Results-orientation and sustainability are hot topics in the development work. The question is, whether the funds, labor and time spent on different projects lead to the wished results. Projects are usually good at reaching their immediate goals but in order to learn from their sustainability, one needs to study their results also in long-term. This has not always been the strength of development practitioners – most evaluations are conducted soon after the project completion and further information on the long-term impacts is more seldom being collected.
To tackle the issue, a Finnish NGO called Waterfinns ry initiated Nawalparasi and Palpa Sustainable Water Supply and Sanitation Project (NAPA WASH). NAPA WASH considers itself as a pilot effort in assessing the long-term results of a Finnish WASH-related development cooperation work in Nepal. Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project (RWSSP) was the first bilateral WASH-project between Finland and Nepal and it was implemented between 1990 and 2005 in the Western Development Region of the country. NAPA WASH has an objective to assess the current status of the RWSSP-built water supply services up to 20 years after their implementation and to study factors that have influenced either negatively or positively the long-term sustainability of the project achievements. The assessment is conducted by six volunteering student researchers between 2014 and 2016 in cooperation with Centre for Appropriate Technology Nepal Pvt. Ltd. I was honored to work as one of the NAPA WASH student researchers and in the next chapters I will reflect some of my research findings.
Interest in environmental threats
Sustainability is a wide concept when it comes to water supply service functionality as the water users may struggle with very different challenges in their attempts to operate and maintain the services. Personally, I am interested in the role of environmental threats in the phenomenon. As we all know, Nepal is considered being highly hazard as well as climate change vulnerable country. Still, most of our information on hazard impacts concentrate on mega-scale events whereas the significance of small-scale hazards remain largely unknown. My questions are, whether environmental pressures do play a role in the potential functionality and maintenance challenges of the RWSSP rural water supply services, what kind of impacts have these pressures caused on the service functionality and whether RWSSP took sufficient actions to ensure the long-term sustainability of the services regarding the risk of natural hazards and disasters.
Natural hazards as a chronic challenge
Altogether, my research reveals that natural hazards are very common in district of Nawalparasi. Especially flooding and landslides cause harm on the water service functionality during the monsoon season when the area faces extensive rainfall. These hazards contribute mostly to physical damage of the scheme structures, worsening water quality due to flood waters, mud and debris as well as pipeline blockages and depletion of flow. Especially disasters that cause physical damage of the scheme structures seem to cause easily chronic problems as the damaged infrastructure is often not fixed adequately and as a result the scheme becomes even more vulnerable for future disasters.
According to my field findings, bacteriological contamination of water is an on-going problem in the studied schemes and not limited to the monsoon season only. The contaminated water contributes to water-borne disease such as diarrhea and intestinal worms. In addition to the presence of water-borne disease, the general lack of source protection and absence of water treatment enable also other kinds of disaster such as seasonal water quality problems and pipeline blockages.
Simple solutions are available
The study findings show that more could be done to prevent and mitigate the most common disaster impacts in the area. Based on my analysis, steep topography and vulnerable exposure of scheme infrastructure, poor quality of raw water, poor source protection, absence of water purification technology, poor practice of household-level water treatment and poor quality of repair works are factors that contribute to most disasters in the study area. Good news is that many of these issues could be solved with simple and low-cost solutions.
Protection structures such as stone walls, terraces and gabion structures may help to protect the scheme infrastructure from source to tap. Naturally, pipelines should always be dug underground when possible, also after the scheme repair works. User committees should work in cooperation with the agencies responsible for road construction to avoid the damage of pipelines and future land erosion and landslides. Regarding the possible damage of the dam intake, pipeline blockages and water quality problems, source protection is extremely important. Different source protection methods include for example physical structures such chambers, strainers and stones as well as vegetation. Simple water treatment infrastructure such as sedimentation tanks would help to remove debris from the water.
Promotion of water treatment should naturally be an integrated part of any water supply project. Awareness raising in household water treatment is extremely important, especially during the monsoon season, when most of the water-borne disease occur. The study findings show that the rural gravity schemes that locate in areas without contaminating industries suffer mostly if not solely from microbiological contamination. Microbiological contamination may lead to water-borne disease that could be easily prevented using cheap and simple technology, water boiling. When needed, water boiling could be promoted together with the promotion of biogas to avoid booms in the use of fire wood and deforestation.
Time to act!
Based on my findings, natural hazards play a great role in the functionality challenges of the rural gravity-based water supply services in Nawalparasi. Monsoon rains do not only occur in Nawalparasi and it can be assumed that water users in other districts of Nepal would face similar problems with flood waters and debris flows. Climate change is estimated to further increase the number of natural hazards in Nepal both in quantity and intensity. Taken this into account, it is advisable that both policy makers and development practitioners that work with rural WASH development in Nepal start to pay increased attention to the frequency of small-scale hazards, their impacts on the scheme functionality and the burden these functionality problems cause on the water users. As my study shows, these small-scale events may hinder unexpectedly the achieved positive development impacts of the WASH efforts, especially if the water users are not given the adequate capacities to cope with the risks. This is why proactive measures must be taken in order to ensure the sustainability of the achievements also in long-term.