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11 Apr 2016 | Gender in Koshi

Water, Women and Livelihood Improvement

Munny Pradhan, Research Associate & Nepal Water Conservation Foundation (NWCF)

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Women discuss ponds and spring in Daraune Pokhari, Kavre Photo: Munny Pradhan

Water is the lifeblood of every household in Nepal’s middle hills, but accessing it is a challenge. Hill hamlets depend on spring water for critical purposes such as drinking, irrigation, livestock farming, sanitation, and other household chores. Often, women bear the major brunt of these activities, often more than the men in the community.

Rajina Adhikari of Daraune Pokhari in Kavre District says her community is increasingly stressed with the growing problem of water scarcity in the area. Without water, she says, it’s impossible to feed her family, keep livestock, and irrigate her farmland. However, in recent years, local springs have increasingly become dry. The fact that water is decreasing frightens Rajina.

Ranjana Adhikari, an assistant in the community health post, also sees the importance in water. She correlates access to water with health and sanitation conditions during pregnancy and the months that follow childbirth. Women who carry water over long distances, she says, usually have poorer health than those women who do not.
Increasingly, women like Rajina and Ranjana believe that water availability is linked to larger processes. According to Sharmila Adhikari, a member of the Daraune Pokhari’s water use committee, community members see local pond rehabilitation as linked to the revival of springs. She is optimistic that if enough of the area’s pond are revived, livelihood opportunities in the village will be enough to support the community — enough that she and her family will not be forced to migrate out of Daraune Pokhari.

Women in Daraune Pokhari have shifted from traditional subsistence agriculture to modern commercial farming because of the increased availability of water from the recharge pond they had constructed in Barbote, Dapcha, Kavre one and half years back, says Ramila Adhikari, a local school teacher. They have understood the science of ground water recharge in their real life by the “learning by doing” approach. The ponds, which accumulate groundwater in the storage nooks and crannies within the mountain in the peak monsoon time and gradual release through percolation into the springs in the post-monsoon dry season, have helped to increase soil moisture during pre-monsoon leading to more fodder for cattle.  It has resulted in the retention of soil water for about three months more beyond the monsoon period. Discharge from monitored springs in the area has also increased visibly, which has created a glimmer of hope in the community.

Secure water availability also means that women in rural communities are now in a better position to make independent decisions, a trend which will hopefully increase over time. Potemaya Tamang, a member of the local mother’s group, expressed the view that the involvement of women in agri-business has helped her to earn more income for her family. She enjoys a certain economic independence, in contrast to her previous situation, where she was solely dependent on her husband. She smiled with pride and said that she was happy to be able to fulfill the small demands of her children, like buying biscuits, toys, stationery, and accessories without having to get permission from her husband.
Saraswoti Bhetwal, president of Panchkhal’s Thuliko Community Forest users’ group in Kavre, agrees. She says that access to water helps her to accomplish daily household chores in less time than before. This saving in time allows her to also  help their husbands in other chores, which means that men in the community also have more time saved. This saving in time and labour has allowed her to spend more quality time with children and family.

There is a link between access to water and women’s welfare in a community. The impact on livelihoods and quality of life in the hamlets of Nepal’s middle hills of Nepal as a result of  pond recharge and spring revival — a low-tech but sustainable approach — could be immense. The challenge is to upscale this learning to a mass level in new areas of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.

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