Understanding the Journey of Clean and Safe Water: Rediscovering WaterAid’s Work
For nearly 20 years, Franklin Cockshutt and Upama Rai have supported WaterAid Canada as donors, demonstrating their commitment to ensuring a world where everyone, everywhere has access to safe and sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene. In early 2022, they prepared for a trip to visit Upama’s family in Nepal, when a rare opportunity presented itself to meet the team at WaterAid. Following their visit, they were compelled to write about their moving experiences and newfound perspectives of the work being done on the ground in Nepal. What follows is a brief excerpt from their writings.
Like many countries where WaterAid works, only a small percentage of Nepal’s population has reliable, safe access to clean water. Those without reliable sources of clean water are forced to drink unsafe water with chemical contaminants and/or human waste. The ingestion of this water causes many waterborne illnesses, such as diarrhea, cholera, and typhoid. The challenge, although very clear, seemed daunting; so many communities without water – where would you even begin?
We knew there was a lot more to building a tap or a toilet than hauling in bricks and mortar, but before visiting with the WaterAid Nepal team, we always thought of WaterAid’s work as individual projects. We were way off!
Spending a few hours with the WaterAid Nepal team, who gave a visual presentation of the challenges and achievements of working in Nepal’s water and sanitation sector, we discovered that reaching individual communities with water access and education was just the beginning; because of the advocacy and influencing that WaterAid undertakes with local and national governments, the impact of their work reaches far beyond basic water access.
We knew there was a growing focus on universal access for each community WaterAid works in, and we saw this first-hand in Nepal.
We were keen to learn more about how WaterAid ensures the sustainability of the renovated and/or newly installed WASH infrastructure. We learned that an important part of WaterAid Nepal’s work is building partnerships with local government officials, which is done right from the very beginning of a project. These partnerships ensure district leaders are engaged in every step of the project and are able to sustain the longevity of the work by working closely with WaterAid throughout the project. At project-end, these partnerships ensure that local responsibility and ownership are able to sustain the implemented changes: ensuring that clean and healthy water reach every targeted household, and that hygiene behavior change remains a priority.
In addition to the work done with local leaders, WaterAid works with each community to hire permanent, local employees to manage the WASH infrastructure. These individuals are trained in how to properly clean and maintain the newly installed WASH services, and work with WaterAid to set up Water Committees that monitor the work being done. This initial education is complemented by regular follow-up education sessions, and serves to teach safe water handling, sanitation, and hygiene. It was exciting to see such a comprehensive and sustainable plan, that demonstrates to local leaders that universal WASH access at the community level is possible.
Upama and I know that access to safe water is only part of the solution, and practicing good hygiene plays a key role in sustaining individual good health, and as donors, we wanted to better understand how hygiene education came into play at WaterAid Nepal.
To understand the difficulties that came with this, we had to better understand the availability of information within the areas WaterAid Nepal works. We learned that very few remote villages in Nepal have internet, cell phones rarely have a data plan, and electricity is irregular. Schools are small and only go up to grade 6 with a focus on the basics. Community members will generally only have a rudimentary understanding of hygiene and sanitation, and many still hold to harmful misconceptions regarding hygiene.
To meet communities where they are at, WaterAid Nepal designs programs based on the local conditions, looking to local culture and ways of life; basic education and development-building; and basic health and sanitation knowledge and practices.
We were able to see how this plays out firsthand with a handwashing campaign aimed at new mothers that engaged local leaders and healthcare centre staff in helping educate mothers and children about good hygiene. The hygiene education projects are designed with the intention of being easy for other surrounding communities to replicate. The leaders who were part of the initial work with this project have already begun influencing and educating others within their networks to implement similar programs in their communities.
The Journey Ahead
The work that WaterAid Nepal does every day is not easy and challenges arise every step of the way, but this does not stop those who work at WaterAid Nepal. Alongside the support of their colleagues across the WaterAid Federation, they persevere. Fresh water flows, toilets are built, and people are educated in safe hygiene to prevent diseases.
Upama and I feel privileged to be part of the WaterAid family and to see these lifesaving changes.
With inputs by WaterAid Nepal.