Reviving sanitation in Nepal


Following the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal, the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF)-supported programme and partners underwent a significant learning journey, which has helped revive sanitation in the country. This journey is illustrated in a new learning report produced by UN-Habitat, the GSF Executing Agency in Nepal. The following article highlights the key content from the report.

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The devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal killed close to 9,000 people, injuring thousands and leaving millions in need of humanitarian assistance (read more). Moreover, the earthquake caused extensive damage to the country’s economy and infrastructure, including sanitation facilities.

The GSF-supported programme, managed by UN-Habitat, was not spared. Five districts under the programme were badly affected by the earthquake: Bhaktapur, Dolakha, Nuwakot, Rasuwa and Sindupalchowk. Three of these districts – Bhaktapur, Dolakha and Sindupalchowk – were the worst affected. Bhaktapur had been officially certified as ODF in 2013, and Sindupalchowk and Dolakha were on track, having reached 98 and 99 percent sanitation coverage respectively.

Given the extent of the devastation, partner requests and UN-Habitat’s presence on the ground, WSSCC’s Steering Committee authorized the re-programming of a portion of the Nepal programme’s funds to support the nationwide, coordinated response.

Supporting coordination, assessments and emergency WASH

Coordination: With many new agencies working in the districts following the earthquake, the GSF-supported programme helped manage information, prepare district level plans and monitor the progress of emergency response efforts. District coordinators under the programme supported Water Supply and Sanitation District Offices in Bhaktapur, Dolakha, Nuwakot and Sindhupalchowk in the coordination of district-level water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) clusters. In addition, the central team in Kathmandu was an active member of the national WASH cluster providing policy guidance and technical support.

Assessment: After the first week of earthquake, the GSF-supported programme conducted an initial assessment across the Village Development Committees (VDCs) it supports, finding that damage to toilets was most extensive in Sindhupalchowk’s VDCs. Following aftershocks, landslides and other earthquake-related outcomes, the programme continued to support District WASH Clusters in regularly updating information on damage to WASH facilities.

Emergency WASH: With re-programmed GSF funds and resources from the Central Emergency Response Fund, the programme was able to support emergency WASH efforts. The programme mobilized volunteers to support hygiene education and household-level toilet reconstruction, as well as the distribution of hygiene kits. This included sensitizing households on technological options, preparedness for the impending monsoon season, and solid waste management.

Reviving damaged toilets and local campaigns

The GSF-supported programme and partners mobilized volunteers for a ‘revive your toilet’ campaign, as part of the 2015 National Sanitation Action Week. Over 170 volunteers were mobilized, who helped improve 100 latrines in a week and engage more than 3,000 people, 500 households and 500 students with sanitation and hygiene messages.

In addition to reviving toilets, this grassroots action revived local sanitation campaigns. In the village of Irkhu, Sindupalchowk, one volunteer noted that the already triggered villagers had not reverted to open defecation, despite damage to toilets. This helped demonstrate the sustainable impact of behaviour change approaches.

Programme and sector challenges

Following the earthquake, a heavy burden was placed on the programme’s partners in supporting the emergency response, which caused implementation delays. An additional programme challenge was the sector’s low prioritization of ‘software’ activities, such as behaviour change and advocacy, due to the heavy focus on hardware.

Broader, WASH sector-wide challenges included: implementing behaviour change activities while sanitation facilities were being subsidized by some sector actors; maintaining the principles of the national sanitation and hygiene masterplan during the emergency period; major funding gaps; relocating displaced communities; sanitation challenges in relief camps; difficulties in sustaining good hygiene behaviour given water shortages; and difficulties in resuming regular development activities. To address policy-level challenges, the National Sanitation and Hygiene Coordination Committee – which is the coordinating mechanism for the GSF-supported programme and broader WASH activities – issued guidelines to maintain the principles of the sanitation and hygiene masterplan. One of the core principles of the masterplan includes giving special consideration to the most vulnerable groups and communities in supporting the construction of sanitation facilities during emergency situations.

Key lessons learned

Effective behaviour change programming can help protect communities from diarrhoeal outbreaks during emergencies: Despite the high vulnerability to diarrhoeal outbreaks following the earthquake, the programme observed that the high level of sanitation and hygiene behaviour change adopted by communities helped protect them from major outbreaks.

Effective behaviour change can help people prioritize the reconstruction of toilets following disasters: As behaviour change was ingrained by the GSF-supported programme and partners, the need to maintain and use basic sanitation was intact, despite the damage to toilets. Communities therefore prioritized the reconstruction of their toilets, which they could use during the crisis. In these communities, further behaviour change facilitation was identified as non-essential.

Effective behaviour change can help ensure that ODF campaigns are not completely destroyed and can steadily regain momentum: Amidst the continued humanitarian assistance, open defecation free (ODF) campaigns in the affected GSF-supported districts have steadily regained momentum and were not completely destroyed following the earthquake. ODF declarations in VDCs across Dolakha, Nuwakot, Rasuwa and Sindupalchowk are ongoing, as the programme aims to help achieve district-wide sanitation coverage by 2017.

Strengthening institutional capacity to respond to emergencies is essential: The coordination and technical support provided by the programme indicated the need to strengthen key WASH institutions at the district level, to better prepare them for emergencies. Key gaps were identified in areas such as assessment, coordination, monitoring and information management. Clear communication and institutional support from the central WASH cluster and government authorities was also identified as essential.