In May 2022, Nepal’s Ministry of Finance released a budget of 1798.83 billion. Of the total budget, the Ministry of Water Supply received 37.45 billion, including 30.13 billion for projects under the federal government, 5.43 billion for projects under provincial governments, and 1.89 billion for local level governments.
A budget of more than 300 million was set aside for drinking water and drainage placement planning while 2.4 billion was reserved for the construction and operation of drain pipes and upgradation of sewer systems. The budget for constructing drainage is mostly allotted to areas in Kathmandu Valley with a few exceptions such as Morang District. Even as the open dumping of fecal waste into river beds has led to a surge in both environmental pollution and health issues, neither the plans nor budget for treating waste has been mentioned or made a priority. There is an urgent need for better and more efficient Fecal Sludge Management (FSM), specifically for fecal sludge collected from toilets and other onsite sanitation systems, and this need is not addressed in the current budget proposal.
According to Mr. Prabhat Shrestha, former Senior Divisional Engineer of the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage Management and also the Member Secretary of the National Sanitation and Hygiene Coordination Committee, the government does not take into account FSM as an independent project while appropriating funds. Thus, the current budget is inadequate to address FSM across the nation.
In Kathmandu Valley, the Kathmandu Khanepani Upatyaka Limited (KUKL) is responsible for ensuring water supply and also for the operation and management of wastewater services. In 2013, KUKL’s Project Implementation Directorate (PID), with the help of the Asian Development Bank, signed an agreement to modernize and expand the wastewater network and treatment facilities in Kathmandu Valley. Aside from rehabilitating the sewer network, the project was intended to expand the capacity of five wastewater treatment plants from around 16 million liters per day to 90.5 million.
Currently, one wastewater treatment plant has been completed, and four others are in different phases of construction, two in Dhobighat and one each in Sallahgarhi and Kodku. These in-progress treatment plants are supposed to process at least 50% of Kathmandu Valley’s wastewater and provide a respite to the valley’s rivers. For this undertaking, the Government of Nepal has pledged 40.7 million USD alongside an 80 million dollar loan from the Asian Development Bank and a 16 million dollar loan from the OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) Fund for International Development.
In the case of rural areas in Nepal, tackling FSM may prove to be a tougher challenge. In spite of the emphasis on inclusive development as an objective of this fiscal year’s budget, it widely ignores the conditions of rural areas and especially of households that are not connected to sewer systems. Instead, many households rely on on-site sanitation systems like pits, latrines, and septic tanks. Usually, each household collects fecal sludge in its own septic tank. The sludge is then transported manually or mechanically to a treatment site. But with a lack of treatment plants in many rural areas, fecal sludge has to be dumped in the open, defeating the entire purpose of eradicating open defecation in the country.
Nepal’s terrain poses an entirely different challenge. For example, what becomes of houses and communities that fecal transport trucks cannot reach? “What are we to do during such situations?” asks Prabhat Shrestha from the Ministry of Water Supply. “Therefore, Citywide Inclusive Sanitation,” he says.
“Citywide Inclusive Sanitation addresses that each geographical terrain can have its own sanitation challenges and therefore looks to empower local governments to address sanitation in the best way possible,” Mr. Shrestha explains. “The current budget neglects to acknowledge that not all households are connected to a drainage system,” he continues, “And that on-site sanitation systems require a separate treatment plan.” Shrestha explained that they currently lack about half the budget required to proceed with FSM-related projects.
A positive step in this year’s budget, when announced by Finance Minister Janardhan Sharma, is the allocation of NRS 2.44 billion for the preparation of 100 local-level Sanitation Master Plans. Additionally, under the Integrated Water Supply and Sewerage Management Project, a detailed study of integrated water supply and wastewater treatment projects is to be completed in 12 different cities of the country within the fiscal year.
Nepal’s government has recently passed the Water and Sanitation Bill yet faces a steep uphill challenge to enforce its components. While Nepal lacks human resources, technological skills, and community awareness, a lack of budget causes further problems in implementing inclusive sanitation.
According to the World Health Organisation, every dollar spent on water and sanitation can give a $4.3 return due to reduced health care costs for individuals and society. It is time the Nepal government understands that inclusive sanitation is an important indicator of development and increases its investment in the same.