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Kaski District in western Nepal marks a milestone in sanitation

© UNICEF Nepal/2011/Gurung
Men and women wash their hands with soap before entering Pokhara City Hall in Kaski District, Nepal. They came to celebrate Kaski's status as the country's first open-defecation-free district.

By Anna Maria Guiney

POKHARA, Nepal, 14 July 2011 – On a warm day recently in Pokhara, the hub of Kaski District in western Nepal, people from different corners of the city congregated around City Hall to celebrate Kaski becoming the country’s first open-defecation-free district.

It was an event bursting with energy and colour. Beneath banners proclaiming ‘Our Pride’, female health workers in colourful saris were greeting over 5,000 people – including schoolchildren and farmers, government officials and activists. All of them washed their hands with soap before entering City Hall.

Inside, Nepal’s Prime Minister, Jhala Nath Khanal, raised a green flag, released a big green balloon emblazoned with a map of Kaski and announced to tremendous applause: “This is a historical day for Kaski and an indication of a movement towards an open-defecation-free Nepal. Kaski is now a leading example for the country and other districts with very poor sanitation.”

The last recourse for those without any form of sanitation, open defecation presents serious health hazards to local populations, placing them at greater risk of diarrhoeal diseases, worm infestations and hepatitis.

Four-year sanitation drive

The announcement in Pokhara was the culmination of a four-year sanitation drive in the district, led by the Regional Monitoring Office and the Machhapuchhre Development Organization, with support from UNICEF. Joined by local leaders, students, teachers, political parties, and representatives of the private sector and the media, the campaign began in schools and spread to the surrounding neighbourhoods and villages.

© UNICEF Nepal/2011/Gurung
Nepal's Prime Minister, Jhala Nath Khanal (centre), hoists a flag declaring that Kaski District is free of open defecation.

The movement got a boost from incentives and rewards for innovative approaches to raising awareness in local communities.

“A couple of main ingredients ensured the success of the campaign: local government's leadership, political support, social mobilization and public-private partnerships,” explained UNICEF Nepal’s Purushottam Acharya. “Most importantly, varied approaches and contributions from different levels of society ensured that every household was reached.”

In the end, said Mr. Acharya, “ODF” – for open-defecation-free – “became everybody’s concern.”

‘An example for other districts’

Addressing the large gathering in Pokhara, Kaski Local Development Officer Guru Prasad Subedi commended the people of the district for their success.

“It is because of you that we have been able to achieve this remarkable feat,” he said. “What you have contributed for this campaign – in terms of hours of labour, or construction material – is more than 70-fold of the support provided by the rest of the partners. The laurels for cleaning up Kaski truly rest on your shoulders."

© UNICEF Nepal/2011/Gurung
UNICEF Acting Representative in Nepal Will Parks receives a 'Token of Appreciation' in recognition of UNICEF's contribution to the sanitation campaign in Kaski, western Nepal.

UNICEF Acting Representative in Nepal Will Parks also lauded the people of Kaski for taking the lead on sanitation and hygiene.

“You have become a trailblazer,” he told the crowd. “You have set an example for other districts to follow in your footsteps, to show the same enthusiasm and commitment in making their districts clean, healthy and attractive. Your campaign reflects the positive drive towards human dignity, pride and identity – especially for women and girls, who should not have to risk their safety and security for lack of a toilet.”

Preventing diarrhoea

More than 18,000 toilets were constructed under the leadership of Kaski’s District Development Committee during the sanitation campaign. In Nepal’s central development region, Chitwan, Tanahun and Nawalparasi Districts are now in line to be declared open-defecation-free in the near future.

Poor sanitation and hygiene practices are considered the lead causes for the high prevalence of infectious diseases in Nepal, and diarrhoea is still the single second largest killer of children here. The country aims to have universal coverage for sanitation by 2017; initiatives like the campaign in Kaski are a model for replication and success.

“Chitwan District is close on your heels, Kaski,” said Mr. Parks. “There has been an increase in the government's budget allocation to build toilets at the household and institutional level, especially toilets for girls in schools. All these are good indications that will help us inch closer to the goal of universal sanitation coverage by 2017.”

As the celebrations in Pokhara ended, the monsoon rains poured, offering cool respite to the thousands gathered at City Hall. They went home proud of their achievement.



Related links

Gaining ground on the Millennium Development Goals, with equity, in Nepal
with video

UN Secretary-General launches global drive to meet sanitation targets by 2015
with video

UNICEF's work on community-led total sanitation

Water, sanitation and hygiene in schools

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