SmartPaani @ Dharan

Himalayan Consensus SummitBlog3 Comments

‘We need water during the dry season and it doesn’t rain then. We have enough water supply during the monsoon. What to do with excess rainwater?’ Participants at ‘SmartPaani at Dharan’ client interaction echoed what I have been questioned in Kathmandu as well. It was amazing to note similar perception being reflected in Dharan. I slowly attempted to deconstruct and make the audience realize, rainfall is not about just the 3 monsoon months. Harvesting and using rainwater is a good thing to do.

Dharan, the beautiful city of Eastern Nepal with temperate climate found its first human settlement circa 1890s. The Government declared it to be a municipal town in 1960 as more people started to migrate after the British Gorkha Recruit Center was established in 1953. The British influence left an indelible mark as its inhabitants still maintain clean surroundings, decorated houses with space for courtyard or lawn and wide roads. More so, the remittance sent by Nepali soldiers serving with the British army buoyed the local economy. It was a bustling and thriving town in the 1980s and 1990s and British run Ghopa camp served as an example of efficient medical hospital of high standards.

With recent declaration of Dharan being a Sub-Metropolitan city, there are now 28 wards up from 19 increasing the population to 1,46,000. The city inhabitants are wary of how they build their structures, learning from the devastating earthquake of 1988 that apart from inflicting human casualties and injuries, left over 2500 houses destroyed (NSET). The local municipality is credited to implementing strict rules of constructing new houses and buildings while offering 40% rebate on taxes for adopting Green Homes technologies that includes rainwater harvesting.

With over 900 building permit passed every year and population growing at 2.2% (CBS), Dharan is rapidly growing and developing. However, it is putting strain on essential supplies. Water, earlier found in abundance, has dwindled to alternate day supply for the household with institutions like hotels needing to resort to tanker water supply.

‘We never had water problems earlier. There is no underground tank for storing water. Nowadays, water is not clean, especially during monsoon when the water supply is largely white in color. Most of the houses now buy filter water bottles for drinking and have a table top water filter.’ As I urged the participants to discuss their problems, responses as above found a common voice. It appeared as if they had never realized there was a problem at hand that was compounding at an exponential rate.

Dharan receives over 2000 mm of rain every year (average – 5 years, Department of Hydrology and Meteorology). A household having a roof of 100 sq. meter could trap 200,000 liters of rainwater of which 160,000 liters can be used. For a family of four using 100 liters per person per day can theoretically live off rainwater throughout the year.

Of course, rain is not evenly spread throughout the year. If we look at the rainfall data below, we can observe June to September are monsoon months with spillover in October. The interesting observation is that the so called driest months of April and May can provide 23,000 liters of water (100 sqm roof). If an average of 500 liters per day per family of four is used, these two months can provide water for 46 days!

Average Rainfall of 5 years – 2010-2014Department of Hydrology and Meteorology  (data in mm)
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2.8 9.5 6.1 74.2 155.9 327.2 501.9 472.4 351.7 104.2 9.9 0.2

‘This was never told to us. You have opened our eyes. Water is life, we must conserve and use rainwater as much as possible. You must come again to share this; we will bring more people to such programs. We shall start a campaign.’ It was pleasant to receive such feedback at the end of the program as we wrapped up with similar facts, stories, examples and trends in other countries.

The participants were pleasantly surprised that SmartPaani has a branch office in Dharan and affordable installations backed up by regular maintenance service was readily available. The challenging part has been to understand the existence of perception in Dharan, like in other locations, as to how ill-informed people are about rainwater harvesting. The joy has been to appreciate it, make effort to change it and to see people adopting rainwater harvesting to store, use and recycle.

– Suman Shakya

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