Improving sanitation access and financing in Nepal

To make a change from the recent focus on sanitation funding in East Africa, I have jumped continents to South Asia to examine progress in sanitation access and spending in Nepal, where almost two thirds of the population, over 19 million people, still lack access to adequate sanitation (JMP 2011).

Information from the government’s National Planning Commission on MDG progress shows that sanitation coverage more than doubled from 6% to 62% between 1990 and 2011, surpassing the MDG target of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to sanitation by 2015. This is supported by UNICEF statistics, but is contrary to the JMP statistic used by WASHwatch citing just 35% of the population with access to sanitation in 2011 (JMP 2013).

The significant divergence in access statistics can be largely attributed to the way access is calculated, with JMP data measuring only access to improved facilities on an individual household basis, while the Government of Nepal seems to also include figures on shared access to improved facilities among households in their calculations. Once this is accounted for the margin of difference between the 2 sets of data is reduced considerably, and given there is always some margin of error and difference in calculating statistics, these initial contradictions are quite easily clarified.

Having surpassed its MDG targets for sanitation, Nepal has set its own national target of achieving 100% water and sanitation access by 2017 (which includes a target of 80% coverage by 2015). The National Planning Commission rates its probability of achieving this 2015 target as ‘unlikely’, yet sees the government as providing a ‘fair’ supporting environment for success.

A significant obstacle to reaching this target is the stark difference in access between urban and rural areas, with urban sanitation access cited by the Government of Nepal at 91% and rural access at only 55%. Given apparently lagging progress in improving rural sanitation access, it is clear that there is still much progress to be made in improving access to sanitation facilities to meet the target of 100% coverage.

One way of ensuring this is targeted financing. The budget information available on the Ministry of Finance website reflects water and sanitation expenditure for the last 3 years as follows:

2011/12 (actual expenditure) – Rs.4, 674, 896 (1.38% of total Govt. budget Rs.339, 167, 485)

2012/13 (revised) – Rs.5,259, 601 (1.42% of total Govt. budget Rs.370, 126, 328)

2013/14 (total budget allocation) – Rs.6, 463, 314 (1.24% of total Govt. budget Rs.517, 240, 000)

Nepal scores a 1 on WASHwatch for having a separate sanitation budget line which it says doubled from 2009/10 to 2010/11, however sanitation funding is not clearly delineated in the information available on the national budget and almost all sanitation budget lines (with the exception of one separate budget line) are listed under ‘drinking water and sanitation’.  Although this makes it difficult to ascertain the proportion of this funding directed to sanitation alone, it is clear that funding for the sector is being given increasing priority with 8 ongoing investment projects in water and sanitation and funding increasing on a yearly basis, reflecting the WASHwatch score of 1 for adequate priority given to sanitation in development plans and the increasing trend of sanitation as a priority in the national budget. However, given that the poorest and most rural areas face the greatest barriers to access, it is significant to note that there is no direct mention of sanitation anywhere in the pro-poor budget.

In search of more detailed information on sanitation specific spending I visit the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage website within the Ministry for Urban Development, however as has been the case in many countries I have looked at as part of this series of blogs, there is very little information on the department website regarding financing or progress in achieving access, and the only progress report available (for 2012/13) is (understandably) solely in Nepali.

This limited information could be due to the fact that the department was previously situated in the Ministry of Physical Planning, Works and Transport Management, however there doesn’t seem to be any financing information to be found in this ministry either.  There is however some limited information on the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Fund Development Board which is still situated in this Ministry, yet only up until 2009/10, making it unsuitable for cross referencing with relevant Ministry of Finance stats for the last 3 years.

Admittedly whilst carrying out this research I faced an unsurprising language barrier in accessing some materials which were only available in Nepali (a problem for me but obviously not for national monitoring), most notably information on the Gender Responsive Budget and yearly progress report for the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage. Yet from what I did find it seems that significant progress is being made in prioritising sanitation spending in Nepal, with access improving as a result. If this is to amount to the achievement of the ambitious national target of 100% access by 2017, and particularly for the necessary progress to be achieved in improving rural access to sanitation, specific attention should be paid to ensuring sanitation spending in pro-poor budgeting. Additionally, deeper clarity over specific sanitation financing and how this is translating to progress in improved access, if not already available in at least Nepali, should be made so to enable effective monitoring and accountability in the sector.

– Natasha