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Sacosan V: An overview of the conference and Nepal’s sanitation and hygiene master plan

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The South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN V) kicked off on the 21 October 2013 in Kathmandu. It is a biennial convention providing a platform for interaction on sanitation to South Asian countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), enabling learning from past experiences and setting actions for the future.

During four days, 400 delegates - from all over the world, though the vast majority from South Asia– had the opportunity to learn about sanitation campaigns in each country (Country paper presentations), to reflect and discuss specific topics (Technical Focus sessions) and to participate in different side events and field visits. Moreover, there were institutional sessions, leading to relevant political commitments, captured in the Kathmandu Declaration.

I had the opportunity to participate in some of the activities of the conference, which I will share in a series of posts in the blog. In this one I synthesise the recent developments in sanitation in Nepal, based on the country paper presentation and complemented with the experiences shared in the pre-SACOSAN CLTS workshop.

In Nepal, despite several policy provisions since the 1980s, sanitation remained donor-led, fragmented, under-funded and hardware focused until recently, yielding poor results: coverage increased at a yearly rate below 2% between 1990 (6%) and 2010 (43%). However, things have started to change in the last few years. In 2009, sanitation became a stand-alone programme and two years later, the Sanitation and Hygiene Master Plan was approved, aiming to achieve universal coverage by 2017. For that purpose, it intends to unify multiple stakeholders through formation and mobilization of WASH Coordination Committees at all the administrative levels. Moreover, sanitation promotion becomes fully demand-led (zero centrally funded subsidies) and is understood as social movement, driven by local government bodies. Open defecation free is the bottom line of the policy, which aims at achieving further hygienic behaviours.

As a result of these changes, the national coverage has reached 75%, according to the presenter of the country paper (data to be published soon), with over 25% of the VDCs (VDC stands for Village Development Committee and is the lowest administrative body of the Local Development Ministry. It generally involves several villages. There are 3913 VDCs in Nepal.), 10 out of 75 districts, 12 out of 99 municipalities and 3000 school catchment areas declared open defecation free. Challenges remain, especially the strong disparities between rich and poor –the lowest quintile has a 4% coverage– and between regions; in the Terai districts (neighbouring with India) coverage is 27%. There is also scope for a certain over-reporting, as the ODF verification system relies to a big extent on the same department which implements the campaign, although at a higher administrative level.

But even taking into account these issues, the leap forward made by Nepal is undeniable and impressive. We could also feel that during the pre-SACASON CLTS workshop; the participants from Nepal shared the work of their organisations in the different regions, all with impressive results. While analysing these successes, there was a consensus that Nepal’s sanitation master plan had created an enabling environment for the promotion of collective behaviour change.

Many pointed to the crucial shift from sanitation as a private and technical issue driven by subsidies to a perspective of sanitation as a public issue related to social norms and behavioural change. The creation of the coordination committees cited earlier was also highlighted for creating a platform for learning and for coordinating and joining efforts into the long term. The elaboration of strategic sanitation and hygiene plans at the different levels, as the master plan requires, was also valued by several participants, as it clarifies the targets, roles and resources of the programme. Finally, the appropriation of the sanitation ‘issue’ by the government was also mentioned as a key factor that will ensure sustainability. The local bodies (VDCs) are playing a leading role in the process, assuming the responsibility of sanitation. They can also support the least able families in their area, but always with their own resources and based on identification at the local level.

As you can see, we had many interesting insights about Nepal, whose sanitation policy sets an example for other South Asian countries.

Date: 1 November 2013