Seventeen women are drawing water from a big well, while two elderly males look on! This is a scene from a picture printed on the first page of this daily the other day. Although a simple picture, it tells many things at the same time. Obviously, pictures are more powerful than words. First, it reflects how acute the drinking water shortage is in the Kathmandu Valley. Secondly, women are the ultimate sufferers of such a shortage. Thirdly, it tells how people are compelled to consume poor quality water of an uncovered well. It also reveals the deep-rooted gender discrimination prevalent in the Nepali society as no male is seen hauling water while even grey-haired women do the work with much difficulty. Acute shortage of drinking water has been one of the commonest problems in the valley for decades. It has become so acute that it has stopped making news, and the women have also stopped organising empty pitcher and vessel rallies in front of Singha Durbar asking the government to supply them adequate water. Scenes of women carrying empty vessels used to be frequent in the 1990s. The government has not been serious about addressing the problems of the people except for investing huge amounts of money in the never-to-be-realised Melamchi project.
With the long spell of drought coupled with the rising mercury across the country, collecting enough water to meet the minimum daily needs has been the greatest concern of the people not only in the Kathmandu Valley but also in the other towns in recent days. Many of the traditional water sources have dried up, forcing the people to find alternative sources. The underground water level has also gone down owing to the drought. When no water is trickling down from the paid taps at home even once a week, the women must rush to the wells or the stone waterspouts to fetch water. As getting water has been a Herculaen task, little attention is paid to the quality of the water. When people have to consume unhealthy water in the absence of quality water, many of them suffer from different water-borne diseases. There are already news reports of increasing number of cases of such diseases. In Kanthmandu, many people have to consume tanker-supplied water while a few well-to-do families buy bottled water for drinking and even cooking purpose, thanks to the booming mineral water industry in the country. Despite having to face an acute shortage of drinking water for years, the consumers have never launched any protest. Water supply has never been an issue for the power-centric political parties. Instead, the people have honestly been paying their bills for the water that hardly trickles down from their taps. The tolerance shown by the people has indeed been a bane to them while a boon to the government.