The settlement of Palchowk of Melamchi municipality, ward 7, lies high above the main bazaar of Melamchi, on steeply sloping terrain only poorly accessible by dirt road. The people here belong to the Tamang ethnic community; most of them were rendered homeless by the earthquake of four years ago, and some are still rebuilding their homes. They were nevertheless fortunate in that there were no deaths in the hamlet.
An earthquake not only destroys lives and physical infrastructure; it also alters subterranean water systems. At the time of the earthquake, there was a semi-functioning system of community taps fed by gravity flow. Community members explained that this was originally installed with assistance from another development agency over 30 years ago. It was partially destroyed when a road was cut through the settlement but was repaired by the members themselves. Following the earthquake, however, the taps dried up; the water source had moved.
Funded through Swiss Solidarity, the support provided by Helvetas in partnership with Solidar Suisse aimed not just to restore the community’s water supply, but to improve upon the previous situation. The new system is sourced from a spring with a safe, sufficient and reliable all-year discharge. Each of the 43 households now has their own tap, as wider experience has shown that private taps are better maintained than community ones. A Village Maintenance Worker has been trained to oversee the system, whilst knowledge of sanitation and hygiene has been promoted through a partnership with the local NGO CDECF. One obvious sign of this are the drying racks for kitchen utensils now installed by the household taps; those questioned, such as Mangali Tamang in the photo, quickly pointed out that drying utensils in the sun is more hygienic than putting them away wet. All households have access to a toilet; the ward in which the hamlet lies was just recently declared ODF – Open Defecation Free – in a public meeting attended by the ward chair, the Melamchi mayor, and a local member of parliament.
Helvetas will soon complete its reconstruction work in Melamchi, so the sustainability of the work we have done is a key issue. Regarding drinking water systems, although household taps are private, the water is essentially a common property resource. With project facilitation, the households formed a Water Users Group headed by a Water Users Committee (WUC) which they named the Bicharichour Ratoghar Taprasa WUC. The nine members of the WUC comprise elected women and men who together represent all the household clusters covered by the water system. WUC formation is standard practice; what matters probably more than anything else for the continuity of the water system is the robustness of such institutions. In discussing with the members, we reflected on the eight principles of common property resource management as defined by the Nobel prize laureate Elinor Ostrom. The following is a quick overview.
Dhan Bahadur Tamang, Bicharichour Ratoghar Taprasa WUC Chairman
There is one further aspect of common property resource management that Elinor Ostrom does not list, but which seems relevant for water supply systems: strong leadership. In this case, Dhan Bahadur Tamang is a clear example.