Water Supply in Nepal

Posted: March 26, 2011 in Aid Governance

Small Towns Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project, (First batch STWSSSP)

List of acronyms:

ADB(Asian Development Bank) / CM(Community) /CWC(Civil Works Contractor) / DWSS(Department of Water Supply and Sewerage) /EDC(Engineering Design Consultants) / GN(Government of Nepal) / HHE (Health and Hygiene Education) /MPPW(Ministry of Physical Planning and Works) / NGO(Non-Governmental Organization) / O&M  (Operation and Maintenance) / PIC(Project Implementation Consultant / PMO (Project Management Office) / TDF    (Town Development Fund) / TPO(Town Project Office) / WSS(Water Supply and Sanitation) / WUA(Water User Association) and WUSC(Water User and Sanitation Committee)


Surprisingly enough, it is paradoxical that Nepal, the second richest in water due to enough rainfalls and a great number of rivers, has been struggling to provide its people with enough access to secure water supply. Actually, Nepal possesses 2.27% of the world fresh water resources brought by precipitation, groundwater and runoff. With an area of 147.181 square kilometers, Nepal as a landlocked country can afford to store only 36% of the rainfall during the rainy season while another 64% of the rainfall goes immediately as surface runoff.  Of the remaining 36%, some is converted as snow in high Himalayas while the rest becomes groundwater, acting as natural reservoir to feed the river system in the dry season. As a densely mountainous country, Nepal causes geographical difficulties to its own people in getting enough and safe drinking water. As a matter of fact, Nepal faces its unfortunate fate that its people have been dying of and for water in this country where political turmoil has been slowing down its developments in all sectors. However, after the overthrow of the monarchy, Nepal is now in a process of building up a democratic government, resulting in getting back all types of businesses and infrastructure developments on track to boost up cultural, social and economic welfare for the sake of the whole nation. Upon seeing the substantial consequences of water to its own people, Nepal has set water challenges as its priority to cope with and has therefore been attempting to facilitate as many humanitarian projects funded by either bilateral or multilateral donors as possible to improve the Nepali people’s living standard by all means of appropriate technologies dealing with water treatment.

Problem Analysis: Pockets of exclusion

Remarkably, the democratization process allows the local government to activate and reinforce many existing projects funded by either bilateral or multilateral donors to continue their own efforts in bringing safe water to Nepali people. These projects have been struggling to bring Nepali people together to work on the same page of these initiatives since there are a few crucial issues around social harmony and participation in recent development stages of economic, political, cultural and social infrastructures within Nepal. Simply put, Nepal has been facing its own civic war of social and political interests (Maoist and caste systems) and beliefs (e.g. Hindu and social developments), leading to social exclusion which is seen through inequality of social caste, ethnicity and gender though the caste system was officially once claimed to be eliminated in 1963. In her working paper, Alexandra Geiser found out that it was a political failure not to involve Dalits¹, ethnic groups, women and other underprivileged groups into political mainstream after 1990. As a result, there has been social disappointment between the groups of elite people and the groups of (so-called) disadvantaged people, leading to different social exclusion, discrimination and suppression. In this sense, the disadvantaged people are put aside from any development benefits and processes (Geiser, 2005). In addition, natural disadvantages remain as barriers to preventing donors or any water projects from bringing safe water to Nepali people. To be precise, there are some natural challenges along the way ranging from project planning to implementation.

First, environmental contamination is a root cause of spreading a number of infectious diseases (such as dysentery, typhoid, hepatitis, cholera and guinea worm disease and so forth) from one Nepali to another. Moreover, since Nepal has more than 6.000 rivers connecting each other by various water routes, some harmful and arsenic materials such as heavy metals and pesticides can reach those water basins quickly through the connecting routes; as a result, the quality of the water is contaminated and deteriorated dramatically.

Second, the rivers are being polluted by human wastes or open defecation and other harmful unsanitary disposals and agricultural practices. It is clear that human’s activities do harm the healthiness of those rivers. In this sense, Nepal can be in troubles of dealing with its own population growth which seems to be rapid in Nepal.

Third, due to some technical problems with studies, designs and maintenance of dug wells, these wells become non-functional, especially in the Terai regions. It happens to these wells because there is no monitoring and repair schedule which is reckoned as beyond affordability in regards of manpower and cost. As a result, pollution, contamination and poor quality of water are remaining a big challenge for Nepali people.

Fourth, the capability and affordability to improve water treatment seem to be infeasible and hard to manage in a community level since there is a need of much more details, in-depth investigation and research to find out the optimal and technical solutions to deal with the substantiality of damage over the water issues.

To sum up, both bilateral and multilateral donors are struggling to help improve quality of water and provide enough safe water for the Nepali people because there is a lack of social participation and harmony which is caused mainly by social differences of interests and beliefs and inequality of caste, ethnicity and gender while Nepal has been facing challenging natural disadvantages.

STWSSSP evaluation: analytical tools

With an annual high statistics of 45.000 children who die of unsanitary-water-related causes, Government of Nepal has been facilitating many humanitarian projects, one of which is Small Town Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project, to provide the Nepali people with more conveniences and safety in consuming water for their daily needs and wants. STWSSSP is a 6-year project under financial assistance from ADB to provide water supply, limited drainage and sanitation facilities in approximately 45 towns with average population of about 12 thousands. Owned and operated by a community, the project is a community-based demand and takes responsive approach, whose design is based on cost sharing and partial recovery basis. Its capital cost consists of ADB loan, community contribution and government grant. Local tariff system is employed to cover all O&M, loan repayment and the system expansion where is necessary for some communities.

Though STWSSSP is aimed at improving WSS facilities in small towns, the project areas cover only some emerging towns who can meet some required basic criteria. In figure 1, those towns, who can unanimously contribute a minimum of 20% of construction cost; 30% of operation cost within 12 to 15 years; and other cost related such as tariff rate for each individual’s consumption, are considered eligible for the project’s assistance. In this regards, among 209 towns that are identified by GN and STWSSSP as areas to improve their WSS facilities, only 45 towns (approximately 21.5%) are paid attentions to. In other words, STWSSSP has left out the other 164 towns (78.5%) whose WSS facilities are also in needs of assistance and promotion.  From these selection criteria, STWSSSP cannot reach out to the people who are in real needs of water because of geographical, administrative and financial challenges.

After the completion of the first batch of STWSSSP (see figure 2 for working area towns), according to WASH news Asia & Pacific; the ADB’s Board of Directors express more efforts from STWSSSP to bring Nepal closer to achieving MDGs for environmental sustainability. With financial support and approval of the second batch of STWSSSP, the Board is expecting the second batch STWSSSP to bring more health and hygiene benefits to the Nepali residents by reducing waterborne diseases. Norio Saito, who is Urban Development Specialist of ADB, said that there seriously needs to be a timely improvement of water supply and sanitation services in small towns since there are some potential emerging towns due to internal urbanization which is caused by lack of job opportunities in rural areas. According to a progress report from UNDP, the availability of water in Nepal is still intermittent in many areas and many WSS facilities are in needs of repairs and maintenance while water pollution and contamination remains an obstacle, especially in the bordering area with India (Pacific, 2009).

Stakeholder analysis: Social exclusion, implementation agencies, and bilateral and multilateral donors

WUSC is the core player involving all stages of the project ranging from planning and development to post implementation. As shown in figure 3, WUSC is to initiate the needs and demands of a community and then work other stakeholders to cope with those demands.To start doing the project, WUSC is to sign a town project agreement with PMO and TDF and community action plan prepared with support of NGOs. WUSC is to tender, bid evaluation and supervise construction. Moreover, WUSC, together with NGOs, EDC and PMO, is obliged to establish the scope of the project.

In figure 4, NGO is the second most active in the process since it plays a role as social mobilize and educator. More specifically, NGO is in charge of HHE which is to educate Nepali people how to live healthily with their use of water and other daily activities. Moreover, TDF is much involved in both implementation and post implementation process rather than in planning and development. Interestingly, PMO seems to withdraw itself from post implementation process since it has carried out its part in the first two main parts. Amazingly, STWSSSP is implemented in hard times in Nepal where there is social inequality of cast, ethnic and gender. Moreover, the project seems to struggle its best to resist against natural disadvantages in Nepal. Also, it is carried out in times of political unrest in this landlocked nation. As a result, STWSSSP implementers and donors have been working really hard to bring the residents of different interests and beliefs together to achieve its goal which is bring safe water to the community. In addition, the political instability causes disruption to the preparation and construction of many subprojects within the communities. Through ups and downs, the project makes some progress in ensuring water quality and sanitation practices in 6 communities where the other two namely Birendrangar and Lekhnath are still far behind since the construction is still in the progress.

As shown in figure 5, there are some stakeholders who are not in a good position to carry out their own area of responsibilities. Simply put, NGOs seem to be in their hard time to bring Nepali people together to work out the project because of the social inequality in the caste system, ethnic and gender. At the same time, Dalit and women themselves also fail to achieve their own rights of social participation and equality. Moreover, EDCs have to conduct a more proper study and research on the geographical and natural disadvantages in Nepal before they come up with a concrete project design. As a result, the poor design from EDC leads to a poor construction work by CWCs.


In general, STWSSSP has saved a number of lives in Nepal through its effort in bringing safe water to Nepali people. There has been some improvement in this sector since the beneficiaries have relatively good quality water for their daily consumption. However, the project has some weaknesses to consider. Since social inequality of the caste system, ethnic and gender is a big enemy to social harmony and participation, there is a strong need in supporting, networking and coordinating within the Dalit, ethnic and women’s movements to enforce their social position, voice and influence in development stages. In the meantime, integrating these excluded groups into project planning and implementation is highly recommended for better and more peaceful development results. More importantly, cost recovery, local tariff and more participation of women are substantially important to sustain the small town project. Due to the geographical and natural disadvantages in Nepal, any project design requires in-depth study and research before setting off. Since there is some inconsistency among some important stakeholders, the design process must be streamlined from the very first beginning of the project. In addition, since WUSC plays a very crucial role in all stages, especially in community level, offering financial autonomy to WUSC to handle is vital for more effective implementation and therefore sustainability of the project. In this stage, needs assessment and overall feasibility have to be carried out in a much more detailed in order to give the thing to the right people at the right time.   Some more minor but important issues to consider:

  • Concerning bodies have to twice of how to manage liquid waste and sewerage system.
  • Water quality test has to be done regularly and intensively.
  • Private tap connection should be increased for the residents ‘conveniences.
  • For actual consumption purpose, reading meters have to be taken a good care of or change when necessary.
  • 24 hour water supply has to be insured.

In conclusion, STWSSSP is considered as a moderately successful because of a more reliability of service, technology assistance, financial status and positive trends towards sustainability. Of all these achievements, technical issues dealing with quality of water and sustainability of the project are the two remaining challenges for the project’s status quo. I believe that financial assistance through a more effective cost recovery method and fund raising could be a good idea to help release the beneficiaries’ burden since they are too poor to afford for their daily water consumption. Moreover, a more advanced technology is strongly recommended for better means to cope with the so challenging geographical and natural features in Nepal. In the meantime, social inequality of the caste system, ethnic: Dalit, and gender has to be tackled for the sake of social harmony and participation for further developments in this landlocked nation.


¹The term “Dalit” is used to refer to poor and oppressed people and to mean “untouchable”


Geiser, A. (2005). Social Exclusion and Conflict Transformation in Nepal: Women, Dalit and Ethnic Groups. Sonnenbergstrasse: Swisspeace.

Devkota, D. D. (2007, December 24). Nepal water and sanitation. Retrieved November 07, 2009, from http://www.nepal.watsan.net/page/398

Pacific, W. n. (2009, October 14). Retrieved November 07, 2009, from http://washasia.wordpress.com/2009/10/14/nepal-adb-project-to-improve-water-supply-and-sanitation-services-in-small-towns/


Figure 1.1: Financing plan

Figure 1.2: Summary of project cost in million US$ (1)

S.N. Description Foreign Exchange Local Currency Total Cost
I Part A: Public Awareness Campaign & HHE - 2.28 2.28
Part B: Water Supply and Sanitation Facilities 28.15 14.17 42.32
Part C:Technical Support 0.33 0.14 0.47
Part D: Project Implementation Assistance 0.51 7.61 8.12
Sub-Total(I) 28.99 24.20 53.19
II Interest during Construction 0.68 - 0.68
Total 29.67 24.20 53.87
Percentage 55.085 44.92% 100%

Figure 1.3: Summary of project cost in million US$ (2)

S.N. Cost Items Cost (US$’000) ADB Government Local Government WUSC
% US$’000 % US$’000 % US$’000 % US$’000
1. Civil Works
i. Water Supply 40200 60 24120 20 8040 20
ii. Public Sanitation and Drainage 2288 80 1830 0 20 458
iii. Private Latrines 1100 0 50 550 50 550
2. Equipment and Vehicles 1050 90 945 10 105
3. Consulting Services and Training 5006 90 4505 10 501
4. NGO’s Services 1179 90 1061 10 118
5. Incremental Administrative Expenses 2366 70 1656 30 710
6. Interest During Construction 680 100 680
TOTAL 53869 64.6 34797 18.6 10023 0.85 458 15.95 8590

Figure 2.1: First batch town areas and their status

No. of Project 0% → 25% 26% → 50% 51% → 75% 76% → 100%
8 0 2 3 3

Figure 2.2: List of towns

Figure 3: Project Governance Overview (1)

Figure 4: Project Governance Overview (2)

Figure 5: first batch STWSSSP: stakeholder analysis

Stakeholder Interests/responsibilities Likely impact of the activity
ADB Providing loan assistance and guidance +
CWCs Construction work _
DWSS Implementation agency, achieve sector objective of GN which is to achieve sustained improvement in safe water and therefore health status of the Nepali people _
EDCs Overall Engineering design and supervision: incorporate service area of the project and design and feedbacks _
Nepal residents Receive services, HHE and social development +
NGOs Working with WUSC to facilitate overall social mobilization, public awareness campaign HHE _
PIC Support overall management of STWSSSP; working with PMO and EDC to streamline design approach and assumptions +
PMO Overall project management; detail engineering report/tender documents in collaboration with EDC; invite CWCs +
Social exclusion: Dalits and women Call for social participation and equality _
TDF Management of 30% ADB loan to Users and pay back; working with PMO and WUSC to provide evaluation and award of construction +
TPOs Implementation of individual town projects +
WUAs Coordination of users participation and arrangement of O&M of projects +
WUSC Working with NGO and EDC to assess needs and demands +
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