Nepal’s Joint-Secretary addressing bottlenecks to achieve sanitation and hygiene for all

Story
Mr Ramakant Duwadi’s involvement in the water and sanitation sector began in 2001 when he was working with the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage (DWSS) in Dadeldhura in the far-western region of Nepal, followed by similar work in other districts.
By
Renu Kshetry
Mr Ramakant Duwadi Joint-Secretary of the Water and Sanitation Division at the Ministry of Water Supply, Nepal

His career in sanitation and hygiene began in 2010 when he joined the Ministry of Water Supply, where he is now Joint-Secretary of the Water and Sanitation Division and Chairperson of the National Sanitation and Hygiene Coordination Committee (NSHCC).

In 2016, Mr Duwadi represented Nepal in the sixth South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN-VI) in Bangladesh, which immersed him in the development of sanitation and hygiene strategies. Through various capacities within government bodies, he has played a crucial role in Nepal’s open defecation free (ODF) campaign. 

WSSCC: As WSSCC transforms into the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund, which of its four strategic objectives – household sanitation, menstrual health and hygiene, sanitation and hygiene in schools and health care facilities, and supporting innovation – do you see as the biggest challenge in your country?

Mr Ramakant Duwadi, Joint-Secretary of the Water and Sanitation Division at the Ministry of Water Supply: The open defecation free campaign that the Government of Nepal has led was a huge success. It was declared with much enthusiasm and commitment. However, after the ODF declaration last September, the momentum has slowed down due to various reasons. We are yet to achieve 100 percent universal sanitation coverage  where every person has access to toilets that safely contain excreta, because  we still lack intensive awareness programmes.

Our constitution has given due authorities to the local governments as far as sanitation and hygiene management is concerned. But the local governments are grappling with other critical issues, and the sanitation and hygiene sector has still to be given the priority that is much needed.

We are aware that a lot of activities still must be conducted in terms of household sanitation for the sustainability of ODF. We need extensive awareness and behavioural change campaigns to educate and constantly remind the masses.

Mr Ramakant Duwadi, Joint-Secretary of the Water and Sanitation Division at the Ministry of Water Supply

WSSCC: What do you see as the biggest stumbling block to the successful achievement of sanitation and hygiene for all? And how is the Ministry prepared to address this stumbling block?

Mr Duwadi: At present, we need to strengthen ownership and leadership at the local level. Though there are policies, plans and programmes for sanitation and hygiene, the local government officials are yet to implement them as a priority. The main problem is a lack of skilled human resources to execute these plans and build the capacity of local government officials – it has gone down by six-fold in the federal level as compared to the number of staff before federalization.

Equally, WASH programmes are a bit fragmented within the government, and it has become difficult to track down outcomes as there is no direct chain of command and coordination due to new federal restructuring. Lack of coordination between three tiers of government has further hampered progress in the sector, so there is a need for better coordination between all the governments.

We have huge responsibilities, such as achieving the five-year 15th periodic plan and SDG target but, again, we lack skilled human resources. The 15th periodic plan from 2020-2024 is the government of Nepal’s road map to achieve economic development and SDGs.  We are able to achieve basic sanitation and hygiene within the 15th periodic plan, but we have reached only 23% of the total target of 90% for safe water. Similarly, only 2.1% of wastewater treatment is done so far, whereas the target is to reach 20% in the 15th periodic plan and 50% by 2030. Plus we have a lot to do in safely managed sanitation. We have a long way to go, and there are challenges which we need to overcome by working closely with all tiers of government, development partners and support from Sanitation and Hygiene Fund.

WSSCC: How do you see the sector strategies addressing the principle of leave no one behind (LNOB) and equality and non-discrimination (EQND)?

Mr Duwadi: Article 35 (4) of the Constitution of Nepal ensures water supply and sanitation as the fundamental rights. Article 30 (1) mentions that every citizen has the right to live in a clean and healthy environment. The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene bill, which is at the parliament, will also address it from a right-based approach. This will provide a legal basis to provide support to ultra-poor, marginalized and minority groups.

WSSCC: With regard to domestic financing for sanitation and hygiene, which Ministry is responsible for this budget area? What is the role of local government in prioritizing WASH programmes and budget allocations?

Mr Duwadi: The Ministry provides conditional grants to the provinces under various titles for water supply and sanitation. Development of faecal sludge management, wastewater system and sewerage plans are prepared by the Ministry.

The budget for the WASH sector has also increased. The Ministry has a total budget of 43.1 billion Nepalese rupees (US$368 million) for this year, and the Ministry also provides some money as conditional grants to the provinces.

The ministry of Urban Development has also allocated an urban WASH budget for big projects like the Bagmati Sewerage project. Apart from that, the line ministries such as the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the Ministry of Health and Population also have budgets for WASH activities. In addition, Ministry of finance is also providing Fiscal equalization grant, matching grant, etc. to provinces and local governments through intergovernmental fiscal transfer. However, due to lack of institutional capacity, budget implementation is weak, which is why we need to adopt innovative and cost-effective technologies.

WSSCC: As you mentioned, the WASH Bill, which has been tabled in Parliament, and the Sector Development Plan (SDP) are in the endorsement process. How do you think these two important documents will help achieve SDG 6.2 goals?

Mr Duwadi: The sector development plan is a guiding document that will help analyze gaps and weaknesses in sanitation and hygiene interventions, and stresses on sector strategies regarding resource generation, potential stakeholders, service level standards and sector targets that ultimately help in the service delivery.

Similarly, the WASH bill will be the first legal instrument on sanitation and hygiene to mention WASH as a fundamental right and provide clear roles and responsibilities for the three tiers of government. We hope that all the confusion regarding roles and responsibilities will be cleared up after the endorsement of these bills.

WSSCC: In the context of the pandemic, how do you see the future of this sector, in terms of priorities, resources and achievement of the SDGs?

Mr Duwadi: The WASH cluster for COVID-19 meets every Tuesday under my leadership. This cluster also works closely during natural disasters such as floods, landslides, earthquakes and any disease outbreak. The pandemic has made us realize the importance of this collaboration. Even during COVID-19, the government has not reduced the budget of the Ministry, which shows the government’s priority, as the hand-washing with soap has become the most effective tool in fighting the virus.