Nepalese villages taking ownership of safe sanitation and hygiene

Coming from the impoverished Mushahar community, 53-year-old Mr Sogarath Sada, a farmer in Baluwa municipality, never had access to sanitation growing up and did not understand why people needed toilets to defecate.
Renu Kshetry
Mushar community in Nepal

In 2019, Swayam Sahayata Jiwanta Gaun Pariyojana (Self Help Livable Village Project), a non-governmental organization in Lalgadh, intervened and started teaching the villagers about sanitation and hygiene using the Community-Led Total Sanitation approach. 

Today, Mr Sada is aware of the importance of safe sanitation and the role it plays in maintaining the health of himself, his wife and their 12 children. He will soon be moving into one of the 36 new houses the provincial government is building for vulnerable families, but these newly-constructed homes do not have toilets.

Members of the Mushar Community in Nepal. ©WSSCC/Renu Kshetry
Members of the Mushar Community in Nepal. ©WSSCC/Renu Kshetry

“We waited for the construction of the house so that we could plan our toilets accordingly,” said Mr Sada.

Ratuli Yuwa Club, an implementing partner of WSSCC, became aware of the situation in Baluwa municipality when conducting a preliminary household survey in June 2020. As a result, the RYC has decided to intensify their efforts to encourage local residents to build toilets, coordinating with the housing programme. 

Nepal achieved open defecation-free (ODF) status in September 2019. But as outlined in Nepal’s Sanitation and Hygiene Master Plan 2011, in order for this to be sustainable, local communities need to take responsibility for identifying and implementing hygiene and sanitation behaviours and facilities. 

As villagers take charge of having access to safe sanitation, they face several obstacles such as cost and land on which to place the toilets is another barrier. In communities like Baluwa municipality, most of the toilets are built away from home, rather than inside the house, and some toilet facilities are communal.

Ms Sudha Shrestha, acting Chief Technical Advisor for UN-Habitat, the executing agency of WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund in Nepal, explains that disadvantaged groups and minority populations are often those most at risk of reverting to open defecation.

“Everyone has the right to adequate and safe sanitation and hygiene without discrimination. The Total Sanitation Programme needs to focus on the needs of these people so as to address the ‘slippage’ from ODF status,” she said. 

As Nepalese communities are working hard to sustain their hard-earned open defecation free status, one of the biggest obstacles is behavioural.

Mr Ramakanta Duwadi, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Water Supply, explained that local government must be on the front lines to sensitize local community members on the need for sanitation and hygiene. “It is the community that should take ownership of the programme,” he emphasized. 

Convincing the locals is not an easy task, according to Mr Raj Kumar Yadav, Ward chair for ward no 9. The ward office even introduced 500 Nepalese rupees (US$4) worth of material support like buckets, mugs, soap, toilet cleaners, brushes and a bottle of phenyl, but there were few takers.

“The most important thing to do is to intensify the total sanitation campaign focusing on behavioural change of each individual in the Mushahar community,” Mr Yadav said. “We have plans and programmes, but we need more external support to achieve this outcome.”

The mayor of Baluwa Municipality, Mr Binod Yadav, stated, “Carrying out a massive awareness campaign for a longer period of time and regular monitoring at ward level can make the village ODF,” said Mr Yadav.

“Every individual, organization and concerned government office needs to perform their duty responsibly so that we can maintain our ODF status even in minority villages.”