District-level data on rural water uncovers surprising results
Data at national level consistently suggests that the poorest and most marginalised households are the least likely to access safely managed water sources. A recent study by SNV in Nepal at district level found contrasting evidence. The study validates the importance of district-level analyses of water service access to enable a more nuanced understanding of inequities at national level.
Close to 800 households in the rural districts of Dailekh and Sarlahi were surveyed for the December 2020 study. Surveyed households were categorised by (i) income levels, (ii) type of water source (gravity-fed piped water system or tube wells equipped with a handpump or motorised pump), (iii) gender of the household head (male/female), and (iv) presence of a member with a disability.
Among the key findings of the study that appear to have been obscured by limited district-level data gathering include:
Households living in poverty had similar levels of E. coli contamination in their drinking water. Wealth-based disparity in 24-hour access to water was insignificant. Access to a water supply within premises varied little. The same was true for access to a safely managed supply.
The poorest households in Sarlahi had slightly better water quality than wealthier counterparts. Within both districts, poorer households were slightly more likely to enjoy a safely managed water service.
Female-headed households in Dailekh (but not Sarlahi) reported better water service outcomes than male counterparts in access to water sources for domestic needs, within premises, and a safely managed water service.
Disability was associated with poorer water service outcomes across the board.
Overall, the findings of the study suggest that current policies on equity and access to water are likely to benefit from a deeper examination of the manifold manifestations of inequity. Responses have, so far, been positive. ‘As per the demand of the community and findings, based on our monitoring, we will allocate budget for new water supply schemes or repair and maintenance,’ said a respondent from the Mahabu Rural Municipality.
Written by: Tim Foster, ISF-UTS and Sunetra Lala, WASH Sector Leader, SNV in Nepal
Banner Photo: World Water Day 2021 celebration in Mahabu Rural Municipality (Photo: SNV in Nepal)
 This article is based on a learning brief produced as part of the SNV-managed Inclusive and sustainable rural water supply services in Nepal programme that is being implemented in the Nepali districts of Dailekh and Sarlahi. The programme receives funding from the Australian Government's Water for Women Fund.
 Contact Sunetra Lala, WASH Sector Leader in SNV Nepal by email.