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UN: Forget Foreign Aid, Nepal Needs a Good Plumber

• January 03, 2013 • 9:08 AM

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Handwashing stand, Nepal image: endtheneglect.org

Via IRIN:

The United Nations reports that hundred of millions of dollars invested to provide clean water and sewage in Nepal haven’t budged disease rates for water-related illness in children one bit. What went wrong? Citing statistics from Nepal’s water authority, the world body claims that the number of kids with serious water-related illness remains exactly the same as it was ten years ago: 14 percent. That sounds low, but intestinal problems and dehydration are among the most serious threats to children under five in Nepal, as is true in most countries with sketchy water systems.

Where’d the money go?  A Water, Sanitation and Hygiene officer with the UN office in Kathmandu, Madhav Pahari, argued it all went to a few places, rather than generally through the country.

If a water tap built by one agency stops running, instead of repairing it, locals will request a different agency to build a new water supply system. As a result, some village development committees (VDCs) are saturated with water supply schemes, while others have none, said UNICEF’s Pahari.

That sounds absurd. Why did they do that? Sudha Shrestha, another UN official in Nepal, whose job appears to be to get pissed at the local government, argued it was about the need to show quick success against a thorny problem.

Water and sanitation projects too often target communities most easily reached by road or air, which are already better-off, said Shrestha at UN-HABITAT. “If I go to a district for an intervention, I will choose a place where I can get quick results.”

OK. But what’s with all the shouting now? The report from IRIN—the UN’s news service—reads (see link above) like somewhat of a messaging exercise, designed to express the world body’s frustration with the failure of aid programs, at the hands of the local bodies. Nanda Bahadur Khanal, an engineer in the Kathmandu urban development department, seems onboard, and is pretty specific about why. We’ll see if Khanal’s still getting invited to work tomorrow.

Officials have only recently identified that in addition to last year’s $43.3 million WASH budget, another $19 million was funneled by donors to water and sanitation projects, but not in collaboration with any government agencies and, therefore, did not appear on any official expense statements. “Externally channeled money makes up about 30 percent of investment in the sector, but its geographical coverage is not even 5 percent,” calculated Khanal at the MoUD. “That money has not been used effectively.”

 

Marc Herman
Marc Herman is a writer in Barcelona. He is the author of The Shores of Tripoli.

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