As Nepal marks National Sanitation Action Week, it is time for stock-taking. The statistics are dramatic: in 1990 only 6% of households had toilets, and that figure has risen to 95% today. The numbers went up sharply after the Sanitation and Hygiene Master Plan 2011 was implemented.
Nepal could not meet its target of being open-defecation free by 2017, but the government is confident the goal will be attained this year, even though reaching the last 5% who either cannot afford to build toilets, or prefer not to have one, will be difficult.
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Nepal has also signed up to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which calls for safely managed sanitation services, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater, and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse by 2030.
While having a toilet in every household and putting up a sign declaring a district ‘open defecation free’ is a major achievement, it is only the first step. Having a toilet is different from using a toilet. A recent study by the Global Sanitation Fund Programme in Nepal showed that 3% of households in communities declared ‘open defecation free’ did not have toilets, and in 5% of families at least one member still defecated outside despite having a toilet at home.
A bigger challenge is what to do with the excreta in toilets built in the last few years that have pits or septic tanks that are starting to fill up. Cleaning services for septic tanks are now a booming business, particularly in the Tarai.
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After coming back from the Gulf, Asmin Lama of Itahari invested Rs3 million in a truck, which still doesn’t have a license plate since he has been too busy responding to clients who want their septic tanks emptied. Lama’s challenge is where to dump the contaminated faecal sludge.