Safe drinking water and sanitation facilities are the basic necessities of human beings. The General Assembly of UN has declared water and sanitation as fundamental human rights. Similarly Nepal has ratified five major international Human Rights treaties directly or indirectly related to water and sanitation, making these not only basic needs but also human rights.
Worldwide, an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and a total of more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. Studies also indicate about 1.5 million children under the age of five die each year and 443 million school days are lost because of water-and sanitation-related diseases. A large number of people from different countries are deprived of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities even as a huge budget is being invested in this sector.
In Nepal, a majority is still out of access to safe drinking water and safe latrines. As per Department of Drinking Water and Seawage (DWSS) data of 2010, drinking water has reached 80.0 percent population while the households having access to latrines are limited to 43.04 percent. However, only 17.91 percent of water supply schemes are well managed, 38.85 percent of schemes need minor repairs, 11.82 percent of schemes need major repairs and 21 percent of the schemes are required to be restablished.
Every year around 10,500 children under age 5 die only from diarrheal desease in Nepal. Seven out of 10 worst diseases in Nepal are related to poor water and sanitation, resulting in more than 50 percent of total deaths due to disasters, according to the Ministry of Health records of 2008.
Nepal has made a commitment to the Millenuum Development Goals (MDGs) to increase the access to safe drinking water to 73 percent and access to sanitation facilities to 53 percent by 2015. Similarly Nepal has developed the national goal to provide basic water and sanitation facilitis all over the country by the year 2073 BS. A large amount of money is being invested from the governmental and non-governmental sectors for providing safe drinking water and sanitation facilities for which numerous drinking water and sanitation projects have been completed and several are ongoing.
It is well understood that for a developing country like Nepal financial resource is always a constraint. If the universal coverage of water supply is to be achieved by the year 2017, the repair/maintenance budget should be increased dramatically. Based on the fact that budget allocation for repair work is substantially low, an enormous amount of financial resource is required to achieve the functionality of defunct schemes, thereby meeting the MDG target.
Nepal’s WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene) sector is fragmented and characterized by lack of effective and sustainable management systems resulting in an enlarging backlog of projects needing rehabilitation. The sustainability of the schemes is in shadow due to the lack of technical support for user groups and lack of local resource mobilization for regular maintenance. So to ensure the long term sustainability of existing water supply schemes and to achieve universal access to adequate amount of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, awareness should be raised.
Poor participation of users during various stages of the project, inactive users committees, no systematic decision making process, no provision of operating staff /Village VMWs during O & M, weak relationship between WUSC and the implementing agency are among the problems contributing to the present conditions. This shows that social capital formation is essential for the functionality and sustainability of the water projects.
In this regard if we analyze the present status, it seems quiet difficult to achieve the set goals. A large number of population is deprived of water and sanitation facilities on the one hand and a huge number constructed schemes is becoming defunct due to the lack of the budget for maintenance and lack of awareness and organized efforts of the users.
To expand access to water and sanitation with social justice for all people of Nepal, certain steps have to be taken. It is essential to amend the different acts, regulations and policies related to drinking water and sanitation, to make the government more responsible and accountable and organize and empower the drinking water and sanitation users. Functionality and sustainability of the schemes and increment in the sanitation and hygiene coverage are possible only by way of empowerment of the users and participation of them in all stages of the project. It is time we put one stone on the wall from our own side and civil society organizations emphasize the empowerment and awareness of users to solve the policy level issues and practical problems in this sector to make government accountable on the other.
The author is the Program Manager, Federation of Drinking Water and Sanitation Users Nepal (FEDWASUN)