By Teresa Rehman
On the fourth day of her menstrual cycle, Belkumari Paudiyal hikes for more than 20 minutes to the river below her village. She ties a petticoat round her chest and takes a cleansing bath, which signals that her life will resume as normal.
When Paudiyal, 37, is menstruating, custom demands that she be isolated from her family, and refrain from entering the kitchen, touching food or offering prayers.
“I prefer to walk down to the river as it provides some privacy to clean myself,” says Paudiyal, a resident of Paudiyalthok in Nepal’s picturesque Panchkhal Valley. “Otherwise there is the common tap which has no enclosed space. Trekking all the way to the river is the only solution.”
The traditionally fertile Panchkhal Valley in central Nepal, about 40 km (25 miles) east of the capital Kathmandu, has suffered an acute water shortage in recent years due to erratic rainfall, thought to be linked with climate change.
“(Rainfall) has become more erratic. Days are becoming hotter and nights warmer,” said Ajaya Dixit of the non-governmental Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-Nepal (ISET-N).
The main subsistence activities for the valley’s population are agriculture and animal husbandry. But a lack of reliable water sources is affecting many aspects of their lives, and women are bearing the brunt of changing weather patterns.