More than 673 million people still practice open defecation and 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services such as toilets or latrines worldwide, according to the United Nations.

As the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 calls for global access to clean water and sanitation, developing countries like Nepal are working to achieve the goal with the coordination of key development partners and the government.

Nepal is actively engaged in implementing 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda whereas national targets and indicators on SDGs were developed in 2015.

The progress of some SDGs targets implementations were reviewed and shared with international community in mid-2017 and other targets including 6 and 11 are under review to prepare target-specific indicators.

The Faecal Sludge Management Regulatory Framework issued by the Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation in 2017 has resulted in an increased sanitation coverage to 64 per cent (91 per cent in urban and 56 per cent in rural areas) in 2011 from 24 per cent in 2001.

According to Prabhat Shrestha, Senior Divisional Engineer of Department of Water Supply and Sewerage Management and Member Secretary of National Sanitation and Hygiene Coordination Committee, the two pilot fecal sludge treatment plants in Jhapa district can be taken as model projects carried out by Nepal Government towards Fecal Sludge Management (FSM).

“The small town water supply and sanitation project under the Ministry of Water Supply invested 85 percent of the total cost, while the municipality invested 15 percent and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided Rs 146 million for the treatment plants in Jhapa. The treatment plant in Kakadvitta has the capacity to treat 12 cubic meters of fecal sludge on a daily basis and the other at Duhagadhi can treat 27 cubic meters of human excreta,” informed Shrestha.

The then Minister for Water Supply and Sanitation, Bina Magar, inaugurating fecal sludge treatment plants in Jhapa on January 22, 2020. (Image via RSS)

He added that the treated waste was transformed into compost manure for agricultural use, which has helped Jhapa district protect its arable lands, its water bodies, and the environment as a whole.

Shrestha said that the central government allocates a certain budget for waste water management every year, of which a meager amount is later disbursed for projects related to FSM. “But the central’s government’s budget allocation completely depends on various municipalities coming up with FSM-related projects. If the municipalities and metropolises do not come up with a project, they do not get any budget for FSM,” he added.

This year, however, the government has not allocated a single penny for FSM though local bodies can secure some funding if they ask for it in the name of building or maintaining sewerage networks, as per Shrestha.

“A budget of around two billion rupees has been allocated this year for sewerage networks across country, but the government does not take into account FSM as an independent project while apportioning funds. And the current budget is merely not enough for FSM across the nation,” Shrestha said.

He said that FSM is an elaborate project which needs skilled human resources and an extensive budget, while the focus should be on building treatment plants, not just for fecal sludge but for all kinds of waste water. “Nepal is still in its pilot phase for FSM, so we’re using whatever funds we’re provided with.”

An Act related to Drinking Water and Sewerage Management is currently pending approval from the parliament, which could help kick start systematic FSM across Nepal. The Faecal Sludge Management Regulatory Framework does not cover the nitty-gritties of responsible agencies and their roles in FSM.

Lack of skilled human resources for infrastructure development, learned policy makers and adequate budget for FSM, and policy gaps in FSM are some of the challenges facing Nepal in its bid to achieve SGD 6, expressed Shrestha.

He was of the view that involving private sectors, instead of only local governments, in treating and transporting fecal sludge as well as monitoring the whole process could boost FSM projects far and wide.