It is clear that the city of Kathmandu cannot depend upon drinking water ferried on fossil fuel tankers, although the current government has embraced this model as a permanent one. Not only do the millions of trips made per month foul the already polluted air, it also adds hugely to poor people’s water and health bills.
Nepal Parliament must pass a resolution which makes it mandatory for landlords to provide water to residents before they rent a room. In Kathmandu, landlords are rapidly putting up buildings with no running water, kitchen, toilets or electricity provided. These rooms are rented from Rs.5000 to Rs.10,000 each. The women renting them are often single mothers whose husbands are in the Gulf. The women manage their finances and run their household by holding down small jobs. They do domestic work, construction, laundry and other part-time work while taking care of school-going children. Trying to source water from tankers or plastic canisters can be a serious burden on women who are already overworked with loans, housework, cooking, laundry and care responsibilities.
It is unethical and wrong of rich landlords to force poor single mothers to carry canisters of water five floors up to their rooms. Often the landlord hasn’t provided water not because they don’t have the money—these businessmen own multiple buildings and are cashing in lakhs in monthly rent --but because they believe their tenants are from the villages and therefore can manage without running water. A pump may be provided in the yard which pumps up groundwater. These water sources are inadequate or they do not provide clean water. Tenements of this nature have sprung up freely without government regulation and control all over Kathmandu and other cities of Nepal since the Loktantric government came to power.
The government does the hardworking citizens of Nepal a disservice if they don’t put regulations in place which ensures no ghaderi or apartment building can be rented out till the landlord has put in essentials, including a water-harvesting system, toilets with adequate water, electricity connection, and gas canisters, in place. Any building with more than 3 rental families should be legally mandated to have a water harvesting system with a filter in place. The government must sent a health inspector to ensure such a system is in place before they give permission to rent. The government must also provide training to ward offices to install these systems in a cost-effective manner, with a technical team in place to deal with maintenance issues.
A Housing Agency which keeps track of all tenants in Kathmandu, along with a database of landlords, must be created. This ensures that the government can keep track of water harvesting compliance. Any complaints about toilets, electricity etc should also be addressed through the agency, which should act as a mediator between landlords and tenants. Tenants are at the mercy of landlords at the moment. They have no recourse to justice and are living in what in Western countries are 19th century tenement style buildings with very poor infrastructure. As with the past, these conditions are not inevitable, but a consequence of greed by those who are setting up large buildings with the explicit intention of cramming as many tenants as possible into small spaces while providing them with the least number of amenities.
This kind of exploitative business model is unacceptable in a democratic system where citizens have rights, including rights to safe housing, clean water, and human dignity.
By 2025, all water in Kathmandu should come from water harvesting systems and revival of traditional gravity-fueled wells. Fossil fueled water tankers must be phased out. Not only are we losing huge amounts of foreign currency earned abroad on ferrying water into the cities, we are also giving this money right back to the oil-rich Gulf states where our citizens are currently working in near bonded conditions, and to India which continues to control Nepal’s economy with a vice-like grip.