On 30 September 2019, the Government of Nepal is hosting a national celebration to mark an important sanitation milestone. That is – nationwide – open defecation is no longer tolerated in the country. Nepal is showing the world that with a united front and unified mission, every household can have access to a toilet.
Although the journey to an open-defecation-free Nepal was rife with challenges, the Government of Nepal’s success – through government leadership, strong political commitment and community ownership – is raising the sanitation bar for systems change.
In 2009, a cholera epidemic caused a public health disaster in the western part of Nepal. This served as a wakeup call for the national government to prioritise sanitation and hygiene in the national development agenda. For WASH sector stakeholders, it was time to acknowledge that the heavy investment in subsidies for sanitation had not led to any meaningful increase in sanitation access. At that time, Nepal had approximately 40% access to sanitation with wide urban-rural and inter-regional and eco-zone disparities.
Meanwhile, in the then Mid-Western Region, political leaders, government agencies, and development actors from the whole region were mobilised to respond to the crisis as a collective. Together, they signed a joint commitment in 2010 to move sanitation priorities forward, following a basic set of implementation principles, and with the engagement of multiple sectors at multiple levels. Such a “Sanitation Conference” was to become an effective tool in the subsequent years to build momentum for a government-led, politically supported, social movement across the country; at village, district, region/province, and national levels.
Fuelling the movement, the national government developed the National Sanitation and Hygiene Master Plan. Endorsed in 2011, the plan was based on widespread stakeholder consensus on minimum criteria and coordination mechanisms.
- It was agreed to adopt a no-subsidy arrangement as the basic principle for sanitation implementation.
- Provisions were made for locally developed support mechanisms for the most vulnerable groups.
- Toilet structures had to be permanent till the plinth level, to avoid the burden of re-investments for households.
- The lowest unit of open-defecation-free (ODF) declaration was placed at VDC level (later restructured into Wards ).
Government-led, multi-stakeholder WASH coordination committees established at national, sub-national, and local levels, involving representatives from across sectors and political and development actors, supported the processes for planning and budgeting, coordination, sharing, adaptive learning, and transparent monitoring and ODF verification. Critically, at local levels, these coordination committees became platforms for mobilising all, for sanitation – local leaders, champions, civil society (including NGOs, journalists, media, women’s groups, people with disabilities, school groups, cooperatives, religious institutions, etc.), private sector actors, police and other security forces, administrators and other government personnel.
The strong foundations resting on effective principles and implemented through joint government, donor, and households’ investments successfully overcame many setbacks: the 2015 earthquake, 2017 and 2019 terai floods, post-constitution political strikes, and country-wide restructuring from a unitary government to a federal system.
As a result of all these efforts, Nepal has been able to successfully complete its decade-long ODF campaign. SNV Netherlands Development Organisation congratulates the government and people of Nepal on this tremendous achievement!
Along with its international and local partners in Nepal, SNV  reaffirms its commitment in supporting the Government of Nepal’s mission to sustain this progress, address a wider scope of hygiene behaviours, and ensure sustainable sanitation services for all people at all times, under its total sanitation manifesto.
 Following the roll out of the federal system of governance in 2017, the (earlier) Village Development Committees (VDCs) were restructured into one or more Wards, under the jurisdiction of an urban or rural municipality.
 Over the past ten years, SNV, through its rural sanitation approach, Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All (SSH4A), has been an active partner of national and local government-led sanitation efforts. To celebrate this ten-year collaboration and mutual learning, in 2018, SNV produced a video documentation of the government's ongoing work to meet its SDG 6 targets.
Photos: SNV/ Nico Hertweck of HUMA (2018)