Toilets are a luxury in Kanchanpur District. In fact, throughout this rural area of southwest Nepal, few people have access to even rudimentary latrines. Forced to relief themselves in the open, their villages face significant health risks, including the rampant spread of diseases like cholera and typhoid.
Inadequate sanitation is not the only challenge for the Tharu, one of the largest native indigenous groups, who reside here; flooding poses a near-constant threat as well. So Mercy Corps is working with Xylem Watermark, the global water technology provider’s corporate citizenship and social investment program, to strengthen seven high-risk communities with Disaster Risk Reduction Initiatives that that will directly reach more than 80,000 people — and indirectly benefit more than 370,000 individuals — by the end of the year.
In two villages, women are the key to tackling issues of sanitation and hygiene for their communities.
Twenty-three-year-old Tika Devi Chaudhari is part of a women’s group in Tilki, which is home to 53 families. After learning about the dangers of open defecation, she moved quickly to make changes.
“I built a pit latrine and made my family members use it,” she says. “As a result, I have become so much more motivated to do even more.”
Tika’s family latrine is just the second in the village, but she’s using Mercy Corps-provided education materials about water and sanitation to have discussions with more and more residents about its value. She and the other women in her group vow that they won’t stop until more people adopt the practice of building, and then using, latrines.
The involvement of women and young community members is a key to the success of this project. They are eager to embrace new ideas and can help influence elders to change long-held practices that will lead to improved health in the community.
Jagati Khuna is leading the way in the village of Belkundi.
The community, nestled along the banks of the Machari River grew tremendously in 2008 when it became home to nearly 1,000 newly freed laborers who migrated from various different regions of Nepal. The government outlawed kamaiya, the generations-long practice of forcing bonded laborers to work for landowners, in 2000; since then, many people have been forced to relocate, occupying marginalized land where they struggle just to survive. With an influx of residents, Belkundi not only faces the same natural threats of flooding and erosion, but now more water-borne diseases as well.
While river protection efforts are getting underway, Jagati and the local women’s group are working to increase awareness of sanitation issues. “My brother and I dug our own [latrines] after listening to the sanitation talks,” she says, and looks forward to working on more improvements to help others practice better hygiene.
The projects aim to improve not only healthy practices and natural resource management, but in empowering residents to work together and design their own interventions, to help create stronger communities and leaders for the longterm.