“Climate change is real and Nepal is highly vulnerable to its impacts:” Resham Jung Singh, Director, Nepal Water for Health

Nepal is one of the richest countries in fresh water resources but 3.5 million Nepalis still do not have access to basic water services.

NL Today

  • Read Time 4 min.

Resham Jung Singh is pursuing a PhD degree in Water Resource Management on “Climate Resilient and Sustainable WASH” in Infrastructure University Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. With more than 16 years of professional experience in the field of WASH, small irrigation and agriculture among others with various I/NGOs, he has also worked closely with government agencies across Nepal. Nepal Live Today caught up with Singh, who is currently the Director at Nepal Water for Health (NEWAH), a pioneer organization in Nepal’s WASH sector, to discuss water-related issues on the occasion of World Water Day.

Today is World Water Day. What is its significance?

March 22 is celebrated as World Water Day every year. It is an annual United Nations observance starting from 1993 which celebrates water and raises awareness to the two billion people currently living without access to safe water. The major focus of World Water Day is to inspire action towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6–water and sanitation for all by 2030. Furthermore, the government of Nepal has set an objective to “ensure climate-resilient and disaster risk reduction friendly water supply and sanitation service” to achieve the national goal of “clean, safe, affordable and sustainable WASH service” in its 15th periodic plan (2019-2023). 

“World Water Day makes us realize the importance of groundwater and enhances the knowledge and awareness on adaptation and mitigation strategies to cope with climate change impacts and water source conservation.” 

Celebration of World Water Day is significant to create awareness to the people regarding water issues and the role every individual can play to conserve water resources. Water stress/crisis is the major issue in the world due to climate change. World Water Day can be the occasion to inspire people to take appropriate adaptive action to prevent such crises in their communities. It is also the occasion for WASH stakeholders to raise awareness and advocate for conducive policies for water resource management.

The theme for this year’s WWD is “Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible”. How do you relate this theme to Nepal’s context?

Globally, groundwater is the major source of water supply and it is also an important source of water in the context of Nepal. But the amount and depth vary from one place to another. In the Terai, the upper unconfined aquifer (50–60 m) has been considered as a good productive shallow zone and most groundwater production is limited to the upper 250 m. At present, only about 22 percent of the available dynamic groundwater recharge in Terai is being utilized. The plains of Nepal are still highly dependent on groundwater sources for drinking water. Various researches have revealed that the groundwater in Kathmandu Valley is overexploited and it is not being recharged adequately to fulfill the demand of people due to rapid urbanization. Groundwater from both deep and shallow aquifers is suitable for irrigation without any treatment, but for drinking and industrial uses, treatment is necessary.

The theme ‘Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible’ means groundwater is invisible and it is out of mind and out of sight of most people. Thus the issues related to water need to be made visible for all through public awareness programs and campaigns. Due to climate change, groundwater source depletion and water quality deterioration are increasing globally. World Water Day makes us realize the importance of groundwater and enhances the knowledge and awareness on adaptation and mitigation strategies to cope with climate change impacts and water source conservation. 

It is believed that human activities including haphazard and unplanned urbanization and climate crisis are creating pressure on groundwater resources. As a country fragile to the climate crisis, what should be Nepal’s response?

It is evident from the frequency of climate-change-induced disasters in recent years that climate change is real and Nepal is highly vulnerable to its impacts. The depletion of water sources and deterioration in water quality due to climate change will get severe if we fail to take action against climate change. Rapid urbanization and industrialization are exacerbating the climate change effects. Nepal needs to implement climate change adaptation strategies with utmost importance. Afforestation and water-shed conservation along with integrated water resources management, capacity building of concerned stakeholders and implementation of a climate-resilient water safety plan can help us fight against climate change effects. There are various progressive regulations and policies in Nepal but there is a huge gap in the matter of their execution. Local governments need to understand, internalize and implement climate change adaptation strategies. Strict execution of environmental and adaptation policies in coordination with the government agencies and collaboration with non-government, private sectors and international donor agencies can help in conservation and optimum utilization of environmental resources in Nepal. Besides, the government should also focus on enhancing the enabling environment to make the climate-resilient system.   

In your view, where does Nepal stand in terms of providing safe and clean drinking water to people?

Nepal is one of the richest countries in freshwater resources but 3.5 million Nepalis still do not have access to basic water services.  However, Nepal has made significant progress on basic sanitation facilities by declaring the country open defecation free (ODF) in September 2019 and moving towards the journey of total sanitation. Despite having abundant water resources, the country’s harsh terrain makes access to water supply difficult for many segments of the population. The government estimates basic water supply coverage to be around 91 percent nationwide, and medium to higher level water supply service only 23 percent but the reliability of the coverage data is highly variable and does not necessarily imply that the water supply systems are functioning properly. A National Management Information Project report published by the Department of Water, Sanitation and Sewerage Management (DWSSM) in 2018 reveals that only 28.14 percent of water schemes are functional, 38.08 percent of water schemes need minor repair and remaining schemes need major repairs and rehabilitation. So, major priority should be given to making water supply schemes and service functional throughout their design life. Furthermore, providing safe water is the topmost priority for the government and WASH stakeholders.

Water sources rely on shallow wells, ponds, and streams, which are often both biologically and chemically contaminated. Flash floods and landslides caused by climate change damage the infrastructures which lead to water contamination and finally deteriorate the water quality leading to the rise in water-borne diseases and the outbreak of diarrheal diseases, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. Sufficient safe water is required for better health, hygiene and sanitation. The Covid -19 pandemic has made it clear that access to safe water and frequent hand washing is essential to public health. Thus the government and all the stakeholders need to work to ensure that every citizen has access to safe water.