Strengthening Water Security, Building Climate Resilience, and Changing Lives in Nepal

Durga Khatri cultivates beans and green vegetables in her kitchen garden in Naulakot, a village in Nepal's Kailali district. Photo credit: Pralhad Gairapipli/USAID Karnali Water Activity

Rich in water resources from rivers originating in the Himalayas, Nepal is a country intimately familiar with water issues. This has been particularly true in recent years, as climate change has tightened its grip across South Asia, increasing the intensity, duration, and frequency of droughts and floods and jeopardizing the water security of households across the country.

USAID is supporting the Government of Nepal to ensure safe drinking water access for all of its citizens, by partnering with local organizations, government agencies, and communities to help deliver safely managed water and sanitation services to tens of thousands of Nepalese still lacking adequate access. USAID Karnali Water Activity has been helping to drive those efforts, installing solar-powered lifting and gravity flow water infrastructure to deliver greater water security, improve quality of life, and enhance climate resilience for residents living throughout the country’s Karnali River basin.

So what does this program look like in action?

“Every drop counts”

For Karishma, fetching water from a nearby tap is easier and more convenient than from a spring source outside her village.
Photo credit: Pralhad Gairapipli/2024

Like similar remote communities throughout the country, Naulakot village in Nepal’s Kailali district struggles to navigate the monsoon season and suffers from limited access to fresh water. However, with recent efforts by the Karnali Water activity and local government to install a solar water lifting station, now there is one tap per house in the community, as well as in the school. “The village has undergone significant changes,” says Shanti Khadka, a local school teacher. “This program has made a big difference for everyone, but especially for the children in their education, allowing more time for study and self-care.”

Improved water access has also translated to far less time spent retrieving water from outside the village. "Fetching water was tough,” remembers Karishma, who used to obtain water from a spring source downhill from the village. “I spent a lot of time on it, and maintaining personal hygiene — especially during menstruation — was a real challenge." With water now available in the village, her mother Sunita says she is “so hopeful about Karishma's future now. With improved access to water, she can focus more on her studies and pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.” Karishma, for her part, is ready. "I now have more time for my studies and can focus on my dream of helping others,” she says. “Water has made everything better."     

With village water users, the local sanitation committee, and government officials all participating in tasks and transporting construction materials, well-maintained toilets located at households’ doorsteps have eliminated the need for open defecation. Additionally, a growing embrace of water conservation and reuse has allowed more sustainable agricultural practices to take root and improve community resilience. “Every drop counts,” says Durga Khatri, who cultivates beans and green vegetables in her kitchen garden.

Sangita’s journey

Sangita and her sister-in-law are working to fill the water pots at their home in Pokharikanda. Many households in her village used to spend hours each day fetching water. Now they have a solar-lifting water supply system due to the USAID Karnali Water Activity and its partnership with the local government.
Photo credit: Pralhad Gairapipli/USAID Karnali Water Activity

Elsewhere in the Karnali River basin, in the hilly village of Pokharikanda in Surkhet, 14-year-old Sangita would wake up early every morning to trek one kilometer to fetch water from a well — spending an average of two hours each morning on the roundtrip journey — while other families in her community trekked up to three kilometers along a similar route.

Sometimes, in the dry season, there was no water. “We couldn't study or finish homework because we spent a lot of time getting water,” remembers Sangita, who dreams of becoming a teacher.

Thanks to a new double-stage solar-lifting water system installed in just seven months with the support of USAID — and now looked after by a cadre of newly trained local maintenance workers — the community can use water at home for drinking, gardening, and other purposes. “I hope we can pass on this water system to the next generation and improve our lives,” says Gopal Buda, chairperson of the Water Users and Sanitation Committee. “Youth participation and unity are our strengths.”

For Sangita, improved water access has also allowed her to live a healthier, easier life. “Having access to enough water, I can now take a regular bath,” she says. “Even during menstruation, we faced a lot of difficulty maintaining proper hygiene due to the lack of adequate water. However, we are now fully relieved of all these challenges.” Each morning she now diligently completes household chores, prepares meals, and ensures her younger sister is ready for school. “All the residents, particularly senior citizens, women, and children, are very happy,” she adds. “I am the happiest one because I no longer need to worry about water and can use this time for studying, playing and other activities.”

A tale of water scarcity, migration, and community resilience

Jogiram Buda Chhetri fills a water container outside his house in Bijulekh village. Jogiram normally migrates to a nearby city during the dry season since his village had no water for part of the year. Now the village has a new solar-lift water supply and sanitation system and homes have a water tap, supported by the USAID Karnali Water Activity and managed by the Water Users and Sanitation Committee.
Photo credit: USAID Karnali Water (2024)

In one Karnali River basin community, Bijulekh village, water scarcity had grown so acute over the years that more than 20 households migrated annually in search of greater water security, causing considerable hardship for residents. 

Today, however, villagers have access to a reliable and safe water supply thanks to the installation of a new solar-lift water supply and sanitation system supported by the Karnali Water activity and managed by Bijulekh’s Water Users and Sanitation Committee. The system relies on solar-powered pumps to transport water from the river to local reservoirs, from which it is subsequently pumped to reach water users throughout the village — a total journey of 400 vertical meters from source to end users. All households also now sport tap connections to further facilitate water access.

The impact of these changes has been felt immediately. “It's like a blessing,” says Golma Devi Buda Chhetri, a 57-year-old resident who has been coping with water scarcity for more than 40 years. “This year, not a single family had to leave,” adds Jogiram Buda Chhetri, Golma’s husband. “It brought stability to our lives.” 

As a result, the annual rite of water-induced migration has quickly evaporated into the village’s past. In turn, the community is now able to allocate more time to kitchen gardening and wastewater management, which have improved livelihoods, increased public health, and allowed children to reach school on time.

As in other Karnali River basin communities, Bijulekh’s water supply upgrades were made possible in part by local residents, who used their skills as masons, pipefitters, and construction workers to support the project. To date, the improvements have transformed the lives of 230 residents, who take pride in maintaining the new infrastructure. The community has even demonstrated its commitment by supporting the project financially, providing in-kind contributions to cover 16 percent of the water plant’s total cost, with the municipality covering an additional 40 percent of costs, amounting to nearly $96,000.

A brighter, more water-secure future beckons in the Karnali River valley 

By 2027, USAID/Nepal seeks to build the capacity of 50 water and sanitation-related institutions, extend access to safely managed sanitation to more than 16,000 people, and improve access to basic water services for 75,500 people. USAID Karnali Water’s efforts in Naulakot, Pokharikanda, Bijulekh, and beyond, is driving progress in pursuit of those goals: As of late 2023, the activity has strengthened water security in 64 communities throughout the Karnali river basin, reaching more than 12,850 residents with a sustainable, improved drinking water facility at their doorsteps to promote hygienic and healthy lifestyles and prevent communities from deadly water borne diseases.

And Karnali Water is just getting started.

“It feels like a dream,” says 17-year-old Bijulekh resident Pabrita Budha. “We never thought all the households would have tap connections.”

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