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Kathmandu’s killer manholes


It seems traffic jams, pollution and problem of drinking water, and mismanaged road and drainage system are common phenomena for Kathmanduites. Although such problems remain for long resulting in people’s suffering, no tangible solution is yet in sight.

The problem of mismanaged road and drainage system is acute. During monsoon, hardships of Kathmandu’s folks amplify. The perennial problem of people being forced to deal with muddy roads while stepping out for their destination during monsoon and mismanaged drainage system blocking the flow of water, thus flooding the roads is crippling the lives of the people of the capital. The problem becomes so severe that Kathmandu’s roads are flooded in no time even when moderate rainfall occurs, thus causing traffic-jams, difficulties for pedestrians to pass and risking their lives.

It is like winning a battle to get to office or one’s destination from home or vice-versa as many Kathmandu’s roads are like traps with mud and puddles, and in some cases manholes remaining open for long, during monsoon, leading to walkers fall down and get trapped. At present, many roads in the valley are under-repair as part of the road widening drive and for the Melamchi Drinking Water Project while recently constructed roads have developed potholes and cracks, worsening the situation. Drains have also not been properly installed, either they need a repair or need to be replaced with new ones.

Many drains in Kathmandu were damaged during road expansion drive in 2014 while the authorities claimed that many streets were equipped with new drainage system thereafter.

As a result of the worn out and damaged drainage system, water cannot properly pass when it rains, thus causing the problem. A lack of the improvement of stormwater drainage system has also added to the problem, allowing stormwater in some cases to flow into wastewater treatment systems.

Not only the mismanaged drainage system causes hardships, it sometimes turns out to be a human killer trap. Last Friday, a school girl named Binita Phuyal, 12, a grade three student, was trapped to death when she fell into an open manhole which got flooded creating a pond-like illusion.

A permanent resident of Nepaltar in the capital, she was returning home from school. The girl fell into the manhole and was swept down into Mahadev River and finally into Bishnumati River, around 700 meters away from the incident site. She was later rescued alive by police after almost an hour. And she was rushed to Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, where she was declared dead. Likewise, another school girl named Satya Sapkota was swept by a swelled drain in Samakhusi the same day. She was, however, instantly rescued unhurt by locals.

Not only human, animals are also reported to have got trapped to death after falling into manholes left uncovered oftentimes on the Kathmandu roads.

This is not the case that such problem occurs in a particular year, but every year during rainy season. In 2011 and 2012 for instance, sewage mixed water had entered and flooded a dozen hotels and restaurants and other areas including Jamal, Ratnapark, Kamalpokhari and Putalisadak.

Even after these problems, concerned authorities are ignorant about them. They do not feel it necessary to manage the drainage system, repair roads.

Although the concerned government authorities promptly usually pledge to do the needful, following an incident of roads being flooded during monsoon and in some cases people being swept away, the problem remains the same.

A lack of coordination among concerned government authorities has led to the digging of roads time and again and leaving them unrepaired for long while haphazard digging roads for pipe laying for Melamchi project is another matter of concern. In some cases, manholes remain uncovered for long, leading to such fatal incidents.

The failure to utilise the budget for the greater part of fiscal year and a hurry to spend it towards the end of each fiscal year often results in substandard development activities. Besides, the end of each fiscal year falls during rainy season and constructing roads during the period just to spend unutilised budget leads to the muddy roads and drainage system being damaged.

Now many roads have been dug in the name of laying pipes for Melamchi, which aggravates air pollution on sunny days and makes the roads impassable due to mud when it rains. Locals of the accident site where Binita drowned into an open manhole said the manhole was remained open for years. Such negligence on the part of concerned government authority must end so as to ensure the safety of general people.

The authorities following the completion of road expansion drive in 2014 said the streets of the capital would not get flooded during the year’s monsoon as new and efficient drainage system had been installed in most of the major roads in the city. However, even after three years, the problem remains the same.

Similarly, following the Friday’s incident, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba directed the concerned authority to repair and fill all Kathmandu’s potholes within 15 days. PM Deuba also warned of stern action against the failure to do so in time. Five days have passed since the direction, no efforts seem to be put into action towards that end so far. We just hope that PM Deuba’s direction to this effect is obeyed, even though it may be some days late, and Kathmandu’s roads are free of mud, potholes and drainage system are managed properly.

Representative Photograph: trekearth.com

By Pritam Bhattarai/RSS