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Activists call for decisive action to improve sanitation

Many children in both rural and urban areas miss out on school in order to fetch water.
(Naresh Newar/IRIN)

Nepal has poor sanitation systems, with only 46 percent of its 27 million people having access to basic sanitation, according to the Nepalese government.

Over 14 million Nepalese - mainly in rural areas - do not have access to latrines, the government says.

“The facts are very grim and show there has been only slow progress in addressing the sanitation problem,” said Bharat Adhikari, an official from Nepal Water for Health (NEWAH), a non-government organisation (NGO) which promotes sanitation, health and safe drinking water.

Dozens of local and international NGOs involved in local sanitation programmes have expressed concern, and called for urgent action to remedy the situation.

Over 13,000 children under five die from diarrhoea-related diseases caused by poor hygiene and sanitation besides unsafe drinking water, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Over 80 percent of diseases (including diarrhoea, cholera, intestinal worms, trachoma, typhoid) among adults and children are caused by lack of basic sanitation, according to a new government report entitled Nepal Country Plan for International Year of Sanitation 2008.

International Year of Sanitation 2008

In September 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the eight Millennium Development Goals that challenged the global community to reduce poverty and increase the health and well-being of all peoples. In September 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg reaffirmed these goals and added access to basic sanitation as a centerpiece of the poverty eradication commitments. The target to halve the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2105 was defined in the Johannesburg Plan of Action (JPOI).

Despite significant efforts by governments, progress on sanitation targets has been slow and uneven. Recognising the impact of sanitation on public health, poverty reduction, economic and social development, and the environment, the General Assembly decided to declare 2008 the International Year of Sanitation (GA resolution 61/192 of 20 December 2006). The General Assembly encouraged member States as well as the United Nations system, to take advantage of the International Year to increase awareness of the importance of sanitation to promote action at all levels.

State of the World's Toilets 2007 report

The report said poor hygiene and sanitation were causing losses of over US$150 million per year in terms of health costs, loss of economic productivity and the adverse effect on tourism.

Ambitious goals, new policy

“Unless we act fast, the problems will get worse,” said NEWAH’s Adhikari, who said there was a need to build at least 15,000 latrines a month (until 2015) if Nepal was to achieve its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of 53 percent access to sanitation and improved drinking water systems by 2015.

Nepal is ‘likely’ or ‘potentially’ to meet most of the MDG targets but its prospects on meeting the sanitation target are not so good, according to Asian Development Bank (ADB), one of Nepal’s key multilateral funding agencies.

Nepal also aims to achieve 100 percent sanitation coverage by 2017 but this means increasing the number of latrines by 148,000 to 320,000 every year for another nine years, according to the Steering Committee for National Sanitation Action (SCNSA), comprising government officials and international and local NGOs.

“We will be giving a lot of emphasis to developing new policies to expand our sanitation programmes,” said government official Kamal Adhikari, a sociologist at the government-run Environmental Sanitation Section of the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage (DWSS).

He said the government had recently drawn up a nationwide sanitation policy with the help of NGOs and aid agencies, and the aim was to unveil it in 2008. It would include a detailed plan of work at community level to cover urban areas throughout Nepal.


Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
Water shortages are quite common in the capital where most households are forced to use groundwater or queue for water at city taps

Not yet a political issue

NGOs told IRIN the government had neglected sanitation.

“It has yet to make this a political issue and most parliamentarians brush it aside as a minor issue, not realising the disastrous adverse impact nationwide,” said a Nepalese environmentalist who preferred anonymity.

According to SCNSA, one third of Nepal’s 75 districts have sanitation coverage of below 20 percent. Of the government and community schools, 41 percent have latrine facilities.

Only one-third of schools have sufficient facilities and only a quarter have separate facilities for girls, said the SCNSA sanitation report.

The practice of open-air defecation, especially in the Terai, had badly contaminated groundwater and jeopardised public health, it said.

Lack of investment

The main problem, said NGOs, is that hygiene and sanitation are a very low priority in terms of the national budget, and investment in the sector is inadequate. There was also ineffective implementation of policy due to inadequate coordination among stakeholders, the government and NGOs, environmentalists said.

However, government officials explained that priorities have now changed on sanitation, especially given that it is the International Year of Sanitation 2008, which Nepal is also marking.


Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
Schoolchildren in various districts have been helping to promote sanitation and hygiene issues

“A lot has been planned this year on sanitation programmes and the government is ready to take quick action without delay,” said government official Kamal Adhikari (his official post already mentioned above).

Children promoting sanitation

Schoolchildren in various districts have been helping to promote sanitation and hygiene issues, said UNICEF.

"The momentum on rural community sanitation is building, with schoolchildren in many schools helping to promote sanitation in their communities,” said Larry Robertson, chief of the water sanitation and hygiene section of UNICEF in Nepal.

UNICEF-sponsored child clubs have helped to declare many school catchment villages (there are 4-6 villages in a school catchment area) “total sanitation” areas, where every household and school has build a toilet.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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