UNICEF says sanitation major challenge in quake aftermath

KATHMANDU: Bardiya district in the mid-western region became the 24th district in the country to be declared Open Defecation Free Zone yesterday, culminating the 16th National Sanitation Action Week. This year’s Action Week focused on improving hygiene and sanitation during the post-disaster period.

“We have been combating enormous challenges in the aftermath of the earthquake. We should not lose the momentum gathered through the Sanitation Social Movement of the government, UNICEF and other partners since 2008,” said Tomoo Hozumi, Representative of UNICEF Nepal, in a press release today.

“It was through this movement that the country was closing in on the target of attaining universal sanitation coverage by the year 2017, which would ensure a healthy future for the children of Nepal,” he added.

Before the earthquake, nearly one third of the 75 districts in the country, including 1,700 Village Development Committees and 33,000 school catchment areas, had been declared ODFZ, thereby positively changing the lives of people living in those areas.

However, many of the toilets and water supply systems built under the movement in the central and eastern regions were destroyed in the temblors. The Water, Sanitation and Hygienesection of the Post Disaster Needs Assessment reports said that a total of 1,570 water supply systems sustained major damage while 3,663 were partially damaged in the 14 most affected districts.

Similarly 220,000 toilets were rendered unusable. The assessment outlines that it could cost US$ 100 million to restore the WASH sector to its pre-earthquake status in the 14 severely affected districts. The total cost could go up if the recovery/reconstruction of WASH facilities at health and education institutions are added.

Restoration of the damaged WASH infrastructure at several of these districts, villages and schools has been challenging as people are still struggling to manage the basic priorities such as food and shelter.

“Bhaktapur, Kavre and Sindhupalchowk districts have already been declared ODFZ. Other districts were on the verge of attaining the status as well. However, villages were ravaged and people have been displaced to camps following the disaster. Their priority is relief items and food,” said Hozumi, adding, “Our work through emergency response as well as regular development programmes is to try to bring back normalcy into the lives of these communities as soon as possible, and to bring the social movement of sanitation back on track.”

According to the release, UNICEF has been trying to restore its regular development programme through sanitation campaigns while continuing with disaster response initiatives in the 14 most affected districts of Nepal.

It leads the national WASH cluster which is extended to two sub-national hubs at Gorkha and Sindhupalchowk in order to scale up coordination, relief, and early recovery efforts.

UNICEF’s earthquake response aims to serve 840,000 people with water supply, sanitation and hygiene facilities. These include nearly 336,000 children.