Access to water opens new doors for women

Working in her poultry farm, 45 years old Nirmala Kunwar remembers the difficult days she faced due to scarcity of water, until two years ago. “I never thought I will be able to start some business myself because most of my time was spent in fetching water,” said Nirmala.

Pantheswara community where Nirmala came 35 years ago after her marriage, is only 8 kilometers away from Gorkha Bazaar in Gorkha district. Despite the potential of markets and business opportunities, this community remained far behind due to lack of water.

Nirmala remembered the existence of many water sources and wells in the village. However, it slowly started drying up due to the impacts of climate change, resulting in availability of handful of water sources only. “We had very difficult times in fetching water. It took us several hours to fetch one vessel of water for our households use,” said Nirmala.

The water problem was further escalated when the earthquake struck in 2015 with the epicenter in Gorkha itself. Apart from other various severe effects, the water source which community relied on almost dried up. Discharge from one water source was not enough to fulfill the demands of 80 families in the community. Most of the women including Nirmala were forced to fetch water from two kms away, walking three hours back and forth. “People had to stop planting vegetables and discontinued breeding cows, buffaloes and goats. Hygiene and sanitation were also in poor condition due to shortage of water,” Nirmala shared the grief.

Nirmala always wanted to be financially strong, but due to the problem of water scarcity, she could not think beyond fulfilling the basic daily needs of the family.  Her husband works in a local primary school temporarily with a minor salary. And, they struggled to send their children to school.

Determined to access water, people of Pantheswara village approached various organizations and government bodies in the past for developing water schemes in the community, but they were reluctant because the surface water sources were not available and the lifting downward water source all the way up to the community would cost higher. The community approached Purnima programme through their local government in Gorkha Municipality. After carrying out the assessment of the community through Oxfam, a partner organization, Purnima recommended for programme implementation, considering its acute need of water and vulnerability of the people.

Purnima, a UK aid funded program, managed by Mott MacDonald, signed an agreement with the Pantheswara water users and sanitation committee in early 2019 and the construction was completed within seven months. Tap stands were constructed for every 80 households in the community. “There was no limit of excitement and happiness when water was flowing from all the tap stands,” described Nirmala. As a chairperson of the water and sanitation users committee, Nirmala also advocates about cleanliness and sanitation amongst her fellow community people. The long hours of fetching time were reduced to zero hours giving community people, especially women, an opportunity to think about other areas of productivity too.

As soon as water reached her home yard, Nirmala resumed home stay activities for tourists. But unfortunately, she had to halt the homestay business due to the COVID-19 pandemic for a year. However, it did not stop Nirmala to pursue her dream to improve her financial condition.

Availability of water gave her confidence to start other business. Nirmala started poultry farm in her own cost with 200 chicks. She has, till now, sold 1800kgs of broiler chicken and made profit of around two lakhs rupees (£1324) in a year. Presently, she has 126 chicks in her farm, she also started goat farming and plans to do extend her farming in bigger scale. She can fulfill her daily needs and take care of her livestock properly. Nirmala is also determined to continue her children’s education in good school. She does not have to stress about water anymore and is exploring new business opportunities for enhancing family income.