Finally, a new update!

After two weeks of field work in mid-western Nepal, I recently returned to Kathmandu, and it’s great to be back in the big city. Time has been flying the past 3 weeks since my last update. On March 7th I departed Kathmandu for the Pokhara area where I would carry out meetings with watsan project managers and would visit project sites to begin to define where to carry out field research. After the two weeks I met with 16 officials and visited 10 project sites. So much happened it is difficult to cover all happenings in one blog update.

Regarding my research, I was interested in looking into the DoLIDAR government sanitation programs. Although we met with several of the program officials in Kathmandu, it wasn’t until making contact with managers directly involved with the projects in the districts did we find DoLIDAR is now using a new water and sanitation project planning approach. No projects have yet been implemented under the approach, so it would only be possible to assess the planning process and not the outcomes and impact on the community, which would not be ideal for my research study. As a result of the first week of meetings, I decided to change research focus to a different government program under the Government of Nepal’s Department of Water Supply and Sewerage (DWSS). This program is Total Sanitation, which focuses on sanitation as an unsubsidized movement away from open defecation and temporary pit latrines to more permanent toilets. The primary mechanisms for the Total Sanitation approach are the use of participatory triggering tools and capacity building, which ideally lead to awareness of the need for sanitation along with local government ability to support the population. There are generally two methods for carrying out the TS approach, one is Community-led Total Sanitation, which uses an NGO as a facilitator to carry out training and education on sanitation, health, and hygiene for a community. The second method is School-led Total Sanitation, which uses the teachers and students in primary and secondary schools as facilitators to guide communities to implement their own toilet projects. This approach is fairly new as it was introduced to Nepal in 2004 from Bangladesh, is quite successful, and is a bit controversial in the foundational principles of no subsidy for projects and of awareness and triggering tools rather than government or NGO funded projects and technical implementation alone. In fact, most TS projects have no technical or financial support for communities (the poorest 10% might receive concrete and pipe to build the base, but otherwise it’s up to the communities to meet their sanitation needs). From what I’ve learned the approach is about 50% successful in guiding households to build their own toilets. I will be learning more about these concepts in the coming days and weeks through meetings and reading, and will be revising my research objective and questions to fit this approach.

So, my new research area will assess the success and challenges of the Total Sanitation approach used in Nepal, specifically in the Chitwan district of mid-western Nepal, which is now known as the “sanitation model district” of the country. The Chitwan district is located in the southern section of Nepal known as the Terai. The Terai is a flat, sub-tropical, hot and humid region, which serves as the agricultural center of Nepal. The main municipalities of Chitwan are Bharatpur and Narayangarh, which are sister cities on the Narayani River, which flows south to meet the Ganges. As a result of the central location in Nepal, Chitwan district is a hub of transport for goods between Nepal and India, so the cities are bustling with wide roads and tons of traffic. Chitwan is also the location of Nepal’s most famous conservation area, Chitwan National Park, which is home to elephants, rhinos, tigers, and bears.

Overall, Nepal is great so far. I’ve faced little difficulty in adjusting to life here, though some challenges do exist. I have come to enjoy candlelit evenings almost on a nightly basis. We have around 10 hours of electricity per day right now due to load shedding, and on a different schedule each day. Electricity is expected to drop in the coming weeks as less water is flowing in the rivers until monsoon in June (Nepal depends mostly on hydropower). Water is one major issue for many residents in the valley, including for us, as the dry season is coming into full swing. Water comes once a day for 1-2 hours. I’ve heard in the coming weeks it will come once every 5-6 days only! As a result, people who can afford it rely on water tankers to refill their underground reservoirs once per month or so. Traffic and air pollution are problematic many days. It seems at least one day a week is a government holiday or strike. The Maoists lead most strikes, but I have seen few security threats. The Nepalese police force is often present in the streets throughout the week in Kathmandu, and it seems for the most part the cities and countryside are quite safe today. At this time, I feel road accidents are the largest safety risk. I’ve already been involved in 1 rickshaw accident when I was going down a steep hill and the rickshaw flipped, but fortunately everyone escaped without serious injury. Temps are getting up to 35C this week for the first time, and will be up to 40C by June. Fortunately the temps in the valley are cooler than in the Terai, where I’ll carry out my field work.

Along with research, I’ve had time for recreation as well. When I’m in Kathmandu, I’m making time for yoga in the mornings (5-7am!) and Nepali language classes (3 times per week), eating a lot of Indian food and Nepali dahl bat (literally translates to rice lentils – most Nepalese eat it twice per day for lunch and dinner), and taking day trips on the weekends to nearby parks and sights. This past weekend I visited Shivapuri National Park to the north of Kathmandu and made it to the peak of 2700m. It was nice to be out in the park hiking for a day, and was very rewarding and tiring (total of 25km hiked). When on the field visit to mid-western Nepal, we also had fun. We visited the Japanese Peace Pagoda overlooking Fewa Tal (Lake Fewa), the city of Pokhara, and the Annapurna range of the Himalayas. We visited some caves and attended a Nepali folk festival on another lake, Bengas Tal, where we enjoyed a boat ride on the lake as a thunderstorm was rolling in. On our last day in the Pokhara area, I went paragliding, which is when you secure a parachute and run off the side of a mountain and float down to the lower elevation. The flight was very exciting and allowed excellent views of the region. I also celebrated by 24th birthday in Pokhara on March 9th with dinner, drinks, and cake.

Over the next two weeks I’ll continue preparing my new research topic. I’ll then visit Junbesi, a village in the Everest region where my supervisor grew up. We’ll take a bus 7 hours from KTM to Shivalaya and then hike the 25km to Junbesi, ascending 1770m to 3700m on the way. From early April until the end of June, I’ll spend about 5 more weeks in the field and 7 more weeks in the office before returning to Holland in early July. More updates to come soon!