Achham District in Far-West Nepal sets a date with destiny
By Robin Giri
ACCHAM, Nepal, 22 May 2013 – A retinue of traditional drummers resplendent in white, led the procession uphill. They were followed by trumpeters and school children and women waving flags and chanting slogans. Right up to the crest of the hill festooned with colourful banners and streamers - where a crowd of thousands cheered their arrival.
None else but the Vice President of Nepal and other dignitaries waited to welcome this procession, for this was no ordinary day in the recent history of Achham district.
“You have set an example, not just for the region but for the entire country and I hope that this event will encourage you to tackle other challenges with the same passion,” said Parmananda Jha, the Vice President of Nepal and the Chief Guest for the ceremony.
The event was historic because Achham is just the 7th of Nepal’s 75 districts to declare itself Open Defecation Free (ODF). It is also the first district in the mid and far west regions of the country to be declared ODF. Achham is more than a day's drive plus an hour's flight away from the capital Kathmandu.
Accompanying the Vice President was Mr. Krishna Hari Banskota, the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office of Nepal.
“What you have achieved is historic considering that just four years ago, only six per cent of households had toilets. Now I am hopeful that you will use the same zeal to battle the other social practices that are harmful, and will prevent you from achieving your full potential,” said Mr. Banskota.
The event was truly notable because Achham district in mid-west Nepal has some of the lowest human development indicators and is 69 out of 75 districts on the national average. It also has the unenviable position of being one of the poorest districts where the only road to the district headquarters was completed a little less than a decade ago. Achham has some of the lowest maternal and infant health indicators, including harmful social and cultural practices that are detrimental to the rights of women and children, particularly girls.
The Rationale behind building toilets and ODF declaration
In Nepal, over four million people do not have access to improved drinking water and approximately nine million Nepalese still defecate in the open. Nepalese children under 5 years of age face multiple obstacles to development, and diarrhoea is a major deterrent to child survival.
The ODF campaign began on the strength of the 'Aligning for Action to Make Diarrhoea History' campaign, which was launched in the aftermath of a 2008 diarrhoea outbreak in 27 mid-western districts, including Achham, which claimed 371 lives. Health officials and the development community wanted to avert another epidemic and joined hands to combat this easily preventable tragedy.
UNICEF and partners in government and the health sector worked on a strategy that sought to solve the problems at the source, rather than treat the symptoms.
Building on earlier successes of school and community-led campaigns on sanitation and hygiene, UNICEF and partners worked with school children, women’s paralegal groups, teachers and local political leaders to hammer home the message that open defecation was killing their children.
“I want to congratulate the people of Achham, and also commend the partnerships at every level of community that made it possible to achieve this. I want to thank my brothers for ensuring that all households have toilets, particularly for the 130,000 children and the 70,000 women,” said Will Parks, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Nepal.
Mr. Parks appealed to the men of this district because patriarchal roles dominate everyday life in Achham. Women and girls in these areas are subject to “Chhaupadi” or the practice of living outdoors, often in animal sheds, during their monthly menstrual cycles. They are forbidden contact with family and cannot enter the house.
“While I commend your progress, I hope that you will use the same commitment to prevent the discrimination against women, and believe in the value of your children and women,” said Mr. Parks.
Also present on the occasion were representatives of different development agencies, including government line agencies, local NGOs and community leaders who have been coordinating with each other since 2008 to ensure that the 49,601 households in the district have access to basic water, health and sanitation & hygiene. When the campaign was launched in 2008, the baseline for toilets in the district was at six per cent and today all households have and use toilets.