Climate-fuelled water systems failure in rural Nepal, already taking place

Water User Committee FGD research in Mahabu RM Nepal

Climate hazards are affecting rural water supply functionality and access, with unequal consequences. Here we present some real-time water challenges faced by community members in the rural districts of Dailekh and Sarlahi, Nepal. And we offer five steps that we can take today to enable giant leaps for more climate-resilient water systems in rural areas.

Climate impacts on rural water

Floods and droughts are already leading to water quality and access issues in rural Nepal.

According to a member of Dailekh’s Water User Committee (WUC), when the river overflows, the absence of a filtration system results in mud and sludge contaminating the district’s drinking water. In turn, the respondent added, ‘insects and worms come out of the tap.’

Building fences to stop water from flowing

Community-built fence to stop water flow in Mahabu RM

Cleaning water source

Community-led efforts to clean water source in Mahabu RM

When water reaches alarmingly low levels during the dry season, community connections waver. In Dailekh, one respondent explained that they preferred to not entertain guests in the dry season. The respondent said, ‘[because] it is quite difficult to manage water for the toilet, cleaning, and even drinking. From March to June, one jug of water is valuable. Sometimes we cannot give a glass of water to people who ask [for a] drink.’

In Sarlahi, when handpumps run dry, a male respondent alluded to increased discord in the family. He said, ‘On hot days, we have to get water from another hand pump. We usually send the female members of our family to fetch water. The owner of the hand pump scolds them, so sometimes they [female household members] refuse to fetch water which creates family conflict.’

Disparate capacity to respond

Everybody is impacted by climate change, but impacts are felt more acutely by groups that are already disadvantaged. Community members in Dailekh and Sarlahi confirm that structural deficits in human security and development must be addressed to ensure the effectiveness of policy responses to climate hazards.

‘Nowadays, rich families are using [bottled] water to drink while others drink from the same handpumps.’­ – Sarlahi respondent

‘If nobody is available [to help me draw water], we [people with disabilities] go by crawling on our hands and legs to bring water in the dry season.’ –  Dailekh respondent

Did you miss SNV's COP 26 presentation on why inclusive local-level approaches are needed to strengthen community resilience to climate effects? Watch presentation delivered by SNV in Nepal's Ami Reza and Ratan Budhathoki.

What needs to be done?

Raise awareness of local government and communities on unequal climate impacts: Socialise local government staff on existing national policies on climate change. Advocacy groups to support government efforts in integrating gender equality and social inclusion in climate-resilience interventions.

Invest on infrastructure in areas with the most need: This may involve drilling boreholes in productive aquifers in areas prone to water shortages, or providing on-site water storage where people with disabilities live.

Establish early warning systems for everyone: Set up mechanisms to communicate imminent climate risks (e.g., flooding) to the public, and ensure that media used is accessible and understood by people in poverty, women, children, people with low levels of literacy, and people who speak local languages.

Train WUCs on equitable water safety planning: Use the Government of Nepal’s Climate Resilient Water Safety Plans Guideline [3] and communicate principles and activities laid out in the WHO Guide to Equitable Water Safety Planning [4].

Support community and household response plans: Advise communities and households on how to prepare for, and react to, climate impacts on water access, including setting up agreements that ensure everyone has rights to access a safe water supply when climate stress is experienced.

Written by: Jeremy Kohlitz (ISF-UTS) and Sunetra Lala (SNV) with input from SNV in Nepal team
Photos: SNV Nepal
[1] USAID, ‘Climate risk profile: Nepal’, climatelinks, WA DC, United States Agency for International Development, 2017, https://www.climatelinks.org/resources/climate-risk-profile-nepal (accessed 12 November 2021).
[2] World Bank Group and Asian Development Bank (ADB), ‘Climate risk country profile: Nepal’, OKR - Open Knowledge Repository, 2021, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/36374  (accessed 18 October 2021).
[3] Government of Nepal, Climate resilient water safety plans guideline: Rural water supply system, Kathmandu, Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation, 2017, https://wsportal.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2018/07/CR-WSP-Guidelines-Rural_01.pdf (accessed 12 November 2021).
[4] WHO, A guide to equitable water safety planning: ensuring no one is left behind, Geneva, World Health Organization, 2019, https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241515313, (accessed 12 November 2021).
More information: This article was produced as part of the SNV-managed Inclusive and sustainable rural water supply services in Nepal, which receives funding from the Australian Government's Water for Women Fund. Contact Sunetra Lala, WASH Sector Leader in SNV Nepal by email for more details.