Let’s ask a serious question on the eve of World Water day 2019. After celebrating so many water days in the past decades, are we progressing or regressing in making water a priority issue in development? We should not hesitate to ask even a naïve question such as : do we even understand what is happening to water sources?
Many water projects have been planned and built (not counting mega projects such as Melamchi) and progress has been made in adding numbers to the area covered by potable water supply systems in the country. But the reality tells something else. Families have been displaced after the water sources have dried in their villages making it very difficult for the families to meet domestic water needs let alone the need for farming. Many springs have dried across the hills.
There is no official record of the families displaced by water scarcity, but what has been obvious is that the number is rising every year. The scattered information as reported by newspapers indicates that water sources have dried from Darchula in the west to Panchthar in the east displacing thousands of families in the past two decades. All this happened gradually and hence went unnoticed while we celebrated water day every year to raise awareness about preserving water sources.
The findings of the survey carried out by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) to assess climate change impacts across the country shows that nearly 50% of the water sources, especially springs in the hills of Nepal, has dried in the past quarter of a century. The survey also revealed that more than 74% of the water sources have reduced water discharge.
The sustainable development goals (SDGs) must be met by the 2030 deadline and one of the goals to be met by then is to ensure water for all. Only 11 years left before this goal is achieved. The world water day celebrated every year on March 22 reminds us of the unfinished task of addressing water issues particularly for those who are poor and marginalized and socially discriminated including gender. Unfortunately, the same issues of shortages and lack of access to water have been talked about, discussed and emphasized again and again over the last so many years. Yet the problem seems to remain as widespread as it was a decade ago and further exasperated in many places due to reasons not fully known to those who are supposed to plan for water management.
Experts might say that changing rainfall pattern compounded with human induced reasons such as land use changes (both of which cannot be proved with limited short-duration data and hence are assumed to be true) are responsible for reduced discharge in the springs leading to acute water shortages. But what must not be forgotten is that even in Bhutan that claims to have 60% of its territory under forests have experienced drying up of the mountain springs.
Looks like some big and widespread changes are taking place in the water regime across the hills and plains, which is beyond the capacity of the existing water knowledge (that are sketchy in most cases) to explain. Unless we begin to shift our focus and revisit our understanding of existing water knowledge and try to see beyond in understanding even a part of that ‘big and widespread’’ picture , we will not be able to tackle water issues in the years ahead.