KATHMANDU, Nepal — Water is one of the most basic human needs regardless of culture, community traditions or geographic location. Although there have been many progressive steps to increase access to water worldwide, access alone is not enough to increase wellbeing. In Kathmandu, a city still reeling from a devastating earthquake, water quality is not assured and this creates risks for Nepalese communities.
In the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, there were major worries about an outbreak of cholera, similar to that which killed almost 10,000 in Haiti in 2010, and infected a further 750,000. However, based on targeted preventative health interventions and the deployment of the newly available Oral Cholera Vaccine, there was just one death among 82 reported cases in Kathmandu. Despite this success, providing clean water for its citizens has been a difficult battle for the government of Nepal.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at the end of 2015 just under 46 percent of Nepalis had access to improved sanitation, and over 90 percent of citizens had access to improved drinking water. However, some government-provided water sources are severely restricted, with some taps in Kathmandu open once a week for 30 minutes, according to the Guardian. This forces many to seek costly private sector alternatives. Even with improved water access, this does not ensure that the delivered water is clean.
A study of 10 different water sources in Kathmandu throughout 2015 revealed persistent fecal contamination along with iron, nitrate, nitrite and ammonia levels that exceeded WHO guidelines. Nitrates in drinking water can contribute to ovarian and stomach cancer and can accelerate diabetes development. Based on assessments of the mid-western region of Nepal, up to 80 percent of improved water sources are not delivering clean water. This reality, coupled with a low perceived danger by the public, could be causing widespread unmonitored harm.
Some international and governmental bodies are leading the fight for clean water and sanitation in Nepal. Eawag (The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) has committed to a 2017 project using solar-powered field laboratories to monitor drinking water contamination. Other leaders in the field, such as WaterAid Nepal, use a combination of resource allocation, hygiene education, and professional training to secure clean water and sanitation facilities that can be operated and maintained by the communities they serve.
Local ownership and knowledge that can be shared are the keys to sustainably improving water quality in Nepal. Rainwater harvesting systems that allow rural domestic use are a promising solution for Nepal, which enjoys 1500 to 3000 millimeters of rainfall per year depending on the region. Many NGOs and government bodies have helped to implement these projects.
Although access to water is continually improving, the standards of clean water cannot be overlooked. Ensuring decent water quality in Nepal is essential for the health of families and for national productivity. On the journey toward the Sustainable Development Goals, reliable monitoring of water quality in Nepal and local solutions will be the key to success for long-term community prosperity.
– Patrick Tolosky