A community-based project supported by ADB has brought clean water and better sanitation to more than 568,000 people in Nepal.

Every day when she was growing up in Nepal, Bipana Gharti Magar had to traverse rugged terrain to the nearest river and carry a 5-liter container home. This was the only way her family could get enough water to cook, clean, and drink. “We were tired all the time,” the 14-year-old recalls.

Bipana’s ordeal ended in 2010 when ADB’s Community-Based Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project installed a modern water supply system in Kuirepani, her village in the Dang region. It pumps water to a storage tower and then on to public taps. Liberated from her difficult daily trek, Bipana has more time for her studies and chores.

Abundant but not easily accessible

Nepal has an abundance of water, but Bipana’s story is a common one in many of its poor remote communities. Lack of easily available water means crops cannot be properly nurtured. Without sanitation facilities, some residents practice open defecation in fields or forests, leading to pollution and waterborne diseases. According to the United Nations Development Programme, diarrhea has in the past accounted for up to one-quarter of childhood deaths in Nepal.

In the early 2000s, 30% of Nepal’s people had no ready access to water, and only 17.5% of homes in rural areas had proper sanitation facilities - an outdoor latrine or indoor toilet. Women bore much of the extra work burden, and members of disadvantaged castes and ethnic minorities were sometimes denied equal access to the more convenient water sources. 

Nepal looked for help to ease this problem. In 2003, after a feasibility study and discussions with the government and nongovernment organizations (NGOs), ADB approved a $24 million loan. It accounted for nearly two-thirds of the project’s total costs, with the remainder funded by the government, local authorities, and residents. The project was completed in 2011 and brought clean water and improved sanitation to more than 568,000 people, mostly in remote areas.

Project benchmarks set

More than 90,000 households gained access to basic services, usually through community taps or pumps. Almost 45,000 homes and 354 schools have new latrines. In all, more than 4,550 kilometers of pipe were laid and 1,390 storage reservoirs constructed.

The project used a performance-based design to ensure that its intended results were delivered. Each project community was required to achieve 50% sanitation coverage by the end of a designated development phase and 100% by the middle of the implementation phase. Payments to partnering NGOs were tied to these benchmarks. 

“Everyone uses this tap. We built it together, we make decisions together, so naturally we share the water.

Bishnu Bista, a high-caste woman in southwest Nepal

A decentralized service delivery approach was adopted, based on the recognition that strong community participation was vital to ensuring that the assets and services would be affordable and maintained.

In Bipana’s village of Kuirepani, for instance, the water user and sanitation committee raised money and solicited labor from residents to construct the water system. The committee charges each household that draws supply from a private tap $1 per month. This pays for the electricity, repairs, and ongoing maintenance.

Not surprisingly, the construction of latrines has made communities healthier and less vulnerable to illness. The agencies involved report that the incidence of diarrheal and other waterborne diseases have fallen substantially in project areas. “Having latrines near houses helped keep the environment clean and contributed to lessening of diseases, especially among kids,” says Kishor Shakya, a project manager.

Promoting the rights of marginalized groups

The project encouraged women and members of ethnic minorities and groups traditionally regarded as lower caste in the project-supported communities to participate in the planning, construction, and operation of the new systems.

ADB required that at least 50% of the water user and sanitation committee executive and general membership be female. The Dalit group and ethnic minorities that have suffered from discrimination had to be represented proportionately in each community.

“If we don’t get the whole community involved in this, it’s not worth it,” says Mishri Prasad Shrestha, gender and social development specialist with the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage.

The village of Rajpur in southwest Nepal has a mix of castes and ethnic groups. These include a few Muslim families; indigenous Tharus and Dalits, who are placed at the low end of the Hindu caste system; and higher-caste Brahmins and Chhetris.

In a situation that would have been unthinkable here a decade ago, Bishnu Bista, a high-caste woman, shares a water pump in front of her house with her lower-caste neighbors. “Everyone uses this tap,” Bishnu says. “We built it together, we make decisions together, so naturally we share the water.”

This article was originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.