This year World Water Day is being celebrated with the theme ‘Groundwater: Making the invisible visible’ emphasizing how groundwater has the potential to save hundreds and thousands of lives and be the world’s insurance policy against climate change.
A report entitled “Groundwater: The world’s neglected defense against climate change” released by WaterAid today states that groundwater could help communities cope not only with slow onset impacts like drought and irregular rainfall but also provide resilience to rapid onset impacts like floods by ensuring safe water is available for all, including in schools and hospitals.
Communities need sustainable and safe water and sanitation to have the best chance of combatting the devastating impacts of extreme weather, like heatwaves, droughts and floods. As it gets worse, groundwater will become more and more critical, but groundwater will only be able to lessen the impacts of climate change if it is carefully managed and if we invest in mechanisms to ensure that it gets to the people who need it the most.
Globally, 771 million people in the world–one in ten–do not have clean water close to home globally. In Nepal, only 5.3 million people use safely managed to drink water services, according to Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey Report 2019. A safe, healthy and dignified life is not possible without a reliable source of clean water. Climate impacted communities are forced to depend on dirty water that makes them sick or walks long distances for clean water. Time spent on fetching clean water, recovering from illness, or caring for those who are sick, is the time that could be spent learning and earning a living. For the girls and women tasked with fetching water, having to walk further to find a clean water source takes time away from their education and disproportionately impacts their lives.
Groundwater is one of the key sources of water in Kathmandu Valley. Groundwater is extracted through household and community wells and it is also obtained through stone spouts and spring outlets. Every monsoon, groundwater is recharged naturally when the rainwater is injected underground through porous soil surfaces and ponds. Additionally, water collected from nearby catchment areas and canals also significantly contributes to natural groundwater recharge and maintaining (or increasing) the groundwater level. This groundwater table is, however, depleting, due to two major reasons–sealing of the natural recharge zones and unregulated extraction of groundwater.
It can be maintained by artificial recharge process through the construction of recharge wells which are simple and low-cost structures that can be promoted at strategic locations by concerned institutes or individual households. It can also be achieved by reviving the community ponds. Groundwater recharge also manages stormwater, thereby reducing urban flooding.
For the girls and women tasked with fetching water, having to walk further to find a clean water source takes time away from their education and disproportionately impacts their lives.
Rainwater Harvesting and Groundwater Recharge Project–a joint partnership project between the Centre for Integrated Urban Development (CIUD), WaterAid Nepal and The Coca-Cola Foundation, was successfully completed in three locations: Rajdal Army Barrack in Lagankhel (Lalitpur), Ranibari Community Forest in Lazimpat (Kathmandu) and Underprivileged Children’s Educational Programs Nepal in Sanu Thimi (Bhaktapur). Here is a case-by-case analysis of the project.
Case one: Rajdal Army Barrack
Situated at the highest point of Patan, Lagankhel area is a natural recharge zone where groundwater is recharged, thereby feeding community wells and stone spouts. The project has been executed with the objective of recharging groundwater in Lagankhel and its peripheral areas and demonstrating this technology among wider communities.
During this project, 51 recharge wells along with 51 filter chambers were constructed inside the premises of the barrack. The expected volume of potential water recharge, through these wells, is 60 million liters annually. Additionally, to remove silt and sand from the surface runoffs, three desilting basins were also constructed in the area where runoff water is likely to carry dirt. One rain garden has also been constructed to demonstrate the efficacy of such initiatives towards groundwater recharge. Simultaneously, a lot of motivational and awareness programs on groundwater recharge were conducted among the wider communities including local authorities, civil society organizations and academic institutes.
Case two: Ranibari Community Forest
The main objective of this project was to contribute to maintaining the groundwater table and enhance the knowledge of local people on rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge initiatives.
During this project, a 371 meter-long trench work, six recharge pits and 41 environment-friendly bamboo check dams were constructed. A rainwater harvesting model was also installed with a filtration system and collection tank of 12000 liters. Two tap stands were supported with two PVC tanks to utilize collected rainwater in the canteen and temples allocated within the community forest. Five sets of dustbins were also added to promote waste management and waste segregation. Water quality tests of the groundwater from recharge pits have shown positive changes in the quality of the water after the intervention of the project.
Case three: Underprivileged Children’s Educational Programs Nepal
During the project, 70m-long trench work and four recharge pits were constructed. As the water level was very low, two boreholes were installed to monitor the rise in water level during the post-project monitoring phase. A desilting chamber followed by a primary filter chamber was introduced.
Similarly, with the common objectives, as in Ranibari, to promote waste management and waste segregation, three sets of dustbins were also installed within the premises. The rainwater harvesting system, which was previously initiated by other institutions, was also upgraded by increasing the size of the pipe and the addition of a first flush diverter and a filter unit in the system.
One community training on Rainwater Harvesting and Groundwater Recharge was also conducted. The training was facilitated by CIUD with support from SmartPaani.
Since groundwater is below the surface, it is more resilient to extreme weather than other water sources such as lakes, rivers, streams and dams and is largely protected from evaporation and less susceptible to pollution. This means that even if our weather becomes more extreme and unpredictable, there is enough groundwater stored to provide a buffer for many years to come for the millions of people living on the frontline of climate change. For them, daily life is already a struggle simply because they do not have access to sustainable and safe water and sanitation.
Clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene are human rights. That is why we need to act now to protect climate-vulnerable communities from the impacts of climate change and reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 for everyone, everywhere to have sustainable and safe water and sanitation by 2030.
Shivani Chemjong is the communications and campaigns lead at WaterAid Nepal.