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

December 31, 2010

Pee – the new fertilizer!

Filed under: Sanitation,Urine — Anita Pradhan @ 1:14 pm

The benefits of using composted solid waste as a fertilizer are well known. But how many people also know that human urine is packed with valuable nutrients essential for plant growth? Regrettably, most of these nutrients are lost when they are flushed away into water bodies or landfills, never benefiting agricultural soil and often causing (ground)water pollution. 

The majority of Nepal’s farmers rely on imported urea and phosphate fertilisers like DAP to fertilize their land. However, when you consider that mined rock phosphate is a non-renewable resource afflicted by record rates of depletion, the need to explore ways of recovering these lost nutrients from urine and recycling them to agricultural land becomes ever more urgent around the globe.. The workshop to present key findings of a two year research programme on struvite recovery from urine in Nepal was held in Kathmandu. 

The project, named STUN (Struvite Recovery from Urine in Nepal) is a joint initiative between UN-Habitat and Eawag; the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology

The team have been exploring a number of approaches, the first of which is ‘struvite precipitation, a method of extracting struvite (MAP or magnesium ammonium phosphate) from urine by adding magnesium to produce a safe bio-available powder fertilizer. This powder form has the advantage of being easier to transport than urine; it’s lighter and takes up less space, the nutrients can be stored over time and the lack of odour makes it a much more user-friendly product. The technology used in the process is simple and cost effective; the reactor used to produce struvite was built using only parts purchased in Kathmandu. Unfortunately with this process only a fraction of the nitrogen in urine is captured. To make a sustainable business out of urine treatment, a technology to capture and reuse this nitrogen will also need to be developed. 

In case you’re wondering, urine can actually be applied directly to the field, so long as it’s diluted with water in a ratio of 1:3, to avoid a concentration of nutrients burning the plants. However, when applied with a bucket, what happens is that part of the ammonium volatilizes, meaning that some of the precious nitrogen nutrients are lost. One way to minimise the losses is  to apply the urine with drip irrigation: the liquid flows through a set of hoses, and reaches the plants directly with the irrigation water. But, one ropani (5476 sq. ft. square feet) of land in just one sowing season would need almost 750 litres of urine!, This is equal to the amount that one adult and one child excrete together in a year. 

So the challenge for farmers using urine is finding a way of acquiring enough urine. The project team explored various collection methods in their pilot village Siddhipur on the outskirts of the Kathmandu valley. A ‘urine bank’ was installed in Siddhipur and someone was employed to collect urine from houses in the village and transport it on a pee-cycle outfitted with two 20 litre jerrycans. (Finding someone who was prepared to overcome the stigma of transporting urine was yet another challenge!) Collection from larger institutions such as schools turned out to be the most efficient option by far. 

The two year research project is now nearing its end, but it has definitely thrown up some interesting ideas. Recycling liquid waste to produce fertilizer from urine would undoubtedly improve sanitation if it were rolled out on a large scale. It could contribute to local food security; reversing soil degradation which is caused by imbalanced use of chemical fertilizers. As DAP is expensive many farmers rely on urea only, which leads to over fertilisation of nitrogen and depletion of other plant nutrients as phosphate and potassium. Enriched soil would yield better quality, organic produce which could possibly be sold at higher prices on the market. It could lead to nutrient independence, providing cheaper fertilizer for Nepal’s farmers currently reliant on chemical fertilizers imported at prices that are not always affordable, if at all available. 

Acquiring enough urine is still an issue and for the idea to develop into a workable system, changes would need to be made at a policy level, creating, for example a policy whereby offices were required to supply urine to the collection system. Cost is also a factor; setting up the infrastructure needed would undoubtedly require a significant investment. Add to this the stigma associated with handling urine, and the hygiene education that would be needed, and it’s clear there is still some way to go. 

In Kathmandu alone, 1 billion litres of nutrient-rich urine are currently being wasted each year, polluting our rivers and ground water – just think how many crop yields could be enriched if it were to be put to use!

Listen to an Interview with Eawag Researchers Raju Khadka and Marijn Zandee

Written by Anita Pradhan, Documentation Manager, WaterAid in Nepal and Yvonne Struthers


Pee cycle

December 30, 2010

Link of the week – 30 December 2010 to 5 January 2011

Filed under: Financing,Link of the week,Sanitation — Anita Pradhan @ 6:32 pm

Sanitation in the national budget

The national budget came out a month ago. Does its implication for the sanitation sector matter?

 Click here for our link of the week – 30 December 2010 to 5 January 2011

The article in the link is written by Shikha Shrestha, Advocacy and Research Officer, WaterAid in Nepal.

December 29, 2010

Putting a social taboo on the development agenda

Filed under: Gender,MDG — Om Prasad Gautam @ 9:00 am

Several women’s rights issues have been receiving increased attention in the development arena in recent years. Issues such as the role of women in economic development, equal representation of women in different forums and platforms, early marriage, sexual abuse and the burden of domestic duties. One issue, however, remains a taboo for many – the issue of menstruation and the effects it can have on a girl’s education, dignity and quality of life. Neither women’s activist groups nor the Government have made adequate attempts at addressing these issues in Nepal.

Menstruation is a normal, natural process that occurs in all healthy adolescent and adult women yet to reach menopause. However, it has mostly been dealt with in secrecy since even discussing menstruation means breaking a social taboo.

As I write this, many adolescent girls are dropping-out of school because a lack of toilet on the school premises means nowhere to change their sanitary pads. A lack of water means nowhere to clean themselves and they undoubtedly fear leaking blood. Traditional beliefs and taboos associated with menstruation present further challenges. Many women will have been punished today for touching a member of the opposite sex, for going to worship or for using the same ponds as others for bathing or fetching water. A lack of proper menstrual hygiene management also means that many more are facing health related problems such as itching, vaginal discharge, severe headaches and abdominal pain. I am also sure that many women woke up this morning in the cow shed, having been banished from their usual bed.

The role of Menstrual management in achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is rarely acknowledged. Yet it is clear that adequate measures to address menstrual hygiene will contribute directly to MDG-7 on environmental sustainability. Also, due to its indirect effects on school absenteeism and gender discrepancy, poor menstrual hygiene management may seriously hamper the realization of MDGs-2 on universal education and MDG-3 on gender equality and women empowerment. Unfortunately, there has been little recognition of this to date.

Issues surrounding menstrual hygiene and management have not received adequate attention in the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) sector or in the reproductive health sector. It is surprising that even gender mainstreaming literature remains silent on the issues of menstrual hygiene management.

What do you think about these issues?

Written by Om Prasad Gautam, Social Development Advisor, WaterAid in Nepal

December 28, 2010

Photo of the week – 28 December 2010 to 3 January 2011

Filed under: Photo of the week,Water,Women — Anita Pradhan @ 7:31 pm

Scenes in Nigalopani village in Dhading District of Nepal: women carrying water up the hill. Photo: Financial Times/Charlie Bibby

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 24, 2010

Sanitation = Neglect. Why?

Filed under: Livelihood,MDG,WaSH rights — Kabir Das Rajbhandari @ 9:00 am

At WaterAid we believe sanitation to be a basic human right. Yet a staggering 16 million people in Nepal do not have access to sanitation facilities, and an appalling 1,500 Nepali children die each year due to preventable diseases before reaching their fifth birthday. So why is sanitation being so badly neglected in this country?

There are several possible answers. A poor cousin of water provision, sanitation suffers from a low profile, often being misunderstood and equated with ‘dirt’. There is clearly a lack of awareness amongst society in general about the benefits or the urgency of sanitation, a problem that causes sanitation to be seen as low priority and causes potential funding for sanitation projects to be directed elsewhere. Organisations responsible for implementing sanitation projects often lack the capacity to carry out each stage of a given project effectively, leading to a lack of faith in sanitation projects. Add to this the fragmented institutional arrangements that we’ve endured in Nepal, and you can begin to understand how difficult is has been for sanitation to reach the national development agenda.

There has of course been some progress. The Millenium Development Goals’ targets set for 2015 to halve the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, and the PRSP target for universal access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2017 have both helped to increase awareness. A separate budget of 8 crore has been allocated to sanitation in Nepal, but this is somewhat small fry when you consider WaterAid’s estimation that universal access across the country will not be possible without a budget of 100 crore. Each year since 2006, 4 million people have been provided with basic sanitation services, yet WaterAid estimates that only 62% of these initiatives are sustained. Without any new creative or holistic approaches that might accelerate progress, the national target set for 2017 will not be reached until 2031.

The way forward is, I feel, to identify more links between sanitation and sustainable livelihoods in order to tackle together both the huge lack of sanitation and the fact that the government will not be able to provide for the needs of the poor. The approach will need to be a user-centred one where the poor are viewed as informed consumers, producers, workers and citizens, rather than beneficiaries. Linked with livelihoods, sanitation will be seen in the broader context of enabling (local) governments, enabling communities, enabling markets and social and economic development.

In this model, small scale service providers will be able to play a role in sanitation provision by performing complementary roles in transport, cleaning, construction, thereby generating employment opportunities.

With support from enabling governments and donors, local NGOs and CBOs will be able to take up stronger roles within sanitation such as training, facilitating processes and mediation. The micro-enterprise concept could also be incorporated in order to tap into sanitation related skills and services, and these micro organizations should be encouraged to promote technical innovation by launching viable technologies like ‘Ecosan’ which in turn help to promote environmental sanitation.

Civil servants, government officials and laborers in the water and sanitation sector will need to be motivated to work towards poverty reduction and to show more solidarity with the poor by formulating and implementing people-friendly sanitation policies and guidelines.

Sanitation is then, in my view, fundamental to livelihood improvement among urban and rural poor people. Raising the profile of sanitation in this way will support poverty alleviation by enhancing livelihoods. And let’s not forget that improved sanitation will help to promote dignified living; a basic, surely, for all citizens of ‘New Nepal’.

Posted by Kabir Rajbhandari, Programme Manager – Urban, WaterAid in Nepal

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