Water, The Value of Each Drop!
and the depth of the water crisis!
Haven’t we all heard the story of “The Thirsty Crow”? In the story, the crow, who could not find water anywhere, finally found very little water at the bottom of a tall water pot. However, the crow could not reach the water using its beak. After some thinking, the crow collected pebbles and dropped those pebbles in the pot one by one. Ultimately, the crow succeeded to raise the water and drank to quench its thirst. The story evidently portrays the importance of water. At the same time, it manifests the extent of hard work one would do to get access to water.
Water, the source of life, is fundamental to all living organisms. From single cellular organisms to multicellular beings, water is holding our lives. Our blue planet would not be the mother of living creatures without water. Therefore, the thought of the global water crisis gives me goosebumps, especially because I grew up in a country where scarcity of drinking water was a big problem, and still is.
Nepal, a beautiful country, is known for its beautiful landscapes composed of the Himalayas, mountains, waterfalls, rivers, and so on. Undoubtedly, the country is naturally blessed. But as blessed as it is, although the country is one of the richest countries in renewable water resources, drinking water is scarce in many places, starting from its capital city, Kathmandu.
Growing up, one of my morning chores was to help my mom fill buckets of drinking water as we did not have access to running water for the entire day. The government only gave us access to water for a few hours per day. Believe me, those were the good days! On bad days, we had access to water only for a few hours per week. This is why we stored water in big drums and buckets to get through the week. Since we faced scarcity of water, my mom taught me how to save water and use it efficiently. She often joked that using water efficiently meant being successful in life.
However, it’s not like that in all the neighborhoods in Kathmandu. Right now, my family in Nepal has access to running water all the time in their current neighborhood. Fortunately, the place where my family currently lives does not have scarcity because of the deep boring water system. Also, in Kathmandu, water tanker merchants, who deliver water in trucks, are helping households to deal with water scarcity. Therefore, the scarcity of water depends on where you live in Kathmandu.
Nevertheless, only having access to water is not enough. The quality of water is also essential. In Kathmandu, the quality of water is contaminated because of natural causes and anthropogenic effects. For instance, there is always a seasonal effect on water availability. Compared to the monsoon season, in the dry season, there is more scarcity of water. On the other hand, pollution is another big problem in Kathmandu. Industrial waste, domestic garbage, sewage, and drainages are mismanaged. As a result, both surface level and ground-level water quality have deteriorated. Water pollution has destroyed many rivers such as the Bagmati River and the Bishnumati River. These rivers are so polluted that people cannot use water from those rivers at all. The pollution is also affecting the water quality that is extracted from the boring system. In addition, increasing households and population is another factor that is causing the scarcity of water in Kathmandu.
Furthermore, whenever I visited my dad’s childhood home in Nuwakot, one of Kathmandu’s neighboring districts, I saw people carried water every day from water resources such as wells and ponds to their homes. People had clean and reliable water sources, but they did not have a well-developed water supply infrastructure. However, because of the recent development of the water supply infrastructures, the situation is definitely improving. But there are other problems that lead to water scarcity such as climate change and pollution.
Nepal is in a vulnerable position because of climate change. It impacts water resources, infrastructures, health, weather, and many necessities. Extreme weather changes are increasing the risk and intensity of natural disasters such as floods and landslides. These disasters destroy water resources and contaminate the quality of water. Also, severe heat waves have exacerbated drought. As a result, the water levels of many water sources have decreased significantly. In some cases, water has dried up completely. These challenges have definitely made the situation worse.
Remote and distant areas in Nepal, where geographical connections are tough to make because of difficult landscapes, struggle the most with drinking water availability. When I worked in a non-government organization (NGO) in Nuwakot, I got the opportunity to work on a project called “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)”. The project was focused on promoting safe drinking water, clean toilets, and good hygiene practices in rural areas in Nuwakot and Rasuwa. While working on this project, I learned that my childhood experience was comparatively much better. I found from local people and other sources that people from these areas would travel hours away from their homes and hike through dangerous places to get access to water.
I have experienced the water crisis firsthand and the situation is not getting better. In fact, it will probably be worse globally in the near future because of escalating increase in population, pollution, and climate change events. It is estimated that there will be a 40 percent shortfall in freshwater resources by 2030. The recent winter storm followed by the water crisis in Texas is one of the examples of how the future of our world with the global water crisis may look as a result of climate change. Many countries in Asia and Africa are at the highest risk because of the water crisis. According to World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, while Nepal is at a high-risk level with a 3.17 score, its neighboring countries, India and Pakistan, are at extremely high-risk levels with 4.12 and 4.05 scores respectively.
So, what can we do to resolve the water crisis? I am not an expert, but I believe steps such as educating people about the gravity of the situation, building the right infrastructures to deal with the crisis, and investing in research and development will certainly help. Furthermore, changing our habits, perceptions, and cultures to become sustainable will make things better as well. For example, people buy a lot of new clothes to follow fashion trends. But fast fashion is an unsustainable behavior since the fashion and textile industry pollute water at an alarming rate. Did you know the textile industry is one-fifth responsible for industrial water pollution? Rivers are turning black because of our colorful collection of fast fashion closets. Each year, the textile industry uses around 93 billion cubic meters (21 trillion gallons) of water. To encourage industry to conserve water, we need more stringent rules and regulations such as enforcing a high rate of water tax, aiding sustainable ideas, radically improving recycling, and using renewable sources. To bring breakthrough changes, it is extremely important to bring the change at the system level.
Meanwhile, we can also alter our behaviors to aid the water conservation process. We should also demolish unsustainable old traditions and create new sustainable ones. For instance, we can wear the same dress multiple times in multiple events and this could be a new trend instead of buying a new dress each time we go to a new event. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, globally the clothing utilization has decreased by 36% as compared to 15 years ago. The clothing utilization rate is high in lower-income countries whereas, in higher-income countries like the United States, people wear their clothes only 1/4th times as compared to the global average. In order to change this, we should bring behavior change. Remember, it is us, who create the new norm and trend, and it is up to us what we want to create and follow. Small habits like this matter because our behavior change is essential. Hence, for all the industries, companies, and people, it is time to evaluate our actions and change for our own sake.
On the other hand, people with weak financial resources are already suffering from water scarcity. It is always the unfortunate and vulnerable people who suffer the most. In this world, it is apparent that water inequality and discrimination exist based on people’s different races, social class levels, and economic status. In 2012, the World Economic Forum cited inequality as one of the top global risks. In the same year, global monitoring showed that 3.6% of the urban population lacked access to an improved water source against 18.8% of the rural population. For instance, as I mentioned above, people from rural areas in Nepal are deprived of modern infrastructures that could substantially decrease their hardship to access clean drinking water, whereas, people in cities have the luxury to buy water. But not everyone can afford to buy water from water tanker merchants. Water should not be commoditized and capitalized. Access to drinking water is a human right and everyone should have equal rights over it.
Water is a fundamental need for all of us and it should be treated as a luxury. It is not only about human beings, but also about the life of our mother earth. Therefore, like my mom said to me when I was a child; if we want to be successful in saving lives on earth, we have to learn to use water efficiently. Right now we are “the thirsty crows” and soon we might struggle to find even a drop of safe drinking water. Like in the story, we have to work hard and find innovative ways to save water so that we can preserve the water resources for ourselves and future generations.