As a member of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Agenda, Nepal has pledged to ensure the following: “The universal availability and sustainable management of sanitation and clean water for all.” The Nepal Government has committed to getting 74% of urban households connected to sewer systems or provided with access to FSM facilities by 2025 and hopes to achieve a 90% rate by 2030. In a show of initiative, the Ministry of Water Supply developed the Water and Sanitation Bill, and it was finally passed in July 2022.
The bill incorporates components of Citywide Inclusive Sanitation (CWIS) as a guide to help local authorities develop their own CWIS plans and contribute to achieving the national target. This initiative, first proposed by the World Bank, focuses on building inclusive sanitation systems in urban and peri-urban regions according to their unique topographies, available resources, and the lifestyles of their residents rather than forcefully imposing modern sanitation systems in places where it may not be possible.
The CWIS initiative increases the accessibility of sanitation services in both an economic and geographic context. However, Mr. Chandra Kumar Pahan Shrestha, of the project implementation directorate at Kathmandu Khanepani Upatyaka Limited, argues that, given the context of the Kathmandu Valley, inclusive sanitation is particularly vital for the Bagmati River. He said, “The primary reason the government is making plans for renovating the drainage systems in the city and working on sanitation is to protect the river system. Damage done to the Bagmati river would reflect poorly on the physical well-being of the residents of the valley, and to rejuvenate it, these projects have been prioritized for the last seven to eight years.”
His sentiments parallel the CWIS guidelines, which specify that the primary purpose of the Kathmandu Valley Management Project is to clean up the river systems in the valley. Nationwide implementation of CWIS in Nepal can lead to many positive impacts, including the conservation of natural resources such as the Bagmati River. Cleaning up the river wouldn’t just make environmentalists happy; it would also improve citizens’ physical health by helping to stamp out diseases and infections linked to polluted and unhygienic water. Furthermore, for an agrarian nation like Nepal, CWIS can also lead to a rise in agricultural productivity, as properly managed fecal waste can be converted into fertilizer for the masses.
Recognizing these necessities and the advantages of implementing proper management of fecal sludge and wastewater, the Nepal government has created a robust set of responsibilities in its CWIS guidelines to be carried out by the federal, provincial, and local governments.
Responsibilities at the federal level include:
- Large projects of a national nature
- Projects of foreign aid to be built with financial assistance
- Drainage processing projects
- Sludge processing projects that will provide water to areas with more than fifteen thousand people in the Terai region, five thousand people in the Hilly region, and one thousand people in the Mountain region
- Transfer and distribution of water between provinces
- Water supply projects that require large investments, multi-purpose waste management, and processing works
Responsibilities at the provincial level include:
- Basic water supply production, processing, and distribution work
- Projects providing water service to areas with a population of five to fifteen thousand in the Terai region, three to five thousand in the Hilly region, and one to five thousand people in the Mountain region
- Management of garbage
- Projects affecting more than one local area
Finally, at the local level, the responsibilities include:
- Basic water supply projects
- Providing water service to a population of up to five thousand in the Terai region, three thousand in the Hilly region, and five hundred in the Mountain region
- Distribution and monitoring of drinking water
- Increasing public awareness about sanitation
- Provision of drinking water, sanitation, and waste management in rural areas
Additionally, the government has consolidated budgets and developed concrete goals for the expansion of sanitation infrastructure across the country, especially in dense, urban areas. By 2023, the government aims to complete the Kathmandu Valley Waste Management Project, which will see interceptor dams built on both sides of the river system of the valley. The government also plans to acquire 655 ropani of land in Khokna for the construction of the Lalitpur Drainage Processing Center. Furthermore, according to the current Budget Speech, water supply projects of Subhaghat of Surkhet, Panchkhal of Kavre, Khalanga of Darchula, Dadhikot of Bhaktapur, and Shardanagar of Chitwan will be completed by the upcoming fiscal year.
The government plans to conduct surveys in the valley to develop alternate sources of water, ensuring an increased availability of clean water. On a smaller scale, local-level authorities will conduct campaigns to incentivize the residents of an area to assist in the development of sanitation projects. The Nepal government aims to prioritize densely populated Dalit communities with their local water supply and drainage projects.
It is important to note that these plans remain relevant only to urban areas. Nepal has areas with very difficult topographies. In areas where the transportation of drinking water and sludge waste will prove to be difficult, the government will implement sanitation solutions so that wastewater and sludge can be treated at the household level.
While the government has created a robust set of objectives for implementing CWIS and sanitation facilities at all levels, they are still facing challenges when it comes to the budget, infrastructure, and public awareness. Mr. Chandra Shrestha explains that, At the federal level, the major challenge for CWIS comes down to the capacity of the treatment plants. Currently, the Bagmati treatment plant is the only fully operational plant in the valley and is serving around ten percent of the valley’s population. Even after the construction of the Dhobhighat, Kodku, and Salhagari treatment plants is complete, the government will still have roughly half of the valley’s wastewater to deal with. The government plans on combating this by extending the Guheshwori treatment plant and constructing two more drainage systems, but they haven’t secured the budget for these projects. Without an increase in the number of treatment plants in the area, the government is far from ensuring proper sanitation services for all denizens of the Kathmandu Valley. Mr. Chandra Shrestha also noted that the pandemic and unreliable contracting companies have played major roles in delaying the construction and repair of sanitation infrastructure.
Mr. Prabhat Shrestha, Chief Divisional Engineer at the Ministry of Water Supply, identified two more challenges at the federal level. The first is the lack of human resources, specifically those with technical expertise. According to Mr. Shrestha, researchers are spread too thin to survey every major site and analyze the treatment plants to improve the sanitation situation. The second issue has to do with the private sector and the fact that there are few incentives for private companies to aid the government with sanitation projects. For this, the government plans to host investment summits and reform policies to encourage activity within the private sector to work towards the country’s sanitation goals.
At the local level, Lubhu currently faces administrative issues in securing the budget to operate its treatment plant. According to Mr. Dhiraj Khadga from the Lubhu municipality, there is no budget to repair the Lubhu treatment plant. Furthermore, this was not even prioritized as workers from the treatment plant did not reach out to him with a budget requisitions application. When the workers were asked about this, they said that to secure the budget, they were first directed to the local government who then redirected them to a separate organization. Because of the hoops they had to jump through, the budget was not secured.
The sanitation situation at Kirtipur, however, is far better. The municipality has mobilized the private sector to transport sludge and wastewater to the treatment plant. Furthermore, they have an established list of outcomes by implementing CWIS, which concerns not only proper budgeting and construction plans but also prioritizing low-income citizens and closing gender disparities.
The local government surveyed the sanitation situation in the municipality to find solutions. For example, they discovered that less than one percent of households in Kirtipur rely on groundwater for drinking so they did decided to steer away from dealing with shallow groundwater contamination in order to mobilize resources for bigger issues. By leveraging preliminary research and establishing a task force with a proper hierarchy to combat sanitation challenges in the municipality, Kirtipur has set itself apart as an example of CWIS in Nepal. Although the municipality still faces the challenge of dealing with wastewater, residents and officials hope that the planned Dhobhighat treatment plant will be another step towards achieving their sanitation goals.
Both Mr. Prabhat Shrestha and Mr. Chandra Shrestha argued that a major issue across sectors of the government is a lack of public awareness when it comes to sanitation issues. According to Mr. Gyan Bazra Maharjan from the Kirtipur Municipal Office, Kirtipur struggles with the same. He explained that many people think of household waste and pollution in the same vein as fecal waste and sludge management, and that has led to the latter receiving less attention than it deserves. At the moment, there is a lack of public pressure on the government to take strong steps and implement CWIS in the region.
At the federal level, Mr. Chandra Shrestha reported that there have been instances of the public disrupting the construction of wastewater treatment plants because they feared the plants would make their neighborhood dirty. The misunderstanding was rooted in little to no public awareness about how treatment plants work, and it took the government a year to quell the backlash and resume work on the plants.
Beyond spreading awareness about sanitation challenges and solutions, Mr. Prabhat Shrestha hopes that citizens will feel compelled to take sanitation into their own hands and aid the country as it strives to reach the SDG goals. One solution that households can take on is to segregate their water drainage systems. If wastewater and sludge are separated from cleaner water such as rainwater, it will reduce the strain on treatments plants, which have to process all water that flows from the sewer system into the plant. With a lower volume of wastewater needing to be treated, the plants could work more efficiently to return treated water back to the river.
The government understands that sanitation is a problem that requires a diverse set of solutions, and they’ve prepared for the challenge of implementing Citywide Inclusive Sanitation in Nepal with well-thought-out planning and documentation. The idea of consolidating responsibilities across three sectors was put forward as a away to discover appropriate solutions and minimize the strain on resources.
The real obstacle is the nation’s budget. Without the proper resources, maintenance, and upkeep, drainage systems and treatment plants cannot adequately service their populations. Beyond that, the government has had to contend with a global pandemic, a disengaged private sector, and an ill-informed public. Regardless of these challenges, the government has made drinking water and waste management top priorities at all levels. Once they can secure the proper budget, they can begin to implement plans to construct and repair sanitation infrastructure and work towards providing access to clean water for everyone in Nepal.