Nepal WASH Blog Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) & Development in Nepal

January 17, 2011

Easy rights, and difficult access?

Filed under: Ashu's WASH Mondays,WaSH rights,Water — Ashutosh Tiwari @ 10:28 am

It’s hard for friends out of Nepal to imagine that Nepal has problems with drinking water. “You have the Himalayas,” they say, “the world’s cleanest water sources.” True. But as the joke goes, “God gave us water sources, and forgot to give us the pipes!”

Though the Nepal government statistics suggests that there is 80 per cent water supply coverage, we know that safe piped water remains a scarce commodity in urban areas, where consumers water from trucks that sell water. And many taps are not functional in village areas, leaving the local inhabitants no choice but to trek to water sources themselves to fetch water for household consumption.

Against that backdrop, water problems in Nepal need to seen through two lenses: those of rights and access.

Looking at the problems from the ‘rights’ lens means that the right to water is seen, first and foremost, as a basic human right. Looking at them from the ‘access’ lens means that government, bodies, private companies and community efforts need to be mobilized in various combinations to use appropriate technology, distribution channels, and financial resources in ways that make the supply system sustainable for a long time.

In Nepal, arguing that even poor people must have access to safe drinking water because it’s their right to have so is often clear enough. Politicians, village chairmen, local government officers and local communities – they all agree fairly quickly with this rights-based argument.

But they can start to differ when discussions move to how to mobilize and make use of the resources in ways that result in viable and sustainable water supply systems for a community.

Bringing their varying opinions together and unifying such voices to design and implement a water supply system is in area in which much, much work needs to be done. Some of that work requires community mobilizing work. Some require managing donor or government relations. Others require engineering and technical work. Yet others require regular monitoring.

A well-designed water supply project starts with a rights-based discussion, and then moves quickly to “the how” of the rights, as in how the rights can be realized. Such a project usually has all these broad components of “access” – community, government, private sector, engineering work, distribution channels, financial viability, and sustainability: all well thought out and practiced in the field.

Written by Ashutosh Tiwari, Country Representative, WaterAid in Nepal.

January 10, 2011

Good redundancy

Filed under: Ashu's WASH Mondays,Functionality,Technology,Water,Water resource management — Ashutosh Tiwari @ 11:59 am

Aid projects are often criticized for waste, for creating redundancies and for displacing local efforts.

On a larger scale, this leads to questions such as: if an aid agency helps build a school in a locality, does that displace or minimize the local government’s own efforts to build schools? Likewise, if an agency supplies water to a village through its NGO partner, will that provision then act as a disincentive to the district water supply office or to villagers themselves to do anything on their own when the supply fails?

On a smaller scale, especially in water supply work, when we talk about the functionality of water schemes (meaning: that they work all right), there are often times when it pays off to think ahead to have a few redundancies built into the system.

For instance, say a previously well-functioning public tap starts mal-functioning for a variety of reasons. The revolving head of the tap goes missing or gets broken due to overuse. A screw at the head of the tap slips off: either water stops coming or continues to pour without stopping.

Perhaps the pipes leak: someone slices off a part of the pipe when collecting fodder for cattle, and so on. All these and more pose a problem for the long-term sustainability of water supply schemes in Nepal’s villages.

In such cases, having redundancies built into the system helps. If NGO partners take a few days to train two or more willing villagers on matters such as how to spot potential water supply problems before they occur, show them where they can keep a few spare parts handy and how to make use tools that help replace the parts when necessary, teach them how to procure appropriate pipes and other materials at reasonable rates, then creating this sort of redundancy in the system actually helps with the long life of the water supply systems. In case of water supply failure, the villagers have their own more than one resource to tap into (pun intended!) to get the water flowing.

So next time, when you hear someone criticizing aid agencies for creating redundancies, ask: Are they talking about redundancies that displace local efforts or redundancies that sustain local efforts? In WASH work, we find that it’s often the latter we need more of.

Written by Ashutosh Tiwari, Country Representative, WaterAid in Nepal.

December 27, 2010

Dire key statistics on sanitation

Filed under: Ashu's WASH Mondays,Sanitation,Statistics — Ashutosh Tiwari @ 5:55 pm

As the year 2010 recedes into the past, these three pieces of statistics should motivate us all to work harder and more effectively in 2011.

- Nepal’s total population in 2011 (estimated from CBS): 28.58 million

- Total population with sanitation coverage (43 %): 12.29 million

- Total population without sanitation coverage (57 %): 16.29 million

That means, more than 16 million Nepali men and women have no choice but to defecate in the open every single day. In the new year, we will have to think a lot harder about how we plan, design and evolve WASH-related activities so that they are scalable and sustainable. 

Happy New Year, everyone!

Written by Ashutosh Tiwari, Country Representative, WaterAid in Nepal

Photo: WaterAid

December 20, 2010

No MDGs without toilets

Filed under: Ashu's WASH Mondays,MDG,Sanitation — Tags: , , — Ashutosh Tiwari @ 3:45 pm

Since my previous job was in the private sector, I am often asked about the differences between the private sector and the development sector. In the former, goals are narrower and sharper: meet the quarterly sales targets, beat the competition, show profits for growth, and the like.

For a firm, the metrics and the consequences have to move in the same direction. Else, if you do not sell enough, you will not be able to pay your employees; and, if you cannot pay your employees, your production halts, and that means you cannot make sales, etc.

In the development sector, however, goals are loftier, more vague and sometimes come with an overtone of moral superiority (which is not a bad thing!). The goals are also diffused: reduce poverty, make poor people’s health better, raise employment levels, and so on. In development, the metrics and the consequences can move in opposite directions: for instance, if poverty is not reduced, then, more money is lobbed at the problem.

Indeed, there has been much criticism of the development sector for not having agreed-upon sharper, clearer and measurable goals to reduce poverty, and only throwing money after money at a particular problem.

Happily, much of that vagueness was in the past. Thanks to better monitoring tools and methods, and to donors’ insistence, things are clearer than they used to be, though development debates are still going on as to what to measure and how.

In 2000, after several years of discussions, world leaders adopted what has been called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These are “eight time-bound global and local targets on income poverty, hunger, maternal and child mortality, disease, inadequate shelter, gender inequality, and environmental degradation”.

The targets are set to be achieved by developing countries, including Nepal, by 2015. To that end, for the last 10 years, most development institutions in Nepal, including WaterAid, have recast their work as contributions to meeting the national MDGs.

Now that the third leg of the 15-year stretch has started, how close is Nepal to meeting its MDGs?

Happily, it’s on track, according to a recent report published by the Nepal Planning Commission and UNDP. But – and it’s a big but – in three things: in achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all, achieving universal access to reproductive health, and, (goal number 7) in halving proportion of population without access to improved sanitation such as safe water and toilets.

Obviously, we consider the lack of progress on meeting the sanitation goal to be especially important in that it is basic hygiene that serves as visible-to-all indicators for progress.

Now that it’s on record that Nepal’s MDG progress can be slowed down due to its not meeting the sanitation goals, much work remains to be done on sanitation. In my other postings, I will share the data and thoughts with regard to what can be done to do more.

Written by Ashutosh Tiwari, Country Representative, WaterAid in Nepal.

This blog was created by WaterAid under the creative commons licence