When Water isn’t Free: Sustainable WASH Systems in Nepal

Every year thousands of dollars are spent to increase improved access to safe water to the rural communities, but these systems break down in few years after construction forcing the government to re-invest in the same system again and again. It is estimated that almost 75% of Nepal water supply system requires major or minor repairs. Out of many other small problems, the biggest problem is the management of these systems. So, what can be done to make these systems sustainable?   
On the occasion of World Water Week, Oxfam describes its Alternative Management Models to manage Rural water supply system in Nepal. 
But why isn’t Nepal able to tap its water resources? 

A major part of the problem is the poor management of the Water User Committee (WUC). The WUC is a group comprising of local community members who manage water supply systems, collect money for repairs of water infrastructure and cultivate community ownership of drinking water schemes. However, these committees are often unable to operate schemes sustainably. This is because they typically struggle to collect enough money through tariffs, don’t have the technical capacity to carry out maintenance, and lack accountability or transparency. 

Oxfam’s Solution 

In 2019, Oxfam with the support of Grundfos (Poul Due Jensen) Foundation started exploring alternative ways to manage rural water supply schemes in hilly and Terai(Plain) areas of Nepal. With a vision to develop and commercially viable and socially acceptable water management models, Oxfam is working with the service providers, WUCs, and local governments to, develop financially viable business and service models that may solve the problem. 

Oxfam’s model envisions the water supply management board to lead the management of all the rural water supply systems. The Water Supply Management Board will be responsible to operate, manage, inspect, repair, maintain and expand the water supply services throughout the working area from the income collected from tariffs and annual investment from the local government. The quality of the services provided by the board will be subject to monitor by the local government, but the users will have equal access to raise voices through a user-friendly digital platform. Best use of digital platform and digital pay is envisioned in the model. Apart from introducing digital pay literacy to these rural communities, the model also introduces centralized IT system to keep financial records of all water supply schemes, and their working status. 

The Alternative Management Model will help reduce the work load of Water User Committee to greater  extent as  the  Service provider will be responsible for the timely maintenance of the  schemes. It will further ensure the availability of safe drinking water for the community"   - Lal Bahadur Basnet, Member of Galaudi  Water User Committee                                          

What’s Next ?
In the coming years, Oxfam will launch its model in 4-6 rural municipalities and analyse the quality of the service and identify improvements to the services. The analysis of the service will be used to remodel the water supply systems, improve the services overtime, and develop a functional water management model that can work independently.