Participatory steps towards safe and improved water supply for 150 households in rural Nepal

Community Tap Nepal

Junmaya Shahi using the only functioning community tap in Norku (next to a non functioning one), to do her dishes.

Establishing an official committee to manage funds for pipe construction and oversee repairs is a first important step to meeting community needs for clean water

August 29, 2022
  • SDG: #3, #5, #6, #10
  • SECTORS: Water, Development Consulting
  • COUNTRIES: Nepal
  • CLIENT: Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs

by Hanna Matilda Kankkunen, field specialist, SUSWA

In the remote and mountainous district of Dolpa, in the province of Karnali in mid-western Nepal, Ward chairperson Narendra Bahadur Shahi is busy. Community members of Ward 6 – the village of Norku in rural municipality of Mudkechula – are gathering outside his office for a meeting. They are about to elect members for a Water Users and Sanitation Committee for the Norku drinking water scheme, the infrastructure and maintenance plan that aims to provide sustainable clean water and sanitation to the local community.

Ward Chairperson Narendra Bahadur Shahi in the ward office, while the community gathers outside for the important meeting to choose Water Users and Sanitation Committee members.

Mr. Shahi shares more on why this is important. The Norku drinking water scheme, which is supposed to serve all 150 households of Ward 6, is currently barely functional. Built already 42 years ago, the scheme does not meet the water demand of the community and needs rehabilitation. “The water flow is not continuous, and there is always scarcity of water” Mr. Shahi explains.

Self-made yard taps

Taking matters into their own hands, many households have pulled their own pipelines from a nearby stream. Having a yard tap instead of shared community taps is something most Ward members want. It is considered to increase hygiene practices and is line with Nepal’s policy. However, Mr. Shahi sees many problems with the self-made yard taps, especially as it means the majority of households are served by an open, unprotected source of water and turbid and unsafe water is common phenomena during the rainy season. The water is not tested nor treated in any way, and this unprotected source is vulnerable to disasters. As the pipes lay on top of the ground, animals, children and sometimes vandalism between neighbors lead to constant repair needs.

Yard Tap
Dhanraj Rokaye of ward 6, using a shared yard tap for washing his hands

These repair needs, and the many unofficial pipe connections, are hard to manage as there has been no Water Users and Sanitation Committee or plan for maintenance of the scheme. One of the biggest problems, according to Mr. Shahi, is that no repair or maintenance funds have been collected. A single maintenance worker currently does all the repairs in exchange for crops, such as corn or millet, rather than cash. However, he is not trained and his visits to the community are irregular. Mr. Shahi is hopeful that all of this is about to change, and electing a Water Users and Sanitation Committee is a first important step.

Rehabilitation of existing water schemes for a sustainable approach to serving all

Mudkechula is one of 42 municipalities the NIRAS-implemented Sustainable Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for All (SUSWA) project supports. Funded by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, SUSWA is a continuation of the financial and technical support that Finland has been providing to the development of the WASH sector in Nepal since 1989. In Karnali province, the working area of SUSWA, the majority of water schemes are low-to-non-functional. In earlier WASH interventions, priority was given to the construction of new schemes over the rehabilitation of existing ones. But as rehabilitation is substantially faster, generally involves less technical and labour inputs, and is cost effective, SUSWA is placing more emphasis on improving the functionality of existing systems and supporting sustainable operation and maintenance systems for communities such as Ward 6.

Running Water Tap
When there is water, the tap is constantly running, or dripping, as can be seen in the picture. Filling up water canisters here can take time, and sometimes, there is no water at all.

Strengthening local governance

The lack of skilled maintenance workers, funds and spare parts are widespread problems, also among the municipalities and wards that have existing Water Users and Sanitation Committees, hindering them from responding to scheme breakdowns. Additionally, external factors such as weather-related disasters play a big part in water service disruptions. Rethinking the role of duty bearers and strengthening the role of the local government is therefore key for climate-resilient, safe, and functional water supply.

The decentralisation of service regulation is an ongoing process in Nepal following the signing of the new constitution in 2015. Municipalities are autonomous local governments with a wide range of powers and duties, such as the remit to plan, finance, monitor and construct WASH projects. Municipalities are the main implementers of SUSWA and participate in the project cost with a minimum financial contribution of 22%. Addressing functionality as the core issue requires organisational restructuring and the formation of professional operation and maintenance (O&M) structures with the provision of a municipal-level rehabilitation fund and its effective mobilisation supported by reliable and timely data and supply-chains.

SUSWA intends to establish efficient and transparent WASH governance at the municipal level that is capable of ensuring safe, sustainable, inclusive WASH services and conditions for all, through internalising the concept of lifetime services (and costs) of schemes.

Inclusive community participation through supported Water Users and Sanitation Committees

SUSWA supports the local government to undertake their mandate in providing WASH services to the people in a participatory and transparent manner. In order for WASH to be for all, it is crucial that women and men of all castes and social groups and persons with and without disabilities, participate in the planning, decision-making and monitoring and auditing of water schemes on community level. At the community level, participation and decision-making happens through Water Users and Sanitation Committees like the one Mr. Shali and his community are establishing in Ward 6.

The second-ever local elections were held in Nepal in May 2022. As a result, SUSWA is working with many first-time elected governments and government officials.

Having been a farmer all her life, Dudha Rokaye decided that she wanted to give back to her community by running for office and was elected vice-chair of Mudkechula, Dolpa, on her first go.

Women in decision-making positions are important for inclusive decision-making on all municipality matters and for empowering other women, like Duda, to seek such roles. It can also be an important step towards ensuring that WASH facilities meet women's and girls' needs, as well as tackling harmful gender norms and power imbalances.

Training and meetings for women chair and vice-chairpersons are one-way SUSWA can empower these newly elected officials.

One of the key ways SUSWA supports Water Users and Sanitation Committees is by  organising trainings and working with members to develop water safety plans (WSPs). The extended WSP (WSP+++) supplements conventional WSPs by addressing climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, O&M and water tariff collection, as well as social inclusion. SUSWA proposes to transform WSP+++ from a theoretical concept to an agile, usable tool for both communities and municipalities by integrating it into existing municipal monitoring systems.

Meanwhile in Ward 6 of Mudkechula, the meeting has come to a conclusion with a newly formed Water Users and Sanitation Committee consisting of nine members.

Community Mass Meeting2
Community mass meeting to select a new Water User’s and Sanitation Committee.

With the Committee in place, now the real work begins. To make the drinking water scheme functional and effective, detailed designs are needed before starting rehabilitation, which the community will support in both cash and kind. Another important task for the Committee is making important decisions regarding household cost for community and/or yard taps and O&M fund collection and potential subsidies supported by the municipality to ensure the water scheme will in the future reach and serve all and do so sustainably.

Get in touch

Mikaela Kruskopf

Mikaela Kruskopf

Senior Consultant

Helsinki, Finland

+358 9 836 24222

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