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Water Scarcity and Women’s Hardship
20 Apr 2018

Women fetching water from the well in ward no. 5, Vyas MunicipalityUrban growth is increasing rapidly in Vyas municipality as a result of the internal flow migration from the rural areas of the same district as well as neighboring districts in search of opportunities and amenities. The decadal comparison of 2011 and 2001 census shows that 52% of the total population and the 67.5% of the total households has increased in the city. This demographic transition puts severe pressure on water services. The growing interest by concerned authorities on safe drinking water to feed humanity has increased at global, national and local level. SDG 6 calls for ensuring access to water and sanitation for all “Clean accessible water for all is an essential part of the world we want to live in. There is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve this. But due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, every year millions of people, most of them children, die from disease associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation, and hygine.” According to Nepal’s SDG Baseline Report, 2017, basic water supply coverage in the country reached 87 percent of the population, and less than half (49.5 percent) of the households have access to piped water supply in 2015.

There are two major sources of water for Vyas municipality – River and spring. Madi River, a major source of drinking water for the urban wards, where water get lifted, filtered, treated and distributed through to the households whereas springs and wells are the major sources for rural wards.

Springs, wells, stream and lakes are alternate source of drinking, cooking, bathing, washing, watering and livestock feeding water. When municipal water gets disrupted people go to the nearby springs and wells to fetch water especially for drinking and cooking in both urban and periurban wards. If alternate sources get disrupted due to seasonal fluctuation and breakage of the pipeline, majority of the households practice curtail water use within the home, or shift to spring sources or use tanker water.

As in most areas, in Damauli too water collection work is mostly done by the women members of the family. It is only women are not present at home for some reasons then men take up this chore. While doing research here it was found that the general attitude is that water collection is the sole responsibility of women. This gender stereotype exists more in upper caste system then in lower caste. Main reason for this is the practical needs where women too are working in other sectors and many not get enough time to do all the water fetching chore. As a result, men too have to get involved in this chore.

Women struggling to access water from the well due to low level water in wared no. 8, Vyas Municipality Women face other challenges in this chore of their’s Mensuration taboo becomes a problem for women approaching water sources. When women are menstruating, they are not allowed to use alternate water sources – open water wells and springs – which are closer to the village, and are forced to travel to the closet river, regardless of whether it may be clean or dirty. Unhygienic water often affects their health, and young girls have to miss school to clean themselves when they are menstruating.

Easy access to water could ease the lives of these girls and women. I was agonized when an interviewee told me that she suffers the effects of water scarcity even when she has two wells near her house in Beluti Gaira, ward no. 8, Vyas. One of the wells is drying up, she said, while the water level in the other one is very low. As a result, women from the village have to wait in long lines beginning from early morning, to draw water from the well. The process of getting water is challenge, and actually getting the water is an achievement. If the women can’t get water from a particular well, they have to go to another village to get tap water for drinking and cooking. And then they walk again, to a nearby stream, to get water for bathing and washing. Situations like these make women’s lives harder, and they have to invest a lot of time and energy just collecting water as if this might be their sole responsibility.

It was observed that rural and urban women have their own difficulties in balancing the daily chores. Urban women fetch water, prepare meals, send their children to school, do the dishes, clean the house, etc. They obey their husbands and elders, serve them food, and help them with whatever they need at any given time. They come to their shops after finishing all their chores at home. They return home in the evening, and repeat some of the same chores. This is their daily routine. In rural areas women spend a significant amount of time feeding livestock. They also take full responsibility for taking care of the children, doing the dishes, cleaning, and cooking for their family members – similarly to the urban women. In addition to all this, they have to walk longer distances for their houses to fetch water.

Besides many water issues, a prominent gender gap I observed was that although women are doing the hard work to access water, very few are represented in CBOs that handle the water supply system in the area. The consequences of this is that women’s needs, interests are hardly ever considered when decisions are made about water management and distribution, which is also most commonly reflected in women’s work burden. Given this situation, the question is, Is it possible to achieve Goal 6 without achieving Goal 5 which calls for gender equality that is essential for achieving higher grade SDGs?