Nepal’s water bodies are at high risk of toxic pollution as untreated sewerage, including fecal sludge, generated from sanitation sites as well as individual household are discharged into local rivers and rivulets.

Safe disposal as well as management of human waste is essential for ensuring a healthy environment and for protecting public health. Though almost all municipalities in Nepal have been declared open defecation free zones under the ‘National Sanitation and Hygiene Master Plan – 2011’, the most waste generated from household toilets and public toilets are still directly disposed into water bodies.

This not only results in pollution of water sources but also causes adverse effects on public health and environment.

Fecal Sludge Management (FSM), therefore, can be a sustainable solution for the haphazard dumping of fecal waste. Fecal Sludge Management is a process of collecting, transporting and treating fecal sludge from pit latrine, septic tanks or any other onsite sanitation systems.

According to the data of UN-Habitat, around 95 per cent of the sewerage is directly connected to water bodies without treatment since there aren’t enough Fecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP) in Nepal.

The Environment, Waste Management and Sanitation Branch Head at Kirtipur Municipality Office, Gyan Maharjan, informed that the Municipality did not have a single FSTP, but his office was making efforts to get one built soon.

“Kirtipur Municipality hasn’t done any exemplary work towards Fecal Sludge Management. In a municipality with the population of 65,602 among 19,441 households, around 68% of fecal waste goes directly into the sewer line which gets mixed into the Bagmati River, while the remaining 32% households depend on systems such as pit latrines and septic tanks. A private organization is called to collect septic waste, but we don’t know whether they dispose it directly into the river or transfer it to a treatment plant,” he said.

An illustration to represent how Kirtipur Municipality manages fecal sludge.

“Of late, we have realized that we could have done a better job at Fecal Sludge Management if we had a treatment plant. We are working to install a treatment plant soon and also keeping an eye on private sectors that manage fecal sludge to learn how they dispose it,” said Maharjan.

Collected fecal sludge should preferably be processed at dedicated treatment plants, which will help in reuse. Fecal sludge is often processed through a series of treatment steps to first separate the liquids from the solids, then treat both the liquid and solid waste while making it as clean as possible and producing significantly reduced waste.

An illustration to represent how fecal sludge management should be carried out.

Maharjan said, “If and when we manage to get a treatment plant, we are planning to reuse the treated product for manure and irrigation. Similarly, the treated fecal sludge can also be used as fertilizers or biogas. It is imperative that the municipality office works towards raising awareness among people about the decreasing water resources and importance of reusing treated water as the locals have, in the past, shown disgust with the idea of reusing water from fecal sludge treatment plants.”

Kirtipur Municipality Office has formed a team to survey about the long-term problems related to disposing fecal sludge into water bodies. The budget allocated for the Municipality by the central government for overall sewerage and waste management is around 0.8 percent (Rs 11.3 million approximately), which means the budget for Fecal Sludge Management is quite negligible.

“Our municipality has adopted a policy of Polluter Pays Principle (PPP), under which any organization or business which harms the environment by creating excess pollution will have to pay a certain amount of fine. We are thinking about doing something similar in fecal sludge management, which will contribute to better long-term FSM policies,” explained Maharjan.

The current fecal sludge disposal method adopted by the Municipality has its own disadvantages. As most of the fecal sludge goes into sewerage, there are times when the sewerage bursts resulting in leakage of fecal sludge along the roads. This also causes the nooks and crannies of the Municipality to reek of sewerage.

Similarly, local rivers, which also hold religious importance, have been polluted and are now seen as waste disposal sites by denizens.

“We often get complains about bursting of sewerage and dirty water flowing all over the road or into someone’s property. Also, there are times when the private sectors don’t collect septic waste from septic tanks in time, causing overflow and inconvenience for the whole surrounding,” informed Maharjan.

“The ultimate solution can be modifying the fecal sludge collection system and working to create a sewerage system which is directly linked to the treatment plant and from there re-useable water can be transferred into a separate tap, which would be useful for generation of supplementary energy,” Maharjan said.

Fecal Sludge Treatment is the best option for Nepal to save the Himalayan nation’s water bodies and environment from rampant and negligent disposal of fecal sludge. Such treatment plants reduce financial costing for improved environment, improve sanitation and hygiene while also restoring cleanliness of water resources.