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