Communities in towns that line Nepal's main highways are better able to deal with the severe water and sanitation issues that result from sudden and massive urbanization.

By the numbers

hours per day saved from no longer needing to collect water in Parsa
hours per day no longer needed to collect water in Khaireni and Lekhnath
number of project towns that have experienced increased economic activity

Source: Project Completion Report (2010).

Birtamod, Jhapa - Every drop of fresh water from the tap in Durga Ratna Darjini's home reminds her of the days, not so long ago, when she had to pump unclean ground water up by hand.

Access to safe drinking water has made the widow's life easier in a multitude of ways, she says.

"I don't have to use my energy to pump water and carry it home anymore," says Durga Ratna Darjini, adding that she feels safer drinking the tap water, and she is also in better health. "Having a tap in the house is like a miracle."

Getting organized

Durga's "miracle" is a result of the ADB-supported Small Towns Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project, which has improved water supply and sanitation in 29 urban centers on Nepal's major highways. Supported by a concessionary Asian Development Fund (ADF) loan of $32.1 million, and running from 2001 to 2009, the project improved water and sanitation services for nearly 600,000 people.

In Birtamod - the business heart of Jhapa district, the easternmost of Nepal's 75 districts - the shortage of safe drinking water was fast becoming critical. Like many other urban centers, the population was growing faster than infrastructure due to migration from the mountains by people who fled the conflict and looking for better lives.

"The small town water supply project came up as a result of a serious and urgent need to improve water supply and sanitation services in the small towns," said Kenichi Yokoyama, ADB country director for Nepal. "The project has provided residents of small towns with not just access to water, but access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation facilities."

"I don't have to use my energy to pump water and carry it home anymore ... Having a tap in the house is like a miracle."

- Durga Ratna Darjini, widow

Today, Birtamod's water is supplied by the Water Users and Sanitation Committee, formed in 2000 by the local community. All committee members are elected, and there are currently nine members from often under-represented groups including minority groups and women.

"Ownership and participation are key mantras that have contributed to the success of our committee," says Jal Kumar Gurung, committee secretary.

Gyanu Prasai, an active committee member, adds: "As the crisis grew, we organized ourselves and requested support to build the infrastructure needed to supply water, because the local Government was not able to meet the growing demand. We urgently needed an alternative supply of safe drinking water, so we took action."

A model development

Today, the Birtamod Water Users and Sanitation Committee has three water tanks that supply safe drinking water to the population of the growing town. The committee has also installed public drinking-water taps and public toilets in various locations, including public schools.

All that has reduced the risk of waterborne diseases and other health hazards. But the committee is also working with other local community organizations to conduct a series of mass-awareness campaigns about the importance of sanitation, getting the message out in public rallies, through newspapers and radio broadcasts.

"We have not heard of anyone in Birtamod getting diseases or illnesses due to drinking the water," says Radha Subba, a committee member.

Meanwhile, Bindu Shrestha, principal of Mohan Maiya Higher Secondary School, says she is grateful in particular for the committee's support of schools like hers.

"We run on a very low budget and could not provide the necessary number of toilets and safe drinking water facilities," she says. "But now the school has additional toilets for the students, and World Health Organization-standard drinking-water supplies."

Embracing skills and better lives

The Small Towns Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Development Project also encourages committee members to participate in training sessions in administrative management and technical skills, to improve the services offered by committees.

"We urgently needed an alternative supply of safe drinking water, so we took action."

- Gyanu Prasai, member, Birtamod Water Users and Sanitation Committee

Padam Gurung, for example - a returned migrant laborer - is now a committee plumber, and he learned his new trade through the committee itself.

"The training has helped me, and with the skills I have now I can make a living," he says. "If we put the same amount of effort into our work here as we do in foreign countries, we can get good local results."

Adds Gurung: "Consumers appreciate our efficient work, and I feel proud to be a part of the team."

Learning to get results

In the meantime, as committee secretary Gurung points out, there is still a lot that needs to be done.

"The fast-increasing population in Birtamod has doubled the demand for drinking water, and now we need to think fast about how to reach out to this growing population to avoid foreseeable crisis," he says.

But participation in capacity building and skill development training sessions, and its new experience in management and administration have helped the committee to think creatively in the face of challenges.

That is making all the difference where it is most needed.

Birtamod resident Sunita Chamlagain says she finds it easier today to manage her household chores - and the commitments she has taken on in the community. These include duties at a school she helped found, and a group she and her neighbors have formed that meets regularly with the committee to discuss service upgrades, problems faced by consumers and other committee issues.

"The credit goes to the easy access to water in my house," she says. "My children can also now focus their time on their studies and extracurricular activities."