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Understanding barriers to safe household water and sanitation in Western Nepal

Drinking water quality is a major public health concern in both rural and urban areas of Nepal and waterborne diseases account for 38% of deaths in children under the age of five. Scientists (Dr Diogo Da Silva and Prof James Ebdon) from the Centre for Aquatic Environments have been working with project partners Dr Sabitri Tripathi (NEC) from the Nepal Engineering College and Dr Dhundi Pathak Tribhuvan University to better understand the risks to human health from groundwater contamination in the lowland Terai region of the country. The region is characterised by a shallow water table (as little as 6 m deep), shallow tube wells and poorly constructed/located septic tanks/pits, which do not safely contain human waste, especially during the monsoon.

The figures shows the collection of household stored water and the proximity of latrines to water sources. Also the recording of sanitary survey data and interviews with community representatives

This recent fieldwork trip is part of an ongoing project “Towards Brown Gold” led by IDS (Sussex) and funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund and revealed evidence of deterioration of water quality from pumps to the point-of-use within households. The presence of faecal bacteria such as E. coli in groundwater are indicative of human and non-human inputs which may come from the inadequate sanitary integrity of septic tanks/pits arising from poor construction, poor siting, flooding and defecation by freely roaming animals. The field work is providing valuable insights with which to better understand and visualise the flow of faecal contamination (and dangerous pathogens) through the environment. Only once these risks are understood will it be possible to transition towards a safer circular water economy which supports and improves the well-being of the poorest, most vulnerable, marginalised informal communities such as Dalits, migrants, sanitation workers and refugees.

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Suzanne Armsden • June 22, 2022

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