“Wider collaboration is needed to ensure multiple use of water system in Nepal”

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The Multiple Use Water System (MUS) group is a network of organisations and individuals active since 2003 for rural and peri-urban people’s need of water for drinking, cooking, washing, sanitation, watering animals, growing food and generating income. International Water Management Institute’s (IWMI) Principal Researcher, Rural Sociologist and Gender Expert Dr Barbara van Koppen was recently in Kathmandu for MUS’s international workshop on ‘Climate Resilience: A Socio-Technical Approach for Improved Community Water Governance’. Sakuntala Joshi of New Business Age caught up with Koppen to talk on MUS activities and future plans in Nepal among others. Excerpts: 

What is Multiple Use Water System (MUS)?
Multiple Use Water System refers to using water multiple times in multiple ways. Most communities here depend on rainfall in agriculture. From a community perspective, investment in water infrastructure will fulfill all their water needs at one time, from irrigation to the proper use of water for crops. Similarly, for domestic purposes, people only think that they need clean drinking water and they forget that they also need food. So they become very single sub-sector minded and only think about a particular use. We have seen all over the world that if you make an irrigation scheme, the planners only think about crops and they do not think about its other usages. In the early 2000s we started realising that we can collaborate and listen to people’s needs but also give privilege services to our citizens by looking at all their needs. 

What might be the best way to integrate the different services?
The best way is to start with the people themselves. Then build a multi-purpose infrastructure to meet the multiple needs, combining multiple sources and by also listening to them. The question is, how can we support their demands? For that we have to go to the VDCs, DDCs and get the people organised and then we’ll be able to make the various sectors and professionals collaborate together. 

What is the role of MUS in the context of Nepal?
If we compare Nepal with other countries, there is already recognition about the social, institutional, natural and human needs. We have to listen to the farmers and see how they are doing. So our role will be to expand all water usage, especially drinking and domestic water usage and to address gender issues because women think more about the domestic uses of water and are also interested in gardening to generate income.

How about private sector involvement in MUS promotion? Is it possible?     
First of all I would say that people cannot wait for the government- they do a lot by themselves in terms of self-supply. The biggest private sector is already there, such as the technology suppliers who cooperate with the villages and with the private sellers of PVC pipes. NGOs have also helped to promote new technologies, such as rain water harvesting.

How can MUS contribute to poverty alleviation?  
Water during the monsoon is at times low in Nepal and requirements are met by ground water to some extent. So the question is, how can we capture an abundant amount of water for people to use? The infrastructure for storage is expensive and at the same time we should have access to drinking water. The government’s ambition to provide drinking water and water for domestic purposes is already there. So the first challenge for poverty alleviation is to provide a bit more water on a timely basis for domestic purposes by just extending the pipes a little bit so that people get more water from the rain. Beside this, we will work for landless people who do not have any land for irrigation, including women and the elderly. 

MUS has multiple benefits so how are you going to expand this system to cover all the communities in Nepal?
By building on the slogan, ‘drinking water must reach everyone,’ and by pulling together the resources that are already there such as the Department of Irrigation, Agriculture, Water Supply, Sanitation, Population and Environment, National Planning Commission and getting them all to collaborate. 

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