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How Water Treatment and Safe Storage System Worked Better in Remote Areas of Nepal

Access to and use of enough and safe water enable poor women and men to lead a healthy life by improving the quality of drinking water and reducing water-borne diseases. Better functioning water treatment and safe storage system addresses unimproved water sources and unsafe or unreliable water supplies.
FROM: Balmukunda Kunwar, Madan R. Bhatta, Valérie Cavin, Zenebe B. Uraguchi – 18. January 2017
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The challenge, however, is sustainably delivering water treatment and safe storage services to poor women and men living in remote areas.

In this blog post, we share the experience of the Water Resources Management Programme (WARM-P) in Nepal that sought to change how access to and use of safe water has been done. The programme understood the root causes for the lack of access to and use of safe water by poor women and men in remote villages of Nepal, and worked with different local actors for successful marketing and use of water treatment and safe storage system.

Why did it underperform?

Most of the drinking water systems in remote areas of Nepal are gravity flow systems using natural spring water. Several villages use the water sources for different purposes. Safe water is one of the indicators of total sanitation defined in the national Sanitation and Hygiene Master Plan 2011 of Nepal. However, water contamination at point of use was higher than that of point of collection in the country. Poor water supply and sanitation lead to high child mortality, killing more than 10,000 children each year.

Nepal produces water treatment and safe storage supplies such as filters. The country also imports products from India. The government distributes chlorine during the rainy season. However, poor women and men, especially those living in remote villages, did not have access to these products. Even if available, most poor women and men lacked proper knowledge in water treatment and safe storage. The marketing of water treatment and safe storage system focused mainly on 4P’s – product, promotion, price and place. In other words, it did not consider whether products were acceptable, accessible and affordable for poor women and men living in remote villages.

Business model for meeting demands of the poor  

The assessment by WARM-P found out that addressing the challenge in water treatment and safe storage system required moving away from supply-side support towards demand-side stimulation. This meant engaging and working with local actors that could support in stimulating behavioural changes of poor women and men in a sustainable manner once the programme ends. It became clear that actions such as social marketing to stimulate incentives of poor women and men were necessary.

© Helvetas
© Helvetas
© Helvetas
© Helvetas

Acceptability: among different treatment methods, ceramic candle filters, cement for the hand-washing platform and plastic drum with tap attached were selected. Poor women and men accepted these products because of ease in safe storage and usage, and effectiveness against pathogens. Closer analysis of demands of poor women and men by the programme showed that they did not just accept and use products because they met their expectations or were reliable. Psychosocial factors such as informal, social norms were also identified as important components of sustained adoption for water treatment and safe storage. Perceived benefits included contribution to socials status, or convenience of use. Female community health workers were trained to promote awareness/behavioural change. Local NGOs were involved for learning new methods regarding water quality and improved technologies.

Accessibility to remote areas: compared to urban areas, water treatment and safe storage system is highly limited in remote areas of Nepal. Poor women and men in mid and far-western regions of Nepal, where WARM-P is active, lacked access to products and other services, such as support in how to use and maintain the products. The programme facilitated engaging in and working with local shopkeepers as potential entrepreneurs. The programme also facilitated the training of village maintenance workers, who were linked with markets suppling the products. Using ‘gateway model’, the programme identified the nearest market place for the supply of water filters. Suppliers and village maintenance workers promoted marketing of the products.

Affordability: urban-based suppliers of products and other service providers (e.g. maintenance workers) were discouraged from taking on service contracts outside of higher density, urban areas. In addition to the lack of acceptability of products by poor women and men as mentioned above, products were also less affordable to them. The programme worked with local suppliers (shopkeepers, maintenance workers) who could supply the products at an affordable price. Assessments showed that the cost of ceramic candle filters was the same as household utensils; they were cost effective and affordable.

Did the water treatment and safe storage system improve?

This case demonstrates an important progress towards total sanitation (i.e., sustained behaviour change) of poor women and men in remote areas of Nepal in water treatment and safe storage. The intervention of the programme has made it easier for poor women and men living in remote areas to have access and use.

Understanding the main bottlenecks of the problem and engagement of local entrepreneurs, village maintenance and female health workers have contributed to a more efficient and inclusive system. By the end of the December 2016, nearly 5,500 households installed ceramic candle filter for water treatment and safe storage without any subsidies from the programme. The same number of households used plastic buckets with tap for hand washing.

Products of water treatment and safe storage (e.g. ceramic candles) are breakable and need proper delivery mechanism, handling and replacement. While local entrepreneurs and village maintenance workers have the basic skills, improving their capacities require more support through linkages with bigger markets to provide better and effective services to additional women and men in the nearest villages.

Main takeaways

The three main messages of this blog post are:

  • First, the programme developed its intervention for shifting the behaviour and practices of market players such that the expected change lasts beyond the lifespan of the programme. Facilitators of the programme were aware of not distorting the way the water treatment and safe storage system works. They were careful not to displace or bypass players and the roles they need to perform by providing direct services (e.g. continuous free handouts of filters).
  • Second, good assessments and insights were powerful ways of understanding the behaviour of market players, including poor women and men. The programme’s assessments took into account the likelihood of achieving behavioural change within the social context of poor women and men. The case demonstrates that effective relationships of actors go beyond simple supply-demand transactions, and should involve understanding of informal norms. In addition to availability and affordability, sustainability of improved practices of water treatment and safe storage system requires acceptability of the practices by users as simple and easy to handle, and the perception that there is little change to the taste of water.
  • Third, the programme operates in a ‘thin market’ – a context shaped by a history of conflict, remoteness and corruption. A common dilemma in such fragile context is balancing short-term versus long-term objectives. The pool of motivated and capable partners is narrow. Markets are relatively uncompetitive and private sector activities are only gradually picking up. Given this context, the achievement by the programme is laudable. The programme has recognised that supplementary activities (e.g. better market linkages, improved capacities of local actors) are needed to ensure the durability of the impacts and their scalability.

Additional sources

Senior Advisor WASH & Behavior Change
Programme Coordinator, East and Southeast Europe, Senior Advisor, Sustainable & Inclusive Economies

Balmukunda Kunwar is the Business Development Officer of Water Resources Management Programme (WARM-P) in Nepal.

Madan R. Bhatta is the Manager of the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) programme in Nepal.

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