Learning from the challenges of the Melamchi water supply in Kathmandu

Nepal has 2.7% of the earth’s freshwater, yet the people of Kathmandu, Nepal’s most developed region, struggle with scarce water supply. Rapid urbanization, overpopulation, and overexploitation of groundwater reserves have led to water scarcity in the Kathmandu Valley. To meet the water demands of the region, the government initiated the Melamchi Water Supply project (MWSP) in November 2001. The completion of the project would guarantee the water security and well-being of 180,000 households in the region. However, even after almost 18 years from the commencement of the project, the estimated deadline continues to extend and the project is still ongoing. The project has been receiving financial support from international organizations and has engaged international contractors to complete the project. However, retraction of some of the financiers, mismanagement by the government and the contractors, natural disasters, and resignation of the project contractor have slowed down project development. As of February 2019, about 80% of Subproject 1 was finished with the completion of the 27.7-kilometer (km) tunnel excavation. Subproject 2 has been completed since 2017 after the laying out of 9.5 km transmission pipes throughout the valley and management of the water and sewage systems. However, with the resignation of the Italian contractor Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna, the project has come to a halt and bidding has been open for new contractors since May 2019 to complete the remaining works. The extension of the project has not only prolonged the inconvenience for the people and decreased their productivity but it has also resulted in the loss of faith of the Nepalese people in their government.