A Citizen Scientist Fights Water Pollution

Kabita Lohar lives is Pipriya village, a community located at the banks of Mahakali river in Nepal.  She is usually seen walking along the riverbank, carrying a blue box which contains equipment and chemicals to test the quality of water in the river. As Kabita carefully collects water samples from the river into her test-tube and observes the color of the water, she says, “Our rivers are getting polluted; we need to raise awareness and involve the community to save our rivers”.

Kabita is one of the many citizen scientists trained by Oxfam. Around five years back, Oxfam started working with the communities living in the riverbanks of Mahakali river through a project called Transboundary Rivers of South Asia(TROSA). The project aims to empower riverine community have more access and control over water resources.

Community members like Kabita are trained to collect and test water samples of Mahakali river to generate data on water pollution.

“We use this data to advocate for effective policies and raise awareness about water pollution with the community members and local government”, says Kabita.  

She recalls several initiatives taken by citizen scientists in her community.

“Once we organized a door-to-door campaign asking people to filter and boil their water before drinking. People used to believe that the water in Mahakali river contains herb, so it was a common practice to drink water directly from the river. But with the data on water pollution generated by citizen scientists like me, we could raise awareness on the importance of filtering and boiling the water before consumption. Now, we hardly see anyone drinking water directly from the river,” says Kabita.

She further adds, “Few months back, we spoke to our mayor to develop policies to prevent the inflow of waste generated by households and hotels into the river. Our mayor has committed to fulfil our demands. But we don’t just want commitments, we want action, and we will keep following up until the commitment translates to action”.

As Kabita finishes collecting the samples, she tells us she will observe the water for 24 hours before updating the result in a digital device which records the location of the test. Citizen scientists regularly conduct these tests in specific locations to identify changes in pollution level over a period of time.

As Kabita repacks her equipment in the box, she says, “Every resource provided by the river is valuable to us. I feel happy to play a part in conserving our river.”