Saturday, April 14, 2012

Nepal: Hours spent carrying water now spent in school in Nepal

Source: Government of Finland

In Nepal, the introduction of running water and proper toilets has meant less disease and illness among the people. In addition, because water no longer has to be carried home from far away, there are more hours that can be used for going to school, taking care of the home, and making more varied and nutritious meals. There is also time for new work that provides a source of income.

Shamanfi Sunwar fills her water canister. Even though it is the dry season, water drips from the faucet. Luckily. Otherwise the 87 year old grandmother would have to walk down to the bottom of the mountain, a drop of many metres in height along many more metres of trail.

When the 15 litre canister is full, she lifts it into her sling and puts it on her back. She adjusts the strap on her forehead and begins the long trek home on the cliff-hugging trail to her village.

But she doesn’t complain, on the contrary. Now she only needs to take less than an hour to fetch water, only once a day, when last autumn fetching water took six or more hours every day.

Today, water for drinking and preparing food can be gotten from the community water source near the village. Water for cattle and irrigation still needs to come from further away.

"It’s like a miracle"

Shamanfi Sunwar is only one of the many people who benefit from the water supply system Finnish development aid has helped provide for the 1.700 residents of Thaprek.

When the villagers of Thaprek heard two years ago that they were going to be part of the water supply project, they were hopeful but slightly doubtful. They had heard talk of similar projects for decades, but all these projects had failed for technical reasons or for lack of funding.

Now one hill in Thaprek has been equipped to serve as the ‘water tower’ for the system: water is pumped up from the spring 370 metres below, to a 10 cubic metre storage tank at the top of the hill. From there it goes to four district storage tanks, and further to 41 communal water faucets. These faucets are used by 265 households.

“It’s like a miracle,” says one of the Village Council members, describing the feeling of the village when the first faucets were opened six months ago.

“The water is very good quality, very clean and fresh, with no taste.” The Thaprek village water distribution system is part of a project which is bringing running water to 90.000 Nepalis. Half of the proposed 471 distribution systems are already in use, the rest are in the planning and construction phase.

Another aim of the water distribution project is to support improvements in the sanitation and hygiene of 250.000 persons in the project area. This goal has already been met and exceeded: the benefits of good sanitation now reach over 390.000 Nepalis. These people and their neighbours now use toilets which ensure there is no fear of excrement being spread to contaminate food and water.

“Selling” new ways of behaviour to local people is difficult

In the jargon of development aid, project success is measured by its “effectiveness” and its “ownership”. Only when the project is considered ‘effective’ in achieving its goals, and the local people feel they ‘own’ the project, is the entire project considered a success.

In plain English, what all of this means is that new ways of behaviour have to be learned by the local people – that the bushes behind your house and the fields are not toilets. They also need to learn to take proper care of the new water system – real ownership and real responsibility.

The Technical Advisor to the project, Markus Tuukkanen, prefers to use the word: “selling”.

According to Mr Tuukkanen: “We are here as ‘sales representatives’ for a new system of thinking and behaviour. Our clients are the authorities on different levels, the planners, the contractors and builders, and of course the users of the new toilets and the new water distribution system.”

Enthusiasm, acceptance, and ‘ownership’ of the sanitation system has been achieved, in Mr Tuukkanen’s opinion, but there is room for improvement in maintenance of the water distribution system.

“The sanitation system in this project is unquestionably the best in Nepal, and what we have learned here is being put into national strategies and guidelines. From there they will spread to become national ways of behaviour.”

Stomach diseases decreased

Although carrying water from other sources still has to be done, the improvement over the past is remarkable. The village women of Thaprek report that today there are far fewer cases of stomach and digestive diseases. And their children and their clothes are cleaner.

Because the amount of time needed to fetch water has decreased drastically, children – who used to begin carrying water at the age of ten – now have more time to go to school and work on their school lessons. Adults have more time to spend on taking care of the home, preparing more nutritious and tasty meals, and learning new ways of obtaining income.

In addition, now that there is more than one toilet at the village school, it is easier for girls to go to school and women who are teachers to do their work when they have their menses.

Lauri Haapanen