A public “mobile” toilet, stationed next to Lumbini, the much-hyped birthplace of the Buddha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (photo: Razen Mannadhar)

-Razen Manandhar

Nobody exactly knows how many people live in this Kathmandu Valley, but one can easily say it is fairly above 4 million people. It’s 4 million people! We all know people live by food, dresses and shelter. But beyond that, we need something that we never can deny — toilets. Whether they have luxury toilets or they just squat upon riversides or any dark lane, they do it — it is natural. But does we even care where all this “shit” goes?

So long as we don’t have any adequate management, our answermust be “it into the river” — in the very holy river, of which we want to take some drops of water before we depart from this world. This is the scenario of the capital city of Kathmandu. Actually, where does the faecal sludge from toilets of the Kathmanduites go? It is stillnot clearly known. There aresome “service providers” which announce that they clean septic tanks from households but they do not guarantee that the sludge they collect from people’s home toilets are properly disposed of.

Forget about what this ancient and cultured city in the past used to have. It is broadly by the 90s, the Kathmandu started uncontrollable and undocumented flow of immigrants from all over the country. But, the thing of public concern is that no development of infrastructure followed to make the lives of those immigrants better. Making of policies were limited to white papers and seminars, updating of available by laws were only means of writing proposals and conducting projects out of foreign donation, and implementation of them were just an excuse for bureaucrats.

Most of the people do not know that human excreta needs special treatment or it will alarmingly pollute the entire water sources. Others built name-sake septic tanks which hardly function. Only a few have managed to care faecal sludge at their homes and save the water.

It is accepted that only 27% of Nepal’s population has access to sanitation and that due to the lack of strong solid waste management facilities in Nepal, much of the population’s sewage ends up in the main rivers and other water sources. In this context, Kathmandu and sludge of Kathmandu need not be exceptional.

Around 70% of the households dispose their excreta directly into the sewer line while remaining 30% of the households still depend on onsite systems such as pit latrines and septic tanks in the Kathmandu Valley. If the situation is like this, one can easily imagine how horrible the level of water pollution in the river, which is the pivot of the civilization of the valley.

It is no wonder that Nepal’s government has not yet formed a national level policy on sewerage management. The concept of faecal sluge is still quite a new term for government. Two years ago, a national level seminar was organized to talk about fecal sludge. And the national level policy making institution, the Department of Water Supply and Sanitation (DWSS) is now planning to hold seminars or orientation for the local government engineers to disseminate ideas about fecal sludge management.

At this juncture, the urban development experts are coming up with their ideas.

Some experts think that fecal sludge management is necessary for countries like Nepal, either as an intermediate solution to cope with the alarming need or as a supplementary solution, even when we will have advanced sewerage network but households located in difficult terrain or too far from the network need to be treated separately.

While others think that this is useless and it is nothing more than just a topic being imposed by donors. Some advocates for one group of donor and others take side other donors. This kind of debate can be witnessed almost every sector when the policy-makers are divided by the interest of different donors with diverse motives.

In this connection, late though, the DWSS has taken some initial steps regarding management of fecal sludge and whatever is going on is just haphazard.

Prem Krishna Shrestha, the chief of Environmental Sanitation Section at DWSS says that there has been no policy on FSM till now and the process is going on for policy intervention. That is, the need of a management of fecal sludge is just felt recently.

No matter whether we have any law or not, or how much awareness and social engineering we do, the reality at the bottom line is that at the waste water, including faecal sludge is drained directly in the river at present.

It is estimated that over 5,000 tons of Faecal Sludge is generated on a daily basis from on-site sanitation systems in Nepal.

Still, Nepalese government is not serious about infrastructure development — that we can obviously see. The frequent change of governments and government policies and political intervention in development projects are the main causes. This has left little hope among the people that the government will easily feel the urgency of rescuing rivers from being polluted constantly by haphazard mass- dumping of facal sludge at present.

Apart from this, thanks to Open Defecation Free (ODF) campaigns, lots of newly emerging towns or villages also have toilets now. This is on one hand positive that faece as such is not seen openly in and around settlement areas. But at the same time, it is also accumulating the volume of faece or faecal sludge in every village or town these days. What in the past used to be naturally decomposed is now accumulated and appears as threat to the society people live in.

People have been aware that they should not defecate in open places but we are yet to launch programmes in such areas, to let them know that only defecating in public or even private toilets is not the entire solution. Thus, the urgent challenge all over the country now is how to ensure fecal sludge management there.

Still, big projects like that of Melamchi, which is not only bringing in drinking water from 26.5 km long tunnel but also managing to treat waste water is also planning to treat everything from the same treatment plants.

Surya Raj Kadel, the senior divisional engineer at Project Implementation Directorate of Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL) says there will be five treatment plants in the capital to treat all types of waste that comes the drains. There will be four treatments plants in Gokarna, Guheshwari, Kodku and Dhobighat. Apart from this an addional treatment plant will be constructed at Sallaghari, to treat waste water from Hanumante and Khasyang-Khusung river.

Kadel admits that even those plants are not going to be sufficient in future. After one year, water from that ambitious project of Melamchi will reach homes in Kathmandu and this will naturally increase generation of wastewater in each house. By 2030, Kathmandu will generate 500 million liters of wastewater per day. And the above-mentioned five treatment plants will serve only 20 percent of the total requirement. And along with, the project has plants to treat faecal sludge by enhancing the same water treatment plants.

Apart from this, the project also encourages people to have community-level Decentralized Waste Water Treatment (DEWAT) Plants. Kadel says that the project has some budget to support local communities to construct treatment plants, provided the community manages public land to establish treat. This supports areas, which are not linked to sewerage network.

However, it also does not provide any solution to how the faecal sludge the septic tanks of newly growing settlement areas is going to be managed.

On the top if this, emerging municipalities are being seen all over the country. That is, faecal sludge is no more an issue of Kathmandu and some other adjoining cities. National Population Census 2011 shows that 70.28 % of households are without sanitation coverage.

With or without adequate infrastructure development, the government is declaringnew municipalities. Implementation of federal administration is also promoting people to go for new and better lifestyle in their provinces. Flow of population in such situation is natural.

Naturally, accumulation of population is also accumulation of human excreta. Not being able to manage the faecal sludge in those 217 municipalities will cause nation-wide havoc if the haphazard mismanagement like that of the capital city in all areas is not intervened immediately. This is the right time to feel the urgency to address the need of proper management of faecal sludge before it, by mistake or by irresponsible urban planning, reach the water sources.

For this, drafting of necessary laws, bylaws and directives in right time, making implementing agency strong, establishing regulating agencies and also raising awareness among the city dweller about the sensitivity of management of faecal sludge it never urgent before than now.

[Water Discourse Vol. 1 Issue 1 February 2017]

A writer, a journalist, an Esperantist and a student of Buddhism; and works at Bodhi TV in Nepal.