To the outsider, time might appear to have stood still in the small hamlet of Basantapur, situated an hour’s journey from the town of Ramechhap, east of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu. Chanda Maya Sunuwara has spent most of her adult life here. But the spry woman in her 70’s says she has seen many changes over the years, such as the road, a primary health care clinic and now the latest, which workmen are busy constructing; a brand new toilet for her family.
“We are happy because up to now, we have had to use the fields and the forest,” she says as she chats with family and neighbours in the bright noon sunshine. The outdoor stone and timber toilet, built with support from the Nepal Red Cross Society, should be ready within a few days.
Creating an open defecation-free zone
Chandra Maya says she appreciates the fact that support was provided in the form of building materials worth around 100 US Dollars, rather than cash, which is all too easily spent on other things.
A little way across the hillside, Kapi Kumari Sunuwara and her father stand in front of their newly completed toilet.
“We haven’t even tried using it yet,” she says. The toilet has been finished before the family’s new house which was destroyed in Nepal’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake last year. That too is underway, thanks to a cash grant from the Red Cross.
The toilet initiative is part of a push to turn these hillsides into an open defecation-free zone by 2017.
Water - a key challenge
But one key challenge the area faces is water. Local people have to carry it in jars or jerry cans for at least half an hour from the nearest water source, needing several trips a day.
“We will need to carry extra water when the toilet is finished,” says Kapi Kumari Sunuwara. But she’s not sure how much.
“People shouldn’t need more than one bucket of water a day to manage the soak-pit toilet hygienically," says Arun Rai of the Nepal Red Cross Ramechhap District Chapter.
Although the chapter is working on plans for several new water systems, there are no plans to construct one in this particular area. The lack of a sustainable source sufficiently close by makes it impractical, says Rai.
In Okhaldunga District, four hours’ drive further east, the challenge which Red Cross water engineers face is much more one of managing water systems which have deteriorated or suffered damage in the earthquake.
At the Shree Kalikadevi Primary School, the headmaster says children used to bring drinking water from home and replenish it from a nearby pond if needed, so bad was the state of the local water systems. Now the school’s yard boasts a new water tank and tap, which the kids enthusiastically demonstrate.
Convenience and opportunity
For the adults nearby, efforts by the Red Cross to rehabilitate the water systems are also bringing greater convenience and opportunity.
Ambika Dahal, who has been disabled since birth, is doing her family washing at a new tap just opposite her house. Before the earthquake she used to have to walk 300 meters to the river to collect water several times each day.
Amid the vegetable gardens on a slope a few kilometres away, Dolma Sherpa is filling up her water jar. For her, a reliable and handy water supply will be essential as she prepares to upgrade her tomato production under a new plastic canopy, constructed with Red Cross support.
“Helping to provide people with clean drinking water and proper toilets is a key element in our work to promote health, build more secure livelihoods and support safer permanent housing after the earthquake,” says Kaustubh Kukde, Water and Sanitation Delegate with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is supporting the integrated water, sanitation and hygiene projects.