Despite technologies being available for treatment of wastewater, reuse of water is virtually negligible in Nepal. The lack of emphasis on wastewater treatment plants alongside a centralized sewer system, urban Kathmandu releases polluted and wastewater haphazardly into the rivers and streams.
As Kathmandu’s population has already crossed the mark of five million, with the population growth continuing, 10 million people will need water in the next decades. If the valley grows as haphazardly as ever, with no proper sewer system and other facilities, the future of Kathmandu, and similar cities, will only be bleak.
With a few treatment plants operational in their limited capacity, an overwhelming number of sewerage systems, which were built by the local communities with an aim just to connect their septic tank to sewer, have been releasing all the wastewater into the rivers of Kathmandu, turning them into open drains.
New Projects under PID
To look up to the future, some worthwhile projects are underway. The Kathmandu Valley Wastewater Management Project (KVWMP), with support from Asian Development Bank, is one of them. It is now working to improve the wastewater services in the valley.
“Kathmandu valley's waste water system will improve further as we have already collected the data of the sewer system and mapped it,” said Tej Raj Bhatta, director General of Department of Water Supply and Sanitation. “The process of rehabilitation and upgrade is already underway.”
With the objectives of rehabilitating and expanding the sewerage networks; modernizing, expanding, and constructing wastewater, supporting operational and financial improvements and capacity building, the project implementation directorate of Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Ltd (KUKL) has been at work on various aspects.
“We have already completed the tendering process of improvement of treatment plants including in places such as Guhyeshwori, Balkumari, Kodku and Dhobighat. We have already completed the survey work,” said Lila Prasad Dhakal, spokesperson of Project Implementation Directorate of Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Ltd. “Given the project is equipped with budget, we are ready to start all out waste treatment work in Kathmandu.”
“We have properly mapped the existing infrastructure modernization and expansion needs of the existing sewer systems in five municipalities, with the approximate location and length of the sewers, based on desktop analysis. We have base map of locations of existing sewer pipeline network, roads, and rivers,” said Dhakal.
According to KUKL, there are 1340 kilometers of sewer pipelines in five former municipalities, with 909 kilometer in Kathmandu, 245 kilometer in Lalitpur, 74 kilometer in Bhaktapur, 73 kilometer in Thimi and 39 kilometer in Kirtipur. They are just sewer lines of municipal areas.
Although Kathmandu has Waste Water Treatment Plants in five places with limited capacity, they are non-functional. “It is a harsh fact that all the treatment plants are not functional, except at Guhyeshwori at present,” said Ram Dip Sha, former Director General of Department Water Supply and Sanitation. In Kathmandu, 376 MLD of wastewater is produced every single day.
The treatment plants of Kodku, Guhyeswori, Hanumanghat, Dhobighat, Teku, Hanumansthan and Sallaghari do not have enough capacity to treat the wastewater -- their total capacity is 40 MLD. Among them, Guhyeswori's plant is the largest, it can treat 17.3 MLD and is functional. Besides that there are 43000 septic tanks in Kathmandu. All the wastewater is directly released to the rivers and streams.
“The waste water is polluting other fresh water and ground water sources as well. We need to manage the wastewater before the coming of the Melamchi water,” said Ganesh Sha, former minister of Environment and Science.
Wastewater Treatment Plant
Kathmandu Valley has gone through a phase of rapid and unplanned urbanization and industrialization. This demands adequate wastewater treatment infrastructure.
Of the five, the only wastewater treatment plant in operation as of January 2003 is the activated sludge system at Guhyeshwori. Whether it is the sludge plant at Guhyeshwori, or the non-aerated lagoons of Kodku and Dhobighat, and aerated lagoons of Sallaghari and Hanumanghat, the plants should have been serving the purpose for which they were built.
The Kodku WWTP lies along the Bagmati River in the city of Patan. The Kodku plant is a non-aerated lagoon facility, with a design capacity of 1.1 MLD.
For the pump station at Sundarighat, the pump's mains and interceptors along the Bagmati and Bishnumati Rivers are all broken in places, so untreated wastewater drains directly into the rivers.
Foe Sallaghari and Hanumanghat WWTP’s, both lie along the Hanumante River in Bhaktapur, upstream from its junction with the Bagmati River near Kodku. These treatment facilities were designed as aerated lagoons, with capacities of 2.0 and 0.5 MLD, respectively.
Hanumanghat and Sallagharui treatment plants were set up in 1975 and 1983 respectively, with support from GTZ. Established in 1982 with the support from IDA, Dhobighat and Kodku plants were larger but non-functional. Operated by Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Ltd, these projects are currently under the state of maintenance and expansion.
Established in 2002 and run by High Powered Committee for Integrated Development, HPCIDC, Guhyeshwori WWTP with capacity of 16.4 MLD is now functional.
Improvement of wastewater systems is urgently needed in Kathmandu Valley because it is currently suffering from the lack of properly functioning sewerage systems.
WWTPs will be constructed and rehabilitated at five of the existing sites and the sewerage network improved and expanded.
Domestic sources contribute the majority of pollution to the rivers of Kathmandu Valley. Industrial waste is not bigger. Currently the largest industry in Kathmandu is the carpet manufacturing industry.
The process of carpet manufacturing involves several steps, but those that are potentially the most damaging to the environment are the carpet dyeing and carpet washing steps.
Along with centralized treatment system, Decentralized Wastewater Treatment System (DEWATS) are also treating small volumes of wastewater in Kathmandu Valley. DEWATS generally treats domestic wastewater originating from individual or group of dwellings, businesses or institutions that are located in close proximity to each other and the DEWATS site.
The size of a DEWATS can range from individual onsite systems that serve one household or institution; to shared facilities that serve up to ten households or public/community facilities serving up to 2000 households.
According to Environment & Public Health Organization (ENPHO), over 74 small-scale wastewater treatment is currently being run by hospitals. Dhulikhel Hospital has been operating it since 1997.
Not only the rivers of Kathmandu, major rivers in Nepal have become sewage discharge sites for municipal wastewater and industrial dumping grounds for local businesses as no other means of disposal are available.
Following the launching of Clean Bagmati campaign, the quality of water has drastically improved and, now, one can even see birds on the river sides. However, there is a rampant discharge of sewer here and there in other rivers of Nepal.
Common waste management practice in Nepal involves discharging of untreated sewage, domestic waste, industrial waste and municipal waste into aquatic environments without proper treatment.
It is a regular practice in Nepal to discharge wastewater in streams, lakes and rivers that are close to the community or urban center. The discharge of wastewater depends essentially on rate of water supply and consumption by residential households, restaurants, hotels, markets, institutions, hospitals, industries and commercial complexes.
Sewage is correctly a subset of wastewater that is contaminated with feces or urine. Discharging the polluted wastewater in water sources turns them into open sewers. As a result, pollution of the rivers is more severe and critical near urban stretches.
Major rivers flowing via Kathmandu Valley are deeply polluted and consequently infected by a variety of pathogens. Unplanned urbanization and industrialization are worsening the situation by the day. Most of the municipals are using on-site sanitation services, including pit latrines, septic tanks and pour flush toilets.
According to a study of WaterAid Nepal, only twelve percent of urban households, mainly in Kathmandu Valley, are connected to the sewer system. The wastewater of all kinds including grey water, land fill leachate and septage of septic tanks is released straight into Bagmati, Bishnumati and Dhobikhola, with no proper treatment through sewer system in Kathmandu valley.
The industries producing significant amount of wastewater in the country include brewery, distillery, cigarette, tobacco, cement, iron, steel, rosin, turpentine, soap, oil, ghee, jute, paper, sugar and leather industries. A total of 4500 industrial units of different sizes is estimated to be operating in different parts of the country and the concentration of industries is large in Kathmandu Valley and some urban centers (Birgunj, Biratnagar, Bharatpur, Butwal and Bhairahawa) in Terai-Madhesh).
Impacts of Waste Water
One in five newborn deaths in Nepal could be prevented with safe water, sanitation and clean hands. According WaterAid Nepal, 2,500 new-born babies died from sepsis, tetanus and other infections linked to dirty water and lack of hygiene in 2013 alone.
A World Health Organization report, 'Water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities: status in low and middle income countries and way forward', shows that across the developing world, access to water in healthcare facilities is as low as 20% - as is the case in Mali. The first survey of its kind, it also shows that in the 54 developing countries studied 19% of healthcare facilities do not have basic toilets. Over one-third (35%) of hospitals and clinics did not have anywhere for staff or patients to wash their hands with soap.
In Nepal over one in six (16%) hospitals and clinics did not have access to clean water and nearly a third (29%) did not have safe toilets. Eight out of ten (81%) did not have anywhere to wash hands with soap.
“Water, sanitation and hygiene related ailments and diseases still fall under the 10 most prevalent diseases in Nepal."
Access to safe and affordable water and sanitation can ensure child health and contribute to the overall wellbeing of a child, thus it is urgent that we take collective action.
“Water safety and quality are fundamental to human development and well-being. World Water Day reminds us of its importance," said Bhim Prasad Upadhyaya, secretary at the Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation. Although access to safe water is one of the most effective instruments in promoting health and reducing poverty, Nepal’s overall scenario remains bleak.
According to a study by World Health Organization (WHO), a significant amount of diseases could be prevented through access to safe water supply, adequate sanitation services and better hygiene practices.
Over 8000 children die in Nepal due to diarrheal disease and it is responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million people every year.
It is estimated that 58% of that burden, or 842 000 deaths per year, is attributable to unsafe water supply, sanitation and hygiene and includes 361 000 deaths of children under age five, mostly in low-income countries. Adequate WASH plays a key role in preventing many more diseases, improving nutritional outcomes and for the provision of quality care in healthcare settings.
Safely managed sanitation and safe wastewater treatment and reuse are fundamental to protect public health. WHO is leading efforts to monitor the global burden of sanitation related disease and access to safely managed sanitation and safely treated wastewater under the Sustainable Development agenda. WHO also monitors factors that enable or hinder progress towards these targets.
WHO supports implementation by promoting risk assessment and management in normative guidelines and tools and collaborates with partners in other health initiatives such as; neglected tropical diseases, nutrition, infection prevention and control and antimicrobial resistance to maximize health benefits of sanitation interventions.As countries like Singapore, which turns wastewater to drinking water, and Israel, which is a pioneer to turn wastewater into irrigation water for increasing food productivity, are there for everyone to see, Nepal can also make these types of change in thinking and action possible. As Nepal celebrated the World Water Day with the slogan 'Why Waste Water', the time has come to show there is no reaso