Before Helvetas helps a village build a water supply system, the community gets together to negotiate and plan the fair sharing of the water. Women and Dalits (“Untouchables”) have the same say in these matters as local men of influence.
New taps. A supply pipe to irrigate the fields. Rainwater tanks. All of that is far from being a matter of course in Nepal. Nationwide, only every other family has access to drinking water near the home. The situation is even direr in remote regions, where four out of five families draw their water from rivers, unprotected sources or ponds. The water quality is doubtful at best: 13,000 children under the age of five die annually from gastro-intestinal diseases caused by contaminated water in Nepal.
So supplying rural regions with drinking water is a major priority for Helvetas. Helvetas only considers villages that have already built latrines. Before tapping springs in these villages, laying pipes and installing public taps, each village discusses the management of this scarce resource. Led by native experts, representatives of all the households in the village gather on the village square to take stock of the total water resources, water rights and various uses of water on their territory. How much drinking water do the villagers need? And their livestock? How much water is needed in the fields? Where are signs of groundwater? Then they jointly draw up a list of measures to consider: irrigation canals, conduit systems with taps, drawing-down wells or rain water tanks, measures to protect springs, drip irrigation.
These discussions have so far been dominated by men of influence in the village. It is now up to the outside advisers to change the established order and give an equal say in the matter to the disenfranchised: women and members of marginalized lower castes.
The agreed measures are not executed until all the water use issues have been resolved. The contracts for the works to be undertaken are then awarded to local plumbers and bricklayers. Meanwhile, the villagers, especially schoolchildren, are sensitized to the issues of sanitation, waste management, cleaning and clean storage of water, hygiene in the kitchen and household, hand-washing and personal hygiene. Local and regional authorities are integrated into the process so that this approach to resource planning can gain wider traction.
Dil Sara Bishwakarma, (45), a widowed Dalit, Nepal