Before the April earthquakes in Nepal, around 30% of the Nepali people had no access to basic sanitation. Now, the importance of regaining access to handwashing and sanitation facilities has never been more vital. 

Story by Jessica Lomelin, on the ground in Nepal right now.

We cannot deny that the recent earthquakes in Nepal have worsened already fragile water and sanitation systems, causing setbacks to the progress made to improve access to water, sanitation and hygiene in the country.

The importance of regaining access to hand washing and sanitation facilities has never been more vital – and will be made even more evident when the monsoons come. This includes not only focusing on earthquake-affected areas, but also recognising the gap in access to water supply and sanitation services amongst marginalised groups, such as the Dalits based in water-scarce locations.

Time is not on our hands, and the need to address these issues is immediate. Plan is prioritising water, sanitation and hygiene – now and for the long run.

The task is a tough one, and the stakes are high, but the resilience of the Nepali people gives me hope. We’re talking, after all, about a country and people who successfully made ‘Open Defecation Free’ a social movement. Since 2012, when Nepal was classified as one of the top 10 countries in the world with the highest practice of open-defecation, the government of Nepal established sanitation as a national priority.

Embracing the ‘Open Defecation Free’ movement, the government increased support and monitoring to strengthen access to sanitation services and raise awareness on the issue. Rather than just distributing materials and making services available, the movement focused on changing behavior and habits – encouraging communities to understand and embrace the importance of safe and healthy hygiene and sanitation habits.

Child friendly space in Nepal
Children have fun with their friends at one of Plan's child friendly spaces in Nepal.
Children learn to wash their hands at a temporary learning centre in Sindupalchok district.
Children learn to wash their hands at a temporary learning centre in Sindupalchok district.
Children wash their hands at a child friendly space.
Children wash their hands at a child friendly space.
Kids want toilets and clean drinking water. We know, because we asked.

Through our community consultations, children have told us that they want toilets to be built as soon as possible. Other children are asking for the government and partners to repair damaged drinking water supply systems and to provide support for accessing clean drinking water.

For us, children and their right to a safe and healthy life underlines the work that we do. With more than 32,000 classrooms destroyed by the Earthquake, we must ensure that proper hand washing facilities and separate toilets for girls and women are included in the rebuilding and development of temporary learning centers and health facilities.

The ability to wash your hands, and access safe and clean drinking water in schools is absolutely crucial to reducing the risk of conditions like diarrhea – the second largest killer of children in Nepal.

While the earthquake has worsened the sanitation conditions in Nepal, the situation also serves as a valuable opportunity to increase our efforts around water, sanitation and hygiene.

We must ensure that we are addressing the gaps that were present before, and have been exacerbated by, the earthquakes. This means that longer-term development programmes must continue to be strengthened, included in non-earthquake affected districts. 

Isabel Dunstan | 18th August 2015
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