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.