Nepal: from water woes to overflow pipes

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By Ishwar Rauniyar, Communication, Learning and Documentation Officer, DanChurchAid (DCA)

When a strong 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Nepal in April 2015, it not only destroyed houses, but also damaged innumerable latrines and water systems in remote mountainous areas. The lack of clean water supplies and appropriate sanitation facilities not only made life for the affected people even more challenging, but also often compromised their health conditions.

To address this situation, the EU funded an association of humanitarian organisations to work in rehabilitating such structures among vulnerable communities in the highly-impacted districts of Dhading, Lamjung, and Makwanpur. The project delivered beyond expectations, with the local communities making considerable contributions of their own.

“We now have access to water in our community and I don’t have to worry about giving water to my cattle or washing my children’s clothes,” says Sakuntala Gopali with a happy smile on his face. “It has made our lives so much easier.”

Sakuntala looks much more relaxed than when we first met during my initial visit to Makawanpur district. Back then, his day-to-day life wasn’t so easy. Like many other villages in central Nepal, the devastating earthquake in 2015 left local water resources, amongst other facilities, in ruins. The scarcity of clean water forced villagers to walk at least two hours just to fetch a bucket of potable water; life in the remote town was difficult and Sakuntala was not spared.

“Even providing water to my cattle is difficult”, he told me last year. “There are times when I had to send my child to school wearing dirty clothes.”

The European Union has worked closely with its partners to introduce the Shelter Support to the Earthquake Affected Communities of Nepal (SEACON) initiative. Implemented by a DanChurchAid-led association of non-governmental organisations, the programme supported the restoration of water resources in earthquake-stricken localities. Under the programme, local men and women worked together to restore water resources in their hometown, and their hard work paid off.

Six months after my first visit, the village hosts a large concrete reservoir which can accommodate up to 18 000 litres of drinking water and two other tanks with a capacity of 500 and 1 000 litres. These facilities provide families with clean water round the clock. Furthermore, in an effort to avoid any water waste, an overflow pipe was installed, and a small pond with several pipes carries the surplus of water straight to the kitchen gardens nearby.

Community contribution

The communities welcomed the project wholeheartedly and made huge contributions in the form of construction materials and, most importantly, human resources and labour force. To ensure sustained water supplies for households, a watchman was hired to monitor the pipelines and reservoirs at least once a day, and there is fund-raising for maintenance. A water supply users' committee was formed, with members being trained by project staff on how to adopt different measures for sustainability and disaster risk reduction, including the rehabilitation of water supplies in case of disasters, and other disaster related information.

In order to promote good hygiene and sanitation practices amongst the earthquake-affected families in three of the worst-hit districts of Dhading, Lamjung and Makwanpur, the EU-funded initiative supported the construction of close to 1 000 earthquake-resilient latrines in these areas.

Whilst the project provided essential construction materials and technical support, the people have willingly borne extra costs themselves. “This latrine is of great benefit to us, so we also spent our own money and used whatever materials we have to make it more durable,” says Purna Bahadur Lama, a villager.

The contributions from the communities to both water schemes and household latrine construction programmes mean the project has successfully engaged people in the activities. With engagement comes a sense of ownership, and with ownership comes recognition of the responsibility in safeguarding and caring for these facilities.

Thanks to the EU funding, more than 8 200 people in Dhading, Makwanpur, and Lamjung districts of central Nepal now have access to clean and safe water and sanitation facilities.