Insights on sanitation behaviours in three cities in Nepal

Faecal sludge removal ongoing in Surkhet household

Rapid formative study in the cities of Birendranagar, Nepalgunj, and Khadak exposes some barriers and enablers in achieving citywide sanitation.

Last November 2021, SNV rolled out a Social Behaviour Change Communications (SBCC) strategy to address some roadblocks to citywide sanitation. The SBCC strategy was developed based on findings of a recent formative study undertaken as part of the WASH SDG programme.

Safe toilets

‘Our visitors often looked down on our neighbourhood when there was a lot of open defecation. Now they are full of praise, and we feel that our community has become modernised,’ said a female respondent and daily wage labourer in Khadak.

Although a toilet at home affords people with dignity and self-respect, these were not enjoyed by all. Most toilets were inaccessible to people with disabilities, children, and elderly people. The poorest could not afford to build a toilet within their premises. It was common belief that building an accessible toilet was expensive, moreover maintaining it.

Poor toilet cleanliness posed a significant barrier to use. And even if people knew the importance of toilet hygiene, maintaining its cleanliness was not prioritised. Responsibilities for toilet-cleaning continued to disproportionately fall on women. Dirty toilets drove some people back to open defecation practice.

Households view behavioural change progress targets in Jumla

Households view behavioural change progress targets in Jumla

Faecal sludge removal ongoing in Surkhet household (SNV in Nepal)

Faecal sludge removal ongoing in Surkhet household

Faecal sludge management

Regular pit maintenance keeps toilets working, reduces desludging costs, maintains toilet hygiene, and facilitates a sense of pride. But access to proper information and knowledge on FSM was found to be limited. (Perceived) affordability and availability of pit emptying services posed additional barriers. Many research respondents indicated that they never emptied their pits.

For those that did empty their pits, some did so themselves or employed the services of informal, unregulated pit emptiers. Because informal pit emptiers often deliver an unsafe and unhygienic service, sludge was disposed of in farms, open spaces, nearby ponds, rivers, or open drains. Or sludge was allowed to dry out to function as soil conditioner. Unwittingly, this type of service placed both users and emptiers at risk. According to a male farmer in Birendranagar, ‘it is not done safely.’ He added, ‘emptiers jump inside the pit without gloves, proper shoes, and masks.’

Those who employed the services of professional pit emptiers shared mixed experiences. Whilst some found professional emptying fees reasonable, others were put off by inefficiencies and poor-quality work. This long list included complicated scheduling processes and, in some instances, failure to empty pits completely.

Scheduled emptying cover page

Is scheduled desludging a practical entry point for citywide sanitation? Click on image to read more.

Solid waste management

The separation of waste was commonly practised, particularly among households that used organic waste for compost. However, limited facilities and services provided by municipalities (or the perceived lack of them) influenced people’s behaviour about waste management. A female farmer in Khadak said, ‘people come here raising awareness about hygiene, but where are the facilities?’ She elaborated, ‘they tell us not to throw on the street, but where are the dustbins? Why are the collection services not regular? Not all people have enough space for waste disposal.’

The study’s respondents across all municipalities indicated a willingness to pay for services. But only if services were ‘good and affordable, with regular collections and more public waste bins.’ Many agreed that municipality cleaning campaigns was a strong motivational force in bringing households together to take action.

Written by: Sunetra Lala, WASH Sector Leader, SNV in Nepal
Photos taken by SNV Nepal staff
More information
[1] More on SNV in Nepal's efforts to professionalise the work and safeguard the health of sanitation workers in the report, Standard Operating Procedures for Occupational Health and Safety.
[2] WASH SDG programme implementation in SNV countries applies SNV’s Urban Sanitation and Hygiene for Health and Development approach.
[3] For more information or questions, contact Sunetra Lala by email.