I haven't proceeded very far with my research yet. And yet every time I turn the corner here, it seems that I run into some aspect of daily life that is being affected by the Melamchi Drinking Water Project - a large-scale civil engineering project to divert surplus water from the Melamchi River Valley to meet critical domestic and drinking water needs for residents of the burgeoning Kathmandu Valley.
Over the past two weeks, many of the already-narrow side streets and lanes have been completely torn up by crews of manual laborers laying water mains that are intended to supply treated water directly to homes and businesses in Kathmandu Metropolitan City. Though there are still several kilometers worth of tunneling that needs to be completed before diverted water from the Melamchi Valley can reach a pumping station in Sundarijal whence it can be pumped onward to Kathmandu, the pace of construction appears to be proceeding furiously, with entire streets and city blocks ripped open and patched back together all within a matter of 48 hours or less. All in all, the Melamchi-related construction I've observed personally has been heavily labor-intensive with crews of several dozen young men apiece, all with pick-axes working on a single city block.
Currently, Kathmandu Valley's urban residents rely heavily on private water tanker-truck deliveries to supply water for domestic purposes and for small shops and businesses. At the place I'm staying, for example, there are a couple 1000-liter tanks on the rooftop that are filled on an almost daily basis by fire department-style hoses that extend many meters from the tanker delivery trucks. If someone takes too long of a shower - something that hasn't happened here yet, but that did happen where I was staying in Pokhara last week - then the entire building has no running water until the next tanker delivery comes.
For the city's poorest and most marginal residents, the current situation is often far more grim than simply scheduling an early morning water delivery. Many of these residents stay in make-shift dwellings along or near the Bagmati River and its smaller tributaries, which they rely on for both domestic water and for waste disposal. Whether this new construction benefits these residents directly remains to be seen, but there are other initiatives aimed at cleaning the Bagmati River and improving conditions for those who live near its shores.
These undertakings have been generating a lot of buzz in Kathmandu's well-established English-language press, and after talking more with local residents, it appears that this coverage isn't limited to English-language publications.
One recent article - a scathing editorial - even goes so far as to put work on the Melamchi Project front and center as a primary driving cause of the Kathmandu Valley's "dust crisis". http://www.myrepublica.com/news/14581 (9 Feb. 2017)
Now Kathmandu is indeed a dusty place, but I still could not help but question whether this characterization is a bit of an overstatement. In fact, by regional standards I haven't found the air here in Kathmandu to be that bad at all, and certainly far clearer than some of the major cities in Mainland China and India where I spent the most time.
I'll be interested to see, though, what changes are taking place over in the Melamchi Valley - a valley that's very close to Kathmandu geographically, but that remains one of the least economically developed districts of Nepal. According to the 2011 Nepal Census, 60% of households in Melamchi live within a ten-minute walk of a water source, but among the remaining 40%, some live up to an hour away from the nearest tap with even intermittent water supply. The 2011 census also indicates that only 25% of households in that district (Sindhupalchok District) had access to a latrine. While modest gains may well have taken place over the time that has elapsed since the last census, there is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that the 2015 earthquake also offset many gains that had been made in the hardest-hit districts.
Once I have finished the process of converting my visa, I will divide my time between Kathmandu and the nearby Melamchi Valley to better understand the changes that unfold in both areas as this large-scale project progresses. In the Melamchi Valley, I will compare observed and perceived changes in villages above where water is going to be diverted with villages that lie further downstream, focusing on the stretch of valley between Melamchi Pul and Melamchi Gaon (the diversion lies roughly at the midpoint of these two villages).
For readers who are interested in the full theoretical and conceptual framework guiding this research, I would be delighted to share my current proposal upon request once it's complete within the next day or two. My hope is to keep this blog accessible to a more general audience, so I am keeping the level of engagement with academic theories to an absolute minimum, but in case you are interested in that sort of thing, I'm happy to share much more. Just email me at email@example.com, or alternatively, at my secondary account of firstname.lastname@example.org.
between now and September 2018 to conduct fieldwork on