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Water for life: ceaseless routine efforts for collecting drinking water in remote mountainous villages of Nepal


The objective of this research was to investigate the current status of water-collection behaviours and their determinants, which are associated with the burden of collecting water. This research was focused on the remote hinterlands of Nepal, and little is known about the residents’ livelihoods; therefore, particular attention was paid to the household burdens in terms of the time devoted to water-collection activities. A survey was conducted in households from mountainous regions of Nepal whose infrastructure is limited in terms of poor water supply and access to electricity. The results of the survey indicated that one or two members of a household were responsible for collecting water, and approximately 40% of households used multiple sites. Moreover, household members visited their collection location approximately 3–4 times per day. Based on the water-collection behaviours of each household member, an average of 148.6 min were used for water-collection activities each day. The factors associated with the total time devoted to water-collection activities include the number of household members, the sex of the household head, the number of years of education of the household members, and the share of children and women engaged in water collection. The estimation results also indicated that members of households with access to water storage spent less time collecting water. The results yield key information from villagers in remote mountainous regions, and substantial improvement is pivotal for achieving universal water access under sustainable development goals.

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Fig. 1


  1. FAO “Mountains and Freshwater”, available at

  2. United Nations “Sustainable Development Goals Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all”, available at

  3. Case studies show the local characteristics of water resource availability in rural Nepal. Sapkota (2018) discussed drinking water source limitations in the mountainous villages of Sindhupalchok. Merrey et al. (2018) explained that abundant water resources are associated with spring, snowmelt water, glaciers, and rainfall and showed that inhabitants of the mountainous ranges in Rasuwa District experience changes in rainfall patterns due to climate change.

  4. We expand the scope of literature reviews conducted in other countries because studies that focus on rural water supply are limited. Majuru et al. (2016) extensively reviewed the empirical research that investigated the countermeasures adopted by household members to alleviate the unreliable water supply; 5 out of 28 studies evaluated were from a rural setting. Empirical cases from remote villages are especially limited; the exception is Hemson (2007), who noted that water collection is one of the common forms of child labour in remote villages of South Africa.

  5. Factors such as “minutes elapsed when travelling to and from water collection locations” are important indicators to evaluate the accessibility of water-collection locations and can be used to compare accessibility among residents or even among counties. These indicators are useful to evaluate causal inference between water access and development indicators such as education and sanitation. The total time devoted to water collection is directly influenced by the location of the public infrastructure, and it is not appropriate to discuss causal inference between accessibility and development indicators. Rather, this study sheds light on the time devoted by the residents, which truly evaluates the efforts of rural villagers.

  6. Bimla et al. (2003) presented the average time spent collecting water and the number of trips made per day by 20 women in rural India. The results showed that the women spent 6 min per trip to collect water, with a total of 23 trips per day; therefore, 138 min were devoted to water collection per day. Bimla et al. (2003) also noted the physiological cost of work in terms of energy expenditure (i.e., 7.7 kJ/min) during morning hours.

  7. There was the possibility that a household dispatched more than three members for water collection; if so, the questionnaire may produce biased results. However, we assumed that it was not common to dispatch more than three members in the context of rural Nepal because only three households dispatched four or five members for water collection, and those three households were excluded from the analysis.

  8. Since the survey was conducted only once in each ward, the seasonal variation, which may have influenced the collection time, could not be taken into account. For the analysis of the determinants of water collection burdens in Sect. 5, surveyed month dummy variables were included to account for seasonal variations.

  9. Since the dependent variables were censored, tobit regressions were also employed for estimation. Estimation results by tobit regression were similar to those presented here.

  10. Nationally representative surveys, such as the Nepal Living Standards Survey (, provide limited information on the rural mountainous villages of Nepal.


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The authors thank the editors and anonymous referees for their constructive comments and suggestions to improve the quality of an earlier version of the manuscript. This research was supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, Japan, Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research KAKENHI (Nos. 25257102, 26740057, 17K12854, 19K12446) and the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Feasibility Studies “The Water-Energy Nexus in Small-Scale Distributed Systems for Poverty Alleviation”. The authors greatly appreciate the assistance and cooperation of survey respondents, field investigators, survey coordinators, and data entry personnel.

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Correspondence to Satoru Komatsu.

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Komatsu, S., Yamamoto, Y., Ito, Y. et al. Water for life: ceaseless routine efforts for collecting drinking water in remote mountainous villages of Nepal. Environ Dev Sustain 22, 7909–7925 (2020).

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  • Water
  • Water collection
  • Remote mountainous villages
  • Nepal