Pokhara, a much talked about destination among tourists in Nepal, was on the top list of places for me to visit in Nepal. Recently I visited Pokhara as part of a rainwater harvesting project I had been working on as an intern with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Kathmandu. Apart from the beautiful mountains, serene lakes, and nicely built houses, I saw the real life of people living only a few kilometers away from the hustle and bustle of the Pokhara city. The experiences gained during the trip have been life changing!
The main purpose of the visit was to observe the effectiveness of the rainwater harvesting systems at the end of the dry season. It was a follow-up to a study done with WHO support in late 2008, right after the rainy season.
The outcome of the visit will also contribute to the national policy on rainwater harvesting which is being drafted by the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works, the lead agency for water supply.
Our team of three people visited the Pokhara area for three days. The team included Han Heijnen, Environmental Health Advisor of WHO, Gajendra Singh Pun, programme engineer with Kanchan Nepal in Pokhara, and myself, Kalpana Bhandari, working as an intern with the WHO Environmental Health Unit in Kathmandu during my holidays from studies in the US.
It took us about an hour and half by car from Pokhara town to get to the first community. The road was narrow and it let only one vehicle ply. Smiling villagers with garlands of flowers greeted us at Rupakot. The flowers and their smiles could explain not only the hospitality and respect, but also their satisfaction with what Helvetas and RAIN Foundation, a Netherlands based sponsor, have done, that is, building ferro cement tanks, as they fondly call it ghainto, for catching and storing rain. Rainwater harvesting has immensely altered their way of life.
Rupakot village is comprised of a large Gurung population. On the day of our visit, they had gathered for a puja, a ceremony to ask God so that He would grant water. The village had been witnessing one of the driest seasons; their ghainto’s were emptying fast and their nearest waterspout, pandhero, half an hour downhill, had dried up. They hoped that the monsoon would start soon so that it would end their struggle for water.
As the villagers were already together for the puja, we organized a focus group discussion to talk about their experiences with rainwater harvesting and their level of satisfaction.
“The rain water harvesting system is a blessing”. One of the villagers explained that now they don’t have to waste hours getting water from the nearest water source. When asked about the quality of water and the possibility of any diseases, villagers responded with confidence in their voices that they have not experienced any illness. “The water is so good that it even cures gastric”a villager said and others concurred. I came to know that Helvetas had also helped villagers build latrines and improve hygiene at the household level. The incidence of diseases like diarrhea, cholera, and dysentery has decreased dramatically as people have been more conscious of sanitation and personal hygiene.
I was pretty impressed by their way of water security and water management. Villagers showed that they use a padlock in their taps to prevent misuse of water by uninvited parties. They concurred that proper management of water was a necessity and the way they manage water is through preservation and conservation. They store rainwater for dry seasons by using water from pandhero first until it dries out. Villagers know which water to use first so that they have a continuous source of water until the next rainy season begins. I was wondering how difficult their lives were in the dry season before the rainwater harvesting system, when there was no water in pandhero or at their house. One of the villagers narrated stories of how he used to fetch water at odd hours of the night.
Villagers use water in the nearby pond for feeding livestock. That will last until January, February when the real dry season starts. At that time people trek over 2 hours down to the river for bathing and washing clothes. Much of the villagers’ concern was with constructing a bigger storage tank. One lady commented, “Oh I am so upset when it rains and we can’t store excess water. Water overflows from the tank. In dry season, all we can do is think about how wonderful it would be if we could store water at that time.” Villagers discussed alternatives to storing water, including public storage and bigger ferro cement tanks.
Our next task was to conduct a household survey and collect water samples from the houses that were previously sampled during the last survey. We surveyed four households and collected five samples at Rupakot. People at each house reiterated the need for bigger water tanks. The tanks we surveyed still had water, though very little. Helvetas has constructed 6.5 m3 tanks. Our second destination was Chisapani, a further 30 minutes drive up from Rupakot.
I was amazed to see the steep roads that almost seemed like they would lead somewhere to the sky. At Chisapani, we started out with a household survey and water sampling. Interviews with the villagers revealed that they were excited about the rainwater harvesting system and equally voiced the necessity of a bigger water collection tanks. We surveyed two houses that were also included in the previous study. The chairman of rainwater user committee at Chisapani called in a focus group discussion in the evening. Even though the electricity went out, as part of the regular load shedding schedule, villagers came in for the meeting.
Villagers of Chisapani expressed that rainwater harvesting is a blessing to their village. Since there is not enough water even in the mul, the natural spring, rainwater harvesting is the best option available. They are living a life of comfort now as compared to earlier and they said that proper management of water is their aim and proper management depends on user management. The Chisapani had a problem that was different from the villagers at Rupakot. The people from the neighboring village would ‘steal’ water from their public natural tap. Water is that scarce around here. Villagers use a padlock at their tank and different houses in the village have together appointed a person to guard the water source at night.
Villagers expressed that they didn’t trust rainwater at first but now they think that it is the best option available for their remote village. They even said they were saving money on doko and namlo, the baskets
they used to carry water with from the traditional source to their houses.
Unlike a typical village, these villages lacked the younger generation. The majority of the households we visited had women, old people and younger children. The few young adults that we saw were mostly visiting their homes for a day or two before going back to Pokhara or beyond. Villagers voiced their concern saying that youngsters visiting their families in the village were not conscious of the importance of rainwater and they misuse water. This raises a serious question about who will remain in those villages in 20 years time?
“We had to wait in lines for the higher caste people to get water first.” I could sense the social discrimination based on caste system and Gurung people were not given privilege to collect water first. They had to use the larger public ponds.
We spent the night at Chisapani. It is an incredible experience to spend time with the villagers being a part of their everyday lives. We received one of the best hospitality that one can get in a Gurung village. On the second day, I woke up by the sound of rain splattering on the tin roof. Han then commented of how the villagers prayed the day before and it rained the next day!
We headed towards Thumki, the final destination of the field trip. Even though Gajendra Pun’s attempts to contact the president of the Rain Water Harvesting System of Thumki failed, he was able to get in touch with one of the villagers who relayed the message to the president.
So, our work in the village was much more than we had expected. The lady at the very first house we interviewed, was re-building her house when the rainwater harvesting systems were built 3 years before. Initially she made a temporary shed to put on the GI sheets that were to catch the
rain. Together with her husband she had re-fitted the gutter to the roof of her new home and fixed the
delivery pipe. She had to buy a length of extra HDP pipe to send the water to the tank. delivery and surveyed . She was happy and proud with her tank: “before the rainwater tank, my husband and I used to fetch water until 12 midnight and wake up at 4 am to get water because we wanted to avoid the rush of getting water at other times.”
The plight of people at Thumki was pretty much the same as the villagers at Rupakot and Chisapani. They said that they alternate between the pandhera and tank.
We asked only few people about their health, but comparatively, a higher number of villagers were found to be sick than in the other two villages. People said that they don’t filter or boil the water and believe that the diseases and health problems have declined since the installation of rainwater
harvesting system three years ago. Villagers at Thumki were found to be more satisfied with the rainwater harvesting system and two families said that the water from the tank is enough for their 3 member family. I observed that the water management system at Thumki was excellent; villagers using water from the pokhari, then pandhero, then the ferro cement tank. Villagers however expressed that they have less livestock now than before because there are not enough family members to help and it is difficult to store water for livestock.
During focus group discussion, people’s main concern was regarding the houses that were left out during rainwater harvesting system construction phase. People also requested to make RWH in public places including the club and the school. Villagers showed a great interest and concern in making another tank and are ready to donate money or labour. We recommended for reuse of water and encouraged youngsters to help the village.
What surprised me the most was how valuable water was in each village. Each tap in the ferrocement tank is equipped with a ‘lock-system’ in the tap, and villagers lock the tap when not in use. I was also impressed with the respect and concern that villagers showed to us. Villagers were so happy with rainwater harvesting system that they would respect us with garlands of flowers and the best food that they could give us. Our trip to these villages was a life changing experience for me as I realized that doing little things can bring smiles and so much relief to those villagers.
Written by: Kalpana Bhandari