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KATHMANDU, Nepal – The honourable Bina Magar, Nepal’s Minister for Water Supply, played a crucial role in the country reaching “open defecation free (ODF)” status in 2019. In this exclusive interview with WSSCC, Minister Magar speaks about the need for Nepal to invest in numerous water, sanitation and hygiene programmes to ensure safe water, sanitation, hygiene and menstrual health for all and how she sees the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund supporting Nepal in achieving SDG 6.2.
WSSCC: What are the Ministry’s plans to achieve SDG 6.2 - equal access to sanitation and hygiene for all?
Honourable Bina Magar, Minister for Water Supply in Nepal: There is no doubt that Nepal has achieved a milestone in the sanitation and hygiene sector with the ODF declaration. Nepal has also declared its intention to achieve total sanitation.
Currently, we are drafting a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) plan with local governments. This will help us identify the financial and technical resource gaps for the implementation of sanitation and hygiene programmes and will also help determine ways to fill those gaps. Besides that, the Ministry has drafted the Water Supply and Sanitation Act in order to address any policy-related glitches. The act is in the Parliament and will be endorsed soon.
WSSCC: What kinds of programmes do you think Nepal needs to achieve SDG 6.2?
Minister Magar: The Constitution of Nepal states that ‘every citizen has the right to access clean drinking water and sanitation’ and sanitation is defined as a fundamental right. The Department of Water Supply and Sewerage Management (DWSSM), which is part of this Ministry, has launched various programmes on water and sanitation through its project offices in all 77 districts. It also has a plan to start various programmes in close coordination with the provincial and local governments. The Ministry has also prioritized menstrual health and hygiene by developing the National Policy on Dignified Menstruation. The final draft of the policy will be made public after incorporating suggestions from concerned stakeholders.
There are, however, various challenges to the timely and effective implementation of these programmes. The Ministry is facing a sectoral financial gap and a lack of sector-wise expertise in order to implement these programs. We see the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund as playing a critical role in helping Nepal to address these gaps.
WSSCC: Though sanitation and hygiene is a human rights issue, it has not been a priority in terms of budgeting and planning. Why do you think is the case?
Sanitation and hygiene have become a priority since Nepal moved to a federal structure with three tiers of government. All three tiers have prioritized sanitation and hygiene and initiated WASH plans.
WSSCC: What is the allocation of budget, plans and policies to address these challenges?
Minister Magar: The 15th National Plan of Action has vowed to ensure quality services and accessibility of safe and clean drinking water to all and provide sanitation services deemed necessary.
Based on this commitment, the Nepal Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Sector Development Plan which is currently being developed includes an analysis of the challenges, potential solutions, and the financial and technical aspects of this sector. The Ministry has developed national programmes on proper management of wastewater, faecal sludge management, etc. The Ministry is also exploring the possibility of attracting private sector investment in wastewater and faecal sludge management.
WSSCC: What do you think can be done to raise the profile of sanitation and hygiene at the policy level?
Minister Magar: Sanitation and hygiene involves many stakeholders, and there is a need for a common understanding and effective collaboration and coordination among all these stakeholders. We need to increase capacity and sector expertise as well as develop the institutional framework.
WSSCC: Only approximately 15 percent of women of reproductive age have access to sanitary pads in Nepal. What do you think the government can do to increase the accessibility and affordability of sanitary pads in Nepal?
Minister Magar: The Ministry is concerned about easy accessibility of sanitary pads, especially for women living in remote areas. We will coordinate with stakeholders and generate resources to ensure easy accessibility of sanitary pads to all women for dignified menstruation.
The National Policy for Dignified Menstruation has already been drafted under the leadership of MoWS. Similarly, the School Sector Development Plan (2016-2023) has also ensured privacy, menstruation health and sanitation under the health and nutrition heading. The accessibility of sanitary pads is related to poverty as well. Hence, it is very important to provide skill-oriented training sessions that will enhance the income of women living in rural areas. Even though the government has introduced various projects and programmes related to menstrual health and hygiene, these initiatives have not been sustainable.
WSSCC: Now that Nepal has been declared an ODF nation, what is needed to ensure the sustainability of this status?
Minister Magar: Nepal was declared ODF on 30 September 2019. But we still have many challenges to face in order to maintain our ODF status. There needs to be proper coordination, collaboration and understanding between all three tiers of governments to enable comprehensive development of sanitation and hygiene sector planning that will lead us to total sanitation.
Following the successful declaration of ODF, the government launched its total sanitation campaign as a social movement after endorsing the Sanitation and Hygiene Master Plan 2011. But achieving SDG 6.2 will not be that simple and easy. The major challenges are infrastructure, a lack of sector expertise, financial management, the sustainability of services and coordination between the three tiers of the government, and we feel that this is where the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund can help us address those challenges.