Clean water and a clean environment are the foundations of a healthy life. Polluted water and poor sanitation can make anyone sick, regardless of nationality or geographic location. That is why it is so important to place global attention on the issues of water quality, hygiene and sanitation. Nepal has emerged as an example of how attention can lead to improved sanitation. Though challenges still exist, including drinking water functionality and regional disparities in development, Nepal has made significant progress. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Nepal.
10 Facts About Sanitation in Nepal
- Water supply and sanitation have been a government priority since 1981. The International Water Supply and Sanitation Decade (1981-90) saw increased investment in improving Nepal’s sanitation. For example, UNICEF and UNDP funded developments in water quality, hygiene and sanitation. The Nepalese government also expanded policies and programs in the sector. Among other initiatives, the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage developed a rural water supply project and a commission formed to evaluate water supply and sanitation practices.
- Nepal has made significant progress in water supply, sanitation and hygiene practices. In the last 25 years, a significant portion of the population—2.6 billion people—has gained access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities. In 1990, estimates determined that only 36 percent of the population had access to a water supply facility. As of 2016, 95 percent of households were using improved drinking water.
- Nepal is open defecation free. As of September 2019, all 77 districts announced the elimination of open defecation. A 2009 cholera epidemic caused a public health disaster and prompted a new wave of efforts to improve national sanitation practices. The government collaborated with NGOs and local leaders to execute a plan to create an open defecation free nation. This included adopting a no-subsidy arrangement as the basis for sanitation implementation and the construction of improved sanitation facilities.
- Drinking water quality is now the primary concern. Estimates show that access to safely managed drinking water is only 27 percent. Bacterial contamination and water pollution are highly prevalent and exacerbate the risk of illness. Many consider poor drinking water quality to be a leading cause of disease outbreaks, such as cholera. To address this issue, UNICEF is partnering with Nepal’s Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation to implement water safety plans and increase community awareness on household-level water treatment.
- Drinking water functionality poses problems. Of Nepal’s water supply systems, only 25 percent consistently function properly. Thirty-six percent require minor repairs and 39 percent require either major repair, rehabilitation or reconstruction. Poorly functioning systems result in an unreliable, insufficient or unsafe water supply. UNICEF’s New Country Programme is aiding Nepal in tackling this challenge and has emphasized improving water functionality as a priority.
- Regional disparities persist in access to water supply facilities and sanitation coverage. Terai, a low-land region characterized by steams, springs and wetlands, has higher coverage of improved drinking water sources compared with the mountain and hill belts. However, the mountain and hill belts have greater access to sanitation facilities compared with the Terai region. Geographic heterogeneity links to differences in capital, technology and environmental resources.
- Poor people are more likely to use unimproved water sources and sanitation facilities. Households from lower quintiles are less likely to be able to afford a piped water connection. Therefore, inequity persists in the use of improved water sources and sanitation facilities among socioeconomic groups. In these 10 facts about sanitation in Nepal, it is important to note the wide influence of the distribution of resources across different economic levels on access to sanitation.
- Issues with water quality related to contamination are more often chemical than bacterial. According to The Water Project, a nonprofit primarily based on clean water access in Sub-Saharan Africa, the largest contaminants in the Kathmandu valley and Terai regions are lead and arsenic. This influx of chemicals comes mainly from industrial practices but the regions’ sedimentary layers of gravel deposits interlocked with flood plains magnifies it.
- Nepal aims to ensure clean water and sanitation for all by 2030. The government’s specific targets are basic water supply coverage for 99 percent of households, piped water supply to 90 percent of households and the elimination of open defecation. Achievements in water, sanitation and hygiene will contribute to a number of other goals, including those in public health, nutrition and poverty.
- UNICEF is working in collaboration with Nepal to achieve these goals. UNICEF, in collaboration with the Nepal government and other non-governmental organizations, has set forth strategies for Nepal to expand access to drinking water quality and improved sanitation facilities. These strategies include expanding water quality monitoring, increasing education about best sanitation practices and engaging with the private sector for the construction of affordable, low-cost toilets in households and institutions.
These 10 facts about sanitation in Nepal showcase the progress that Nepal has made since the International Water Supply and Sanitation Decade. With continued attention, Nepal should be able to continue its improvements into the future.
– Kayleigh Rubin