Light at the End of Nepal’s Melamchi Tunnel
By October 2017, we in Kathmandu will literally feel the snow-fed Melamchi water at our own taps. What a relief that’s going to be.
Last Monday, I called up the water tanker owner to supply me with 7,000 liters of water by evening. When the tanker did not arrive even by very late evening, I was fretting – I would not be able to prepare supper. I called up the tanker owner again Tuesday morning. The phone went unanswered. I was vexed. On Wednesday, I heard a heavy vehicle screech to a halt at my gate. It was, finally, the water tanker.
Even before I could say hello, the driver said: “Our source of water has almost dried up, and I got this water for you from very far away so you have to pay NRs2,500 (a little over $22) – NRs500 more than before.”
With the dry summer prolonged this year, water sources have dried up across Nepal, causing tremendous hardship in both cities and villages. And the residents of the Kathmandu Valley who have suffered acute shortages of water for decades are keen for the Melamchi Water Supply Project (MWSP) to be finished soon.
The MWSP, which will divert water from the Melamchi River in Sindhupalchowk district to the Kathmandu Valley through nearly 28 kilometers of tunnel, is the oldest ongoing project across ADB. The project has been ongoing for more than 17 years (affected by the impacts of insurgency and others) and yet we are pursuing it doggedly because of its sheer importance for Nepal. This is the only way to seriously alleviate the water woes of Kathmandu, the fastest growing city in Nepal with nearly 3 million water-starved people. The city is also an economic hub and with a 24-hour water supply in place, manufacturing and other businesses will be better placed to expand.
As it is, we are seeing light—or more importantly, water—at the end of the tunnel. There has been continuous improvement in the rate of tunnel excavation lately. On March 22, the contractor Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna (CMC) excavated more than 41 meters, the highest performance per day since the signing of the contract with them in July 2013. As of 26 May, nearly 17 kilometers—61% of the total length of the tunnel—have been excavated. As such, we expect the project will be finished by October 2017.
The previous plan to complete the Melamchi Tunnel by 30 September 2016 was, of course, rendered impossible given two unfortunate events in 2015. First, the devastating earthquake of 25 April and the subsequent aftershocks damaged the headworks and the contractor’s camp at Ambathan, and the access road was blocked by landslides. Second, trade disruptions along the border areas with India for four months caused a short supply of fuel and construction materials.
But the current spike in construction momentum—thanks to the Melamchi Water Supply Development Board, contractor CMC, and consultant Eptisa Servicios de Ingenieria S.L. Spain—has to be maintained to see water running through the taps to Kathmandu people.
Once the project is complete, the Kathmandu Valley will see 170 million liters of water per day coursing through the existing and new pipes, drastically increasing both the quantity and quality of water supply services. As a resident of Kathmandu, I will not have to depend solely on tanker water costing nearly NRs3 per liter and bottled water costing NRs7 per liter for cooking, washing, bathing and other daily chores. Come October 2017, we will literally feel the snow-fed Melamchi water at our own taps. What a relief that’s going to be.