Water and women-the secret weapon


Water and women- the secret weapon in the battle against climate change in Nepal

Dr. Sunita Sharma


We are in the midway of sustainable development goals- 2030 the effects of climate on water and the ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change, are mediated by social factors, including gender. This article demonstrates the interrelation between climate change, water, and women. It documents evidence for gender differences in accessing and use of water that is likely to be exacerbated by climate change, and the stress created on poor women. This article focuses on the women who live with the water stress every day, women who face the harsh cycle of unprecedented floods and landslides, washing away their livelihood, and then suck their crops dry again because of drought, compromising the basic hygiene and food, loaded with works, deprive of food and nutrition and suffer from various types stresses. It also summarizes the vital nexus among women’s coping and adapting of water stress and the relation of this to their life and livelihood in the climate change context. The effects of climate on human society, and our ability to mitigate and adapt to them, are mediated by social factors, including gender. This study provides a first review of the interactions between climate change, gender, and water. It documents evidence for gender differences in health risks that are likely to be exacerbated by climate change, and in adaptation and mitigation measures that can help to protect and promote health.



Climate change impacts have a direct consequence for water security. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) alerted the global community to the great vulnerability of freshwater resources as a result of climate change. A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute found that 4.8 billion people – more than half the world’s population – and approximately half of global grain production will be at risk due to water stress by 2050 if business-as-usual persists (Nature), Nov, 2015)


Nepal is considered as one of the hot spots for negative effects of climate change. According to the report of Nepal Adaptation Plan for Action 2010, Nepal falls on 4th most vulnerable country in the world in terms of negative effects of climate change. Vulnerability is even more among the special groups of people especially poor women because of its geography, poor physical infrastructure and the low level of development of its social sectors. Disasters events specially flood in the lowland areas and landslides and drought in hill and mountainous areas adding furthers vulnerabilities to these groups. This study was conducted in eight most climate vulnerable districts in Nepal identified by NAPA.


In Nepal, flood landslide and drought are commonly related with extreme weather events specifically precipitation pattern and the frequency. However, there are some not climatic factors as well to contribute to the hazards/events but this section focusses mostly with the climate associated stresses which has direct and indirect impacts on the health of poor women. This section also illustrates that in which way the hazards mentioned above are execrated by the climate change. According to the national disaster response framework of ministry of home affair of Nepal, flood is prioritized as second most serious hazard in Nepal after earthquake and many of the mitigation and preparedness plans are developed and implemented around flood.


Literature review

Water connects us in the most fundamental way. We cannot survive without it. Moreover, water is intrinsically linked to the most immediate challenges we face today, including food security, health, climate change, economic growth, and a key element of Sustainable Development Goal 2030. Today, one of the largest concerns around the world is the lack of freshwater for drinking and cooking.

The importance of involving both women and men in the management of water and sanitation and access-related questions has been recognized at the global level, starting from the 1977 United Nations Water Conference at Mar del Plata, the International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade (1981-90) and the International Conference on Water and the Environment in Dublin (January 1992), which explicitly recognizes the central role of women in the provision, management and safeguarding of water. Promoting “gender equity” is included as one of the 17 goals of sustainable development goal- 2030. Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral to each of the 17 goals. It has been recognized that without harnessing the talents, human capital and economic potential of women, the overall goal will not be met.

Men and women have different uses for water, a reflection of their roles in the household and more broadly, the economy. Women face disproportionate challenges in accessing water supply and sanitation services. Women and girls spend more time than men in water collection, a burden that restricts them from participating in other productive activities.

It is documented that women are more vulnerable than men, not critically because they represent the world's poor but because technologies are not gender neutral (NAPA, 2010). Women and girls spend more time than men in water collection, a burden that restricts them from participating in other productive activities. Ensuring equitable access to convenient water sources can reduce women’s work load, and help free up time for agriculture, other economic activities, and improve girls’ school attendance.50-500 million people facing severe water shortages by 2020 (Upreti, 2012).

In fact, during natural disasters, often more women die than men because they are not warned, cannot swim or cannot leave the house alone (Society for International Development, 2018). This means that they are less able to mobilize resources, will be more likely to be overrepresented in the unemployed following a disaster, and are overburdened with domestic responsibilities leaving them with less freedom to pursue sources of income. In addition to these issues, women are often the victims of domestic and sexual violence following a natural disaster. (Society for International Development, 2018)

Walking long distances to fetch water and fuel can expose women and girls to harassment or sexual assault, especially in areas of conflict. There are many accounts of women and girls being attacked when searching for water and kindling in refugee camps around Darfur (Medicine Sans Frontireres (MSF), 2011). In the mid and far western regions of Nepal, undue practice of Chhupadi (Menstruation) is common. During the menstruation period, women are kept in cow sheds and they are not given to drink milk, eat nutritious food and even not allowed to use taps and wells (Adhikari, 2012). Lack of access to water points contribute to poor hygiene practices during menstruation and later on result to infections of genital organs and many other complications. Many studies have proved that poor menstrual hygiene is one to the cause of uterine cancer. So, it is hard to benefit women from water supply. Issue of menstrual hygiene are terrible not only from health perspective but from dignity of humanitarian perspective


Perceived effect of climate change in Nepal

Most of the participants in the village feel that rainfall pattern has been changed. Water level in springs, rivers and hand pumps is reduced. Similarly, people in terai region mentioned that the intensity of the rainfall is high but the frequency is less. During the focus group discussion people in all the study areas of terai mentioned that they used to have rainfall in fix time (July –September). But now a days there is no certainty, sometimes it is in June and sometime in October, sometime they have to plant the paddy for two their times and we don’t grow the paddy at all. For two years we are not able to grow our winter crops have because of no rain in winter” Said - Renu Kumari Ram, Community Facilitator of Hanumannagr in Saptari district.


Similarly, in the Chure area and mid hill areas people perceives that their water sources are drying year by year and there is either heavy rain in monsoon and they face flash flood which results in damage of crop and water system and in winter there is less or no rain so all the they could not grow winter crop and have to live with water stress since water systems get dried. Respondents from all study sites specially hill and chure areas reported that they are living with water stress throughout the year. Per capita average water use per day per day in this area is: 15-20 liters in rainy season and 5-10 liters in winter/ dry season). More severe situation is there in the cities and semi urban areas. Residence of all four municipality (Baglung Kathmandu Lalitpur and Kirtipur) reported that they are force to manage their living with 5 liters of water per person per day in average. Majority (80%) of respondents   in the cities were renters. On the other hand, low land areas people are forced to use contaminated water during monsoon either or they have walked some 500 meters to get the safe water from raised hand pump around, 90 households have to share a single tube well. Drought has reduced the water level in the well to the extent that residents are forced to drink poor quality water from a surface well one hour away from the village


Economic Impact

According to the findings, people in the cities are paying around 3000 rupees per month to buy water. According to them the water supply managed by Kathmandu Upathayka Khanepani Limited is not regular. In dry season supply is only once in week where during monsoon supply is twice a week. Women specially staying in rent go far away (1 km in average) to collect the water from Dhungedhara (Stone spout). Many times, they lose their daily wage as they have to spend half a day to fetch the water.

Similar experiences were shared by the women of Chure and hill districts. They stated that they have to carry water some 2 kilometer far source especially in dry season. All kind of their livelihood (agriculture, vegetable farming and livestock keeping) is being impaired day by as a result of scarce water.

Health Impact-General

People mentioned that mosquito breeding, emergence of new pest and diarrheal diseases, especially among the children are key public health concerns. From the observation we found that pit latrines were the main breeding places for mosquitoes in dry areas. People especially in hill district and Kathamndu valley mentioned that malaria is emerging disease in the area, which was not there some 8-10 years before. Hygiene practice especially hand washing with soap is very poor in these communities. “We cannot afford water for hand washing with soap, if all the family members wash hand with water, 2 Gagries (40 liters) of water is required, we only wash the hand after defecation, otherwise, we never wash the hand with soap and water” said Sushila Shapkota, KI of Baglung

Dilmaya Pariyar(50yrs) residence of Gaidatar village of Routahat said that she recently had removed her prolapsed uterus (hysterectomy) through the donation of women activist. She is the mother of 5 children and all the children were born at home. Her husband has passed away some 10 years ago. Since then her work load has been doubled, she doesn’t have the land so her source of income is wage labor. She normally works for 18 hours a day and seems very pale (severely mal nourished). According to her most of the time she needs to compromise food

Apart from direct impact on health and diseases, climate change has been affecting the livelihood of people, especially the women, which is strongly linked with the health, wellbeing and dignity of women. However, the data related to malnutrition was not available most of women in the area seems anemic (pale). It can be related to less food intake or worm infestation. Diarrhea is frequently occurring disease event in all communities. Uterine prolapsed is second prominent health problem among women.

Specific Impact on Women

The increased physical as well as mental stress of women was mainly related to scarce water in the study area. Women generally work 18 hours in a day. The hardest work they frequently mentioned was the long-distanced water point; about one-hour walking distance in summer and around two hours in winter. Some young women and girls feel insecure to go to Jangle to collect water when the nearby water points get dried in winter.  “If you will support us to have sufficient water in this area, we shall consider you as a god-said-Sarswoti Pariyar”

 According to Dhan Parasad Sapkota, KI and social activist of Gaidatar, women are solely responsible for all water related business. Men just enjoy the water by using (bathing and maintaining personal hygiene). He further mentioned that in life time had had never and ever collected water from the source. Out of 150 women interacted through focus group, 31 found with some level of uterus prolapsed. According to the key informant, one out of 10 women in the village have some degree of Uterine prolapsed. In the discussion women mentioned that the reason behind this problem is due to carrying of heavy loads (specially water and fodder).

Ranjita yadav, 20 yrs., wife of Abadh yedav, last year missed her fetus inside of her womb. Village was inundated with water. She had a severe labor pain. Villagers were trying to take her to the hospital. They called the ambulance driver but he rejected to tome to the village. People did not have other means to take her to hospital. Ranjita had to fight with her life for almost two days. At the end she had to deliver a dead fetus.

In the summer we sometime have to wake up at 2. o’clock at mid night to fetch the water since we have to go far (at least two hours walking) to collect the water-. Said Tirtha Kumari Phuyal. This makes life particularly difficult for that livelihood is dependent on water. As we need water for 24 hours, we need to appoint one person to collect water for the whole day." Similar stories revealed from Setiveer village in Sarlahi district, as they are living with drought for around 4- 5 months in a year Sometimes, they have to spend half a day to collect water. To save the time women usually carries two-three water pots (around 40 liter) at a time. “It is quite heavy but I don’t want to spend half a day just to collect water”, Sarita Banjan from Setiver village, Sarlahi expressed her woe.  Despite their dream many girls are missing their school either permanently or temporarily.

On the other hand, too much water is causing distress among the women in the low land areas. Rajodevi Shah, 24yeras pregnant months from Routahat said, women in the river basic on Rato river do not sleep for several nights during the rainy season, as thy expect flash flood anytime and get their house inundated, we got stock at home for several week, with no access to the market and heal facilities as road are completely blocked. Men can swim and go away but women remained home, protecting assets and children while the house are inundated with water. Main problem for women during flood if defecation. Whole day they women in low land areas during the monsoon used to be busy to remove the inundated water from house. They have two raised hand pumps. Women are solely responsible to collect the water from HP some 500 meter

Similar case happened for Budhiya Khatun. Main problem for women during flood if defecation. Whole day they women in low land areas during the monsoon used to be busy to remove the inundated water from house. They have two raised hand pumps. Women are solely responsible to collect the water from HP some 500 meter far during the time of flood.


o Water plays a pivotal role in how the world mitigates and adapts to the effects of climate change. An integrated view of the water, the biosphere, and environmental flows are required to devise sustainable agricultural and economic systems that will allow us to decelerate climate change, protect us from extremes, and adapt to the unavoidable at the same time. This article covers the key but minimum finding forms the initial study carried out by the researcher in few selected study areas. Therefore, the findings in this action will not be in line with the literature. Hence, I have tried by best to make the finding meaningful through triangulation of findings by use of multiple research tools and techniques. It is likely that increased temperatures will further affect the physical, chemical and biological properties of freshwater with predominantly adverse impacts on many individuals’ livelihood and health. From various literatures it has revealed the there is high possibility of heavy more frequent precipitation events in Nepal in the years to come due to climate change which depend primarily on changes in the volume and timing of precipitation and, crucially, whether precipitation falls as snow or rain.

Although Nepal is known as a water-rich country, holding second position after Brazil, the people of have been sufferings from insufficient and unhygienic drinking water. Per capita average water use per day per day is 10 liters, which below the global standard during crisis situation as per the SPHERE standard.

Many areas across the country are now facing acute water shortages. Water crises have emerged in the major cities and small villages as well. In remote districts, people are forced to walk for hours just to bring a vessel of water. Initial finding revealed that students are forced to miss classes and women forced to ignore hunger for hours in the pursuit of water. Fights are even breaking out between villagers as a result of water shortages. Water scarcity has become a problem of serious scale.

Access to safe water is now regarded as a universal human right. However, people of Nepal facing increasing problems in getting freshwater. There are several reasons for this, which are not necessarily linked to climate change. A lack of available water, a higher and more uneven water demand resulting from population growth in concentrated areas, an increase in urbanization. In this context, climate change simply represents an additional burden for water utilities, or any other organization providing water, in meeting basic needs. It is difficult to identify climate change effects at a local level, but the observed effects combined with projections provide a useful basis to prepare for the future.

Changing climate may further exacerbate the water stress, which is already evident in Nepal due to the monsoon-dominated climate. Almost every year in Nepal, there is a usual problem of floods and landslides during the rainy seasons because of too much water, whereas there is a common problem of droughts during the dry seasons because of too little water. Climate change would further increase this seasonal imbalance of water in Nepal. Similarly, there will be substantial socioeconomic implications of reduced water availability.

In its summary climate change is now recognized as one of the most serious challenges facing by the people of Nepal. Notwithstanding the widespread assumption of water related stress and climate change, this case study has revealed that climate change is only may not be the reason for water stress. It is important to consider that there are many other aspects of water stress.



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