We continue our “So Rich, Yet So Poor” series of case studies on water crises and water poverty with Nepal. It is the second water-richest country on the planet. This is a country facing terrible water poverty and, unfortunately, it is not the only one. Luckily, people like you and me can make a stand.

Last time, we spoke about Uganda’s water crisis and the means you have to get involved and become a part of such a necessary change. Today, it is time to focus on Nepal, a country of extraordinary beauty and tragedy. 

The Second Water-Richest Country in the World Needs Our Help to Solve Its Water Crisis

Nepal was the scene of challenge and unrest for many years. The people in this majestic landscape had them all: civil war, political upheaval, poverty, extreme climate change, and more. Organizations and governments all offered the Nepali people a helping hand in the past years. Still, the environmental issue, the water crisis, and the particularly severe sanitation crisis here are topics that we must all discuss and understand.

The Environmental Status Quo

Nepal is one of the water-richest countries in the world. According to WEPA, in Nepal, water resources are plentiful throughout the country.  Nepal holds around 3% of the entire available freshwater on the planet, thus coming in second, after Brazil, as the richest water reserve on Earth.

Water in Nepal is present as:

  • Himalayan snow covers,
  • Glaciers,
  • Permafrost,
  • Glacial lakes,
  • River basins and river discharge enclosed water bodies,
  • Groundwater.

The total renewable water resource of the country reaches a staggering 237 km3/year. Yet, Nepal is among the most unfortunate places on the planet and one of the most endangered from a water point of view.

The Nepal Water Crisis – Current Situation

The latest data offered by UNDP regarding Nepal in 2018 shows us that 15% of the population lives below the income poverty line. Moreover, under-five child mortality is around 35/1,000 live births. While things improved since the 2000s, Nepal is still under scrutiny from a water sanitation’s point of view.

The results of an extensive cross-survey published in 2017 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reveal that despite the international efforts, Nepal still has to deal with a plethora of health issues related to WASH.

The more recent reports show that

more than 4 in 10 people still do not have access to a toilet, practicing open defecation and thus contributing to the environmental contamination risks the country already faces.

With hundreds of children dying of diarrhea (caused by contaminated water) every year, the water crisis in Nepal is a public health matter. The tragedy is that took an even worse turn after the 2015 earthquake.

The Nepalese water problems stem from a wide area of issues spinning in a vicious circle, triggering and maintaining at the same time the country’s poverty level.

1. Climate change

According to Maplecroft,

deviations in monsoon patterns exacerbate every year, placing the country among the most vulnerable ones to climate change.

Nepal’s climate has severe adverse effects upon some of its key sectors, including agriculture, food and water safety, public health, and more.

Hazards such as floods, landslides, or droughts are likely to disturb the country’s already weak economy and maintain or deepen the extreme poverty the country faces.

It is a sad irony here that in a country threatened by so much water going havoc in floods, the people still need to go a very long way to access clean, safe water.

2. Water Pollution

One of the biggest problems in Nepal to date is water pollution.

In Kathmandu alone, around 150 tons of waste end up in the rivers. Researchers found high concentrations of lead in the drinking water in different parts of Nepal; high arsenic content in the groundwater of the Terai region; high levels of arsenic in shallow tube wells; and waterborne diseases’ causal factors (intestinal parasitic infections) that lead to:

  • malnutrition,
  • iron-deficiency anemia,
  • malabsorption syndrome,
  • intestinal obstruction,
  • impaired physical growth,
  • and diarrheal diseases.

If you paid attention to our guide regarding heavy metals in water, you know lead, arsenic, and other contaminants need immediate attention, as they pose significant health threats.

Causes of Water Pollution in Nepal

Water pollution in Nepal finds its roots in agriculture, the use of pesticides, fertilizers, water contamination, and water waste. In turn, water pollution increases food insecurity and food deficiencies in the country, also leading to weak/stunted/diseased crop yields.

Solving the Nepal Water Crisis: Perspectives for the Future

Nepal made progress, and nobody can take the achievements away from it.

Clean water is now accessible to almost 9 out of 10 people, but as long as there are still 19.9/100,000 people dying from unsafe water, improper sanitation and hygiene, and inadequate wash services, Nepal is not out of the woods yet.

The country also has an economically viable hydropower potential that can solve many of its problems. The plans include more access to electricity for the population, mitigation for flood and agricultural irrigation. The best-case scenario envisioned by the Nepal Electricity Authority is a peak of 5,033 MW for 2025.

What Can You Do to Help?

Since we need to celebrate each small victory, it is important to say that many organizations are currently active in Nepal. Most of them provide the people with solutions, education, and sustainable means to access/use clean water.

Splash is a model of good practices in this regard. Here is how they work:

Splash develops customized water interventions, installing commercial-grade water filtration systems that remove 99.9999% of bacterial pathogens to meet or exceed World Health Organization standards. They also provide durable, child-friendly drinking and handwashing stations so that kids can access the water easily. Splash encourages long-term behavior change by instilling in kids, teachers, staff, and parents the value of safe drinking water and good hygiene throughout their lives.

The We Are Water Foundation in partnership with World Vision, and Oxfam offered earthquake relief. Water Aid is currently developing awareness and advocacy programs to help vulnerable communities engage in sustainable education and action towards their sanitation and health.

  • Projects that are aiming towards agricultural diversification and interventions to improve children’s nutrition and health are undergoing.
  • There are plenty of companies that build water systems in the area or bring in water towers, green toilets, or washing stations.

You can help by donating to a charity of your choice, by volunteering, or by buying some products for your home knowing that a part of the proceedings reaches children in countries affected by the water crisis.

Bottom Line

The Nepal Development Update of 2018 issued by the World Bank shows that the country’s economic growth is strong. Foreign investments, tourist arrivals, and manufacturing peaked last year. However, the world must not turn its back on Nepal, despite its progress, as climate change and water pollution still needs our full attention.

The Nepal water crisis and sanitation problem require sustained addressing and interventions.

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