by Malla kings 400 years ago and are still functioning.
If KUKL could only control leaky mains pipes, it would save 75 million litres a day. Leakage increased after pipes were damaged during road windening in various parts of Kathmandu.
“Our regular maintenance operation has been affected due to the road expansion and there is no coordination between various departments,” complains KUKL spokesperson, Milan Shakya.
KUKL and the government are all waiting for Melamchi to bring water from snowfed rivers north of Kathmandu through a 26km tunnel, but the much-delayed project is not due to be completed for another three years. And even if it is, the Valley’s water mains have to be upgraded to ensure proper distribution.
There are also plans, without date estimates, to pipe water from nearby Yangri and Larke rivers, to augment Melamchi with a further 340 million litres daily. But experts are sceptical about Melamchi being completed by 2016 and suggest looking at alternatives like household rainwater harvesting.
“Storing rainwater is the best and easiest way to ensure water supply and recharge the falling groundwater table,” says Rabin Man Shrestha of the Environment Management Division at Kathmandu Metropolitan City.
The moral of the story seems to be: don’t ask what the municipality can do for you, just start storing your own rainwater. Or, like Revita Shrestha, you could keep buying expensive tanker water, but the prices are sure to go up and its quality is iffy.
Private water for the public, NIRENDRA BASNET
Patching up Melamchi, NAVIN SINGH KHADKA
Not a drop to drink, RATNA SANSAR SHRESTHA
Private water, public debate, MALLIKA ARYAL