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Carrying capacity

Multiple-Use Water Systems deliver benefits

Rural villages in Nepal lack several basic services, but the primary issue for many is access to water. “We used to bring water from Susire,” says Kamala Pariyar, a rural farmer in Dikurpokhari. “There was not enough water, not only for me but the whole village. We had to wait; it took a long time to bring two buckets. We were late for cooking and sending the children to school.”

iDE Hero Nepal Key Agriculture Project

The benefits of the Multiple-Use Water System can be seen across Kamala Pariyar’s farm. (Photo by Bimala Colavito/iDE)

Worldwide, the responsibility of obtaining water for household use (drinking, washing, cooking, and cleaning) tends to fall on women and, once they are old enough, girls. Countless hours are spent finding and carrying water.

Multiple-Use Water Systems (MUS) are an improved approach to water resource management, which taps and stores water and distributes it to households in small communities to meet both domestic and household agricultural needs. In addition to dramatically decreasing the workload of women and girls, MUSs provide benefits in health and sanitation, as well as enabling communities to improve their decisions on the allocation of water resources.

“Before, there was only one water tap for the whole village and when the water finished we used to quarrel,” says Kamala.

Kamala explained how a Multiple-Use Water System benefitted not only her farm, but the health of her community—they no longer quarrel over limited water. (Photo by Bimala Colavito/iDE)

The simplest and most economical MUS configurations are gravity-fed, appropriate when the community is located at an elevation below the water source. However, poor and marginalized communities are frequently located above their water source. That’s why iDE, and its partner Renewable World, are pioneering the use of solar pumps to provide the heavy lifting required. So far, five Solar MUSs have been installed. The systems include no batteries; solar panels are linked to the pump through an efficient controller that lifts about 25,000 liters per day. These systems are three to four times the cost of a gravity MUS, but are reliable and sustainable, providing a return on investment in a couple of years.

Kamala thinks the costs are worth it. “After we got the water it was easy to grow vegetables. I used to ask my husband for money to buy basic things. Now, by selling the vegetables, I have enough money for our basic needs. Before, I had to do day labor; I earned 60 rupees a day. Now I can earn 600 rupees a day when I sell tomatoes.”

Multiple Use Water Systems are a proven strategy against shifts in weather patterns - using water in more efficient and sustainable ways. (Photo by Bimala Colavito/iDE)

Installing MUSs is one of the many goals for the Anukulan (BRACED) project, funded by UK Aid, that seeks to improve the lives of over half a million poor and vulnerable people in Nepal, and build their resilience to climate change impacts.

With recognition and support from the Nepalese government, a consortium led by iDE has developed over 250 MUSs in Nepal, serving 50,000 people. Implementing a gravity-fed MUS costs approximately £70 per year per household, with an estimated increase in annual incomes of over £130. 

The non-monetary benefit may be greater: surveys have shown that regular access to water means girls stay in school more than 76 percent of the time, health costs are reduced by 94 percent, and 62 percent of households invest in home latrines.

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