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Issues: Asia in Depth

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Nepal’s Water Woes - By Sahisna Suwal
 
at the well
 
Nepal is a landlocked nation with the current population of over 27 million people.  As reported by the World Bank, Nepal is one of the poorest nations in the world with an estimated GDP per capita of US$470. With a staggering 42 percent of the population living below the poverty line and only 27 percent with improved access to sanitation, there are quite a number of issues facing Nepal. Some of these significant challenges are related to water pollution and water scarcity.
 
Water is one of the basic human necessities but a large proportion of the Nepalese population is devoid of access to safe and adequate drinking water. According to the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage in Nepal, even though an estimated 80% of the total population has access to drinking water, it is not safe. Those belonging to poor and excluded groups in rural areas have limited to no access. Many in remote areas have to rely on small brooks running from the mountains and spend hours traveling to get water. Still the drinking water available is not always safe as supplied water is often polluted. One of the reasons for this is due to the fact that the surface and ground water in the Kathmandu Valley is deteriorating by natural and anthropogenic contaminations. The surface water is polluted by industry and domestic waste along with discharge of untreated sewage from tightly packed residential neighborhoods.  It is without a doubt that the domestic sewage system is deemed one of the top sources of water pollution that seeps into rivers and lakes, which are the primary sources of drinking water.  The capital city of Kathmandu is estimated to produce 150 tons of waste daily and almost half of this is dumped into rivers and 80 percent of the wastewater is generated by households. In addition, due to the increasing population and establishments, surface water sources alone has become inadequate to service everyone.
 
In some of the rural regions of Nepal communities still rely on getting their drinking water from tube wells. Recently, one of the major concerns in these regions, especially in the region of Terai, is groundwater contamination from arsenic. The Terai Region contains sedimentary layers of sand, gravel deposits interlocked with flood plains carried by rivers and is extremely vulnerable to arsenic contamination.
 
Sahisna Nepal
 
As only 27 percent of the population has access to basic sanitation, those without access rely on local surface water sources like rivers for bathing and washing clothes. At the same time, the establishments of water treatment facilities throughout the urban and rural regions are limited. As a result, Nepal faces a high number of water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, gastroenteritis and cholera. Starting with the dry season in the month of March to the end of the rainy season in September, one is extremely vulnerable to waterborne illnesses. Coupled with the unhygienic environmental situation, the risk of food and water contamination is increased. Children under the age of five are the most affected with an estimated 44,000 children dying every year in Nepal from waterborne diseases.
 
The demand for water is increasing significantly in Nepal and access to safe and adequate drinking water is crucial. The public lacks awareness and education on proper sanitation issues and domestic and industrial wastewater treatment plants need to be widespread. Nepal struggles to overcome this obstacle and needs solutions to eradicate this so that its citizens can live healthier lives.
 
For more information, contact Sahisna at:
water in india
Water Shortage in India: A Crisis

by Shreya Jha


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Water in Crisis – Spotlight on India
Shannyn Snyder
 
With a diverse population that is three times the size of the United States but one-third the physical size, India has the second largest population in the world.  According to the World Bank, India has taken significant steps to reduce poverty but the number of people who live in poverty is still highly disproportionate to the number of people who are middle-income, with a combined rate of over 52% of both rural and urban poor.
 
Although India has made improvements over the past decades to both the availability and quality of municipal drinking water systems, its large population has stressed planned water resources and rural areas are left out.  In addition, rapid growth in India’s urban areas has stretched government solutions, which have been compromised by over-privatization.
 
Regardless of improvements to drinking water, many other water sources are contaminated with both bio and chemical pollutants, and over 21% of the country’s diseases are water-related.  Furthermore, only 33% of the country has access to traditional sanitation.
 
One concern is that India may lack overall long-term availability of replenishable water resources.  While India’s aquifers are currently associated with replenishing sources, the country is also a major grain producer with a great need for water to support the commodity.  As with all countries with large agricultural output, excess water consumption for food production depletes the overall water table. 
 
Many rural communities in India who are situated on the outskirts of urban sprawl also have little choice but to drill wells to access groundwater sources.  However, any water system adds to the overall depletion of water.  There is no easy answer for India which must tap into water sources for food and human sustenance, but India’s overall water availability is running dry.
 
India’s water crisis is often attributed to lack of government planning, increased corporate privatization, industrial and human waste and government corruption.  In addition, water scarcity in India is expected to worsen as the overall population is expected to increase to 1.6 billion by year 2050.  To that end, global water scarcity is expected to become a leading cause of national political conflict in the future, and the prognosis for India is no different.
 
On a positive note, some areas of India are fortunate to have a relatively wet climate, even in the most arid regions. However, with no rain catchment programs in place, most of the water is displaced or dried up instead of used.  In these areas, rain harvesting could be one solution for water collection.  Collected water can be immediately used for agriculture, and with improved filtration practices to reduce water-borne pathogens, also quickly available for human consumption.
 
Whatever the means, India needs solutions now. Children in 100 million homes in the country lack water, and one out of every two children are malnourished. Environmental justice needs to be restored to India so that families can raise their children with dignity, and providing water to communities is one such way to best ensure that chance.
farmland-1Crisis Spotlight- Vietnam
By Sahisna Suwal
 
Located in the Southeastern part of Asia, Vietnam’s population totals to over 86 million with an estimated GDP per capita of $3100. Vietnam is the 13 most populous country in the world and almost two-thirds of its people live along the country’s three main river basins- Thai Binh, Mekong Delta and Dong Nai.  
 
Vietnam has 2360 rivers totaling to more than 10 km and it would appear that this should provide copious supply of water to the nation. However, due to the lack of physical infrastructure and financial capacity there is low utilization of the supply along with an uneven distribution of rain fall resulting in water shortages throughout the country. Although Vietnam has improved its water supply situation in the past few decades, many rural parts of the country who are often the poorest communities, have not seen significant improvement. It is reported that only 39% of the rural population has access to safe water and sanitation. The rural population has moved from using surface water from shallow dug wells to groundwater pumped from private tube wells. In the Northern region of Vietnam around Hanoi, there is evidence of arsenic contamination in the drinking water. About 7 million people living in this area have a severe risk of arsenic poisoning and since elevated levels of arsenic can cause cancer, neurological and skin problems, this is a serious issue.
 
In addition, due to the rapid economic development in Vietnam, river water quality has been affected along with an increased concentration of various toxins in the water. The surface water in the rivers is locally polluted by organic pollutants such as oil waste and solids. There is also pollution from untreated waste water released by industries and agriculture activities. The geography and topography of Vietnam also makes the country susceptible to natural hazards such as typhoons, storms, floods and drought. This then leads to a multitude of problems such as water pollution and waterborne diseases along with an impact on agricultural lands and livestock. Both the environmental pollution in these river basins and natural disasters affects the nation’s public health. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment state that almost 80% of the diseases in Vietnam are caused by polluted water. There are many cases of cholera, typhoid, dysentery and malaria each year in the country.
 
It is without doubt that agriculture has the largest burden on water resources in Vietnam. Vietnam is one of the richest agricultural regions in the world and a top producer and consumer of rice. Currently, water used for agriculture purposes take up over 80% of total water production. Paddy rice is the primary crop that takes up a majority of the total irrigated area. Fisheries, aquaculture, industries and services also contribute to water demand increase.
 
Water resources are very significant, especially natural water sources in the rural areas of Vietnam as they are the sources of economic, social and cultural activities. The government of Vietnam is tackling the water resources management issues in the country by implementing policies and programs relating to this. Some of the challenges that still exist include improving access to clean water and sanitation for both urban and rural population, improving public participation and knowledge and strengthening river basin management.
 
For additional information or resources, contact Sahisna at:
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